The NRL has been blessed with some absolute try scoring machines. Nathan Blacklock, Billy Slater, Steve Menzies, Nathan Merritt, Brett Stewart and Semi Radradra are but a few with either astronomical strike rates or just have a pile of tries.
Every season we hear about try scorers getting on hot streaks, or experiencing droughts.
So are the best try scorers ones that score in large clumps, or those who are almost certain to get on the score sheet every week, or perhaps it’s a little bit of both?
For this we’ll be looking at the top 10 try scorers from 2020 and 2021, otherwise known as the V’landysball era.
These stats included the entirety of the 2020 season, and the regular season for 2021.
The first thing that stands out is the fact the top try scorers are almost all wingers. Only Tom Trbojevic, David Fifita and Matt Burton don’t wear the number two or five jersey for 2021 try scorers. While in 2020 Stephen Crichton and Matt Dufty weren’t on the wings, although Sione Katoa and Nick Cotric played more than just wing during the season.
David Fifita is the only forward to be in the top 10 for either season.
Interestingly, in 2019, there were five non-wingers in the top 10, while there was just one in 2018 which is the same in 2017.
What is perhaps most interesting, is that stretching back to 2013, not a single fullback has topped the try scoring tally, and in fact they’ve rarely been in the top 10 during that time.
Only seven fullbacks have made the top 10 try scorers, with James Tedesco managing it twice.
In the nine previous season from 2004-2012, fullbacks topped the try scoring tally on six occasions with Matt Bowen and Ben Barba doing it twice while Brett Stewart and Billy Slater also managed it once each.
Without having all the statistics available, it seems that the game’s shift into more block plays and structured attacking formations has seen tries dry up for fullbacks and shift to their wingers as they become second ball players.
But we’re not here for that.
We’re looking at the strike rates of the best try scorers.
On the tables below are per game averages for season 2020 and season 2021.
2020 Try Scoring Average
2021 Try Average
Unsurprisingly Alex Johnston is towards the top for both seasons, while Tom Trbojevic’s outstanding 2021 puts him in first place for tries per game in 2021.
It’s rare for a try scorer to manage a try per game or more.
In 2021 we had three players on more than a try per game in Alex Johnston, Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr, with Jason Saab finishing only one try behind also managing that feat.
In 2020, it was only Johnston hitting that mark, with Kyle Feldt scoring 19 tries in 20 games.
The question we’re looking at though, is whether the best try scorers cross in clumps, perhaps padding their stats in a handful of games, or if it’s try scoring consistency that sees them into the top 10.
For this, we’ll consider three games or more without a try as a “drought”. That is of course, games that the player has taken the field in.
First off, let’s look at try scoring machine Alex Johnston.
Alex Johnston 2020
Alex Johnston 2021
Across 2020 and 2021 he is the most dominant try scorer in the game. While he did play nine games this season scoring two or more tries, he remained pretty consistent, only failing to cross on five occasions this year, all spaced apart.
In 2020 he was only slightly less consistent. He went through his leanest patch between rounds nine and 11 last year, and in rounds 17 and 18. Those are the only occasions he’s gone two games or more without scoring. He didn’t play in round 16.
And where some try scorers may see their totals drop below 20 due to that, Johnston covered for those five games by crossing five times in the final round of the season.
Johnston, across his career is one of the most consistent try scorers in the competition. That being said, he’s obviously heavily benefited from Souths’ left-side heavy attack. Cody Walker is probably the finest exponent of the left edge short side raid and well, it’s Johnston often finishing those raids.
Now we’ll move onto Maika Sivo who is being seen as having two “average” seasons in 2020 and 2021.
Sivo burst onto the scene with 22 tries in 25 games during his debut 2019 season.
That’s a strike rate of 0.88 tries per game. He then crossed for 15 tries and 17 tries respectively in 2020 and 2021.
He had a marked drop in tries per game during 2020, crossing for an average of 0.71, but in 2021, that bounced back to 0.80.
His consistency though, is actually very similar to Alex Johnston as we see in the graphs below.
Maika Sivo 2020
Maika Sivo 2021
In 2020 he only had one drought of three games which were rounds 12-14. In 2021 he never went more than two games without crossing the stripe.
The main difference is that he doesn’t really score bags of tries at once. The most number of tries he’s scored in a match is four, which he did against the Cowboys in round eight of 2020. However, on only one other occasion that season, did he cross more than once in a game.
He managed multiple try scoring games a little more regularly in 2021, managing three doubles and a hattrick.
So while his try scoring rate has dropped slightly, Sivo remains one of the more consistent try scorers in the competition.
From the strength and power of Sivo, we head to the blinding speed of Josh Addo-Carr.
Addo-Carr is one of the premier wingers in the competition. But he can be a little more spotty than people realise despite maintaining a 0.92 tries per game average over the last two seasons.
Josh Addo-Carr 2020
Josh Addo-Carr 2021
In the opening six rounds of 2021 he only crossed twice. What pulled him up the ladder was a four week blitz where he crossed 12 times, including a six try match against South Sydney in round nine.
He followed that up with a hattrick the next week. He then dropped back to a more human nine tries in 11 games across the remainder of the season, boosted by another five try burst across two consecutive games.
Addo-Carr has had two three week droughts and he appears to be a slow starter to the season.
Similarly to 2021, in 2020 he managed only one try in the first five rounds. He missed round seven, then kicked off a more consistent five week period scoring seven tries.
He then dropped off towards the end of the season, not managing back to back try scoring games until round 18, 19 and into the finals.
It appears as though the middle of the season is when Addo-Carr is at his peak, while he tails off at the end of the year.
Perhaps the most intriguing player on this list is Reuben Garrick. In 2020 he managed to score just four tries in 17 games, which probably demonstrated his side’s struggles.
In 2021 though, that turned right around, crossing 21 times in 24 games.
Reuben Garrick 2020
Reuben Garrick 2021
The reason for that turn around is probably a bloke by the name of Tom Trbojevic, whose raids down Manly’s left edge set Garrick up for bags of tries.
Garrick did have one try scoring drought of three matches from rounds 17-19. Want to guess what happened to Turbo? That’s right, not playing for two of those games.
Not only is Garrick consistent when Turbo is around, he scores a lot, managing five games crossing for two or more tries in 2021.
Contrast all of this with 2020 where, at one point, he went 11 games without scoring.
Garrick is perhaps one of the least consistent try scorers on this list due to a career average of 0.61 tries per game, but with Turbo in 2021 that rises to 0.95.
Looking at Garrick’s wing partner and Jason Saab is a bit of a rare species. As a right side winger, he and his compatriots tend to get the shorter end of the stick. Most halves are right side dominant, so they tend to play more to the left edge.
But Saab’s aerial ability combined with his speed make him irresistible for Manly to exploit.
Jason Saab 2020
Jason Saab 2021
Somewhat unsurprisingly he struggled for game time at the Dragons, but at Manly, with a full season on the wing, he crossed 23 times in 24 games.
He did start life at Manly a little patchy, unable to cross the stripe across the first four games, which also coincided with Turbo still getting over his sprint down the Manly corso.
But from round five to round 10, he was unstoppable, scoring 10 tries in six games. He then went through the same drought as Reuben Garrick from rounds 17-19, again missing Turbo for the first two of those games.
Saab also managed seven matches where he scored two or more tries, more than making up for his early season struggles.
He didn’t have a bad strike rate at St George even with limited experience, crossing four times in seven games. But his 0.95 strike rate in 2021 matches his winger partner’s.
Speaking of Turbo, he’s the only fullback to be in the top 10 this season.
His 25 tries in 15 games hands him an astronomical 1.7 tries per game average. Had he played the full season, he’d have scored 40 tries.
In 2020 Turbo managed just seven matches, scoring four times.
Tom Trbojevic 2020
Tom Trbojevic 2021
The thing with Turbo is his sheer consistency. He only played two games in the regular season in 2021 when he didn’t score. Once against Newcastle and once against Melbourne.
He crossed for five hattricks and two doubles. So not only is Turbo likely to land you your any time try scorer punt, but he’s also a nearly 50 percent chance of scoring more than once.
In other words, his try scoring average is 1.7 this year, his average of scoring two tries or more is 0.46.
Crichton is a curious case when it comes to try scorers. First, he’s the only full time centre in the top 10 in 2020. Second, he only crossed for 10 tries in 2021.
In 2020 he scored 17 tries in 22 matches which sat him equal third behind Kyle Feldt and Alex Johnston.
Stephen Crichton 2020
Stephen Crichton 2021
He spent the first two rounds of 2020 coming off the bench, scoring a try in each game, but shifted into centre, where he went try-less for three consecutive matches.
He then played out a pretty consistent season, scoring in eight consecutive games and only failing to score in four of the 17 matches after round five.
Crichton’s 2020 strike rate was 0.77.
But he has since regressed in 2021. He has managed only nine tries in 23 games, going try-less in 11 matches.
You would think his time at fullback would be a reason for this, but his tries have really dried up in the centres.
He played fullback on five occasions, scoring in two of those matches for a strike rate of 0.4.
But he has only crossed five times in 14 games in the centres, for an average of 0.35, while on the wing he managed just one try in in four games.
A contributing factor to this may be the break out year experienced by centre partner Matt Burton who has scored 16 tries this year.
Crichton’s longest drought period this season was at the start of the year, when he didn’t score until round seven. Throughout the year he has only scored in spits and spurts, at one point only scoring once every three games.
In 2021 his strike rate has dropped to 0.37, or lower than Trbojevic’s multiple try scoring average.
The last player we’re going to look at is David Fifita simply because he’s the only out and out forward on this list.
David Fifita 2020
David Fifita 2021
He had an injury plagued 2020, only managing nine matches, but still scoring in four of them. However, in a full 2019, playing 24 matches he managed only seven tries.
2021 though has been a break out year on the try scoring front for the tear away backrower, crossing 17 times in 22 games for an average of 0.77 tries per match.
He failed to score in 10 games this season, although him being benched didn’t seem to be the major factor here. In six of those games he started in the back row.
Fifita, can though, score in bunches. Of his 17 tries, nine of them were scored in four games.
After his hattrick in round seven, he then went four matches without scoring, before then returning to the scoresheet four matches in a row.
He was a little more hot and cold after that, scoring four tries in the final six games of the season, although two of them came in round 25 against the Warriors.
2021 and to a lesser extent 2020, are outliers in the NRL record books due to the introduction of the set restart rules.
But the game has changed over the last decade, with fullbacks becoming much more try assist merchants than try scorers themselves.
This has seen wingers go on to dominate even more than they did in the previous decade.
To be an elite try scorer, players need to not only score multiple times per game, but they need to be scoring at greater than three tries per four games, which has been the trend since at least 2014.
The top try scorer in every season over the past seven years has scored 20 tries or more.
It will be interesting to see if the current rules stick around, and how much higher the total try tallies can climb.
Alex Johnston may not be the only NRL player to come close to 30 tries in a season.