— Sky Sports RL (@SkySportsRL) 3 March 2016
IF ROUND five of Super League XXI is anything to go by, drop goals are suddenly all the rage again in rugby league.
First, Chris Sandow nailed 35-yarder on the final play to clinch a 31-30 victory for Warrington Wolves away to Salford Red Devils in the Thursday night contest.
The following day, two one-pointers from Wigan Warriors’ Matty Smith saw them snatch a 26-25 triumph away to Hull FC, who also landed a drop goal of their own from Marc Sneyd.
Indeed, those four efforts alone take the tally of successful drop goals in the opening weeks of the 2016 season to seven so far. Yet it should not come as a surprise teams are starting to once more utilise what has become considered something of a lost art in the 13-man code.
It started back in the early 1970s when the value of a drop goal was reduced from two points to one as part of a raft of changes designed to increase attacking play, which included the adoption of the six-tackle rule.
But over the past three seasons there has been a surge in the number of drop goals taken in Super League, with over 30 a season between 2013 and 2015.
This is all part of an long-term upward trend though, with the statistical database on Super League’s website showing that, aside from one or two dips, successful drop goal attempts have been increasing since at least 2003 – the furthest the database goes back.
The previous year had seen what remains the record for the number of drop goals by an individual player in a season set by Warrington Wolves half-back Lee Briers with 11 – five of which came in one game against Halifax Blue Sox.
Briers and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ Jamie Rooney both accounted for over half of the 15 drops landed in 2003, kicking four apiece, and they would regularly be among the top goalscorers from open play in Super League during their careers.
However, Rooney failing to land any drop goals in Super League XIII and Briers struggling with injury that year may have contributed to the sudden dip in the number scored in 2008, with just 11 successful attempts compared to 21 the previous year.
Following that, the number of drop goals per season hovered in the 20s prior to the sudden explosion in successful attempts three years ago, which saw an incredible 39 kicked from open play.
The emergence of Smith and Sneyd as prolific goal-kickers has undoubtedly contributed to this increasing tally, but it seems as if teams are starting to see drop goal attempts more and more as a useful weapon in the attacking armoury.
Generally, the drop goal is utilised in the closing stages when a game is tight – as has been witnessed in these past few days – but can also prove useful in making a team who is trailing by one or two scores need two or three.
So while a goal from open play might be worth just one point, its overall value can be a lot more – something Warrington and Wigan would surely attest to.