You’ve heard of football’s Expected Goals, now it’s time for rugby’s response.

As Sam Walker moved in to convert Kevin Naiqama’s 33rd-minute try against the North Queensland Cowboys in Round 3, he was slotting what would be the second-most difficult successful kick of the season so far as the Sydney Roosters stretched their lead in an emphatic win on the day.

The Opta Kick Predictor – which couples historical Opta kicking data with powerful Qwinn AI modelling – gave Walker a 26% chance to guide that conversion between the posts with his attempt coming from 40m away at an angle of 56 degrees. Walker defied those odds and clinched two more game points that, at that point, his season form had suggested he perhaps wasn’t entitled to.

Kick Prediction - Fixture (1)

Walker missed seven of his first 15 attempts at goal in the 2022 NRL season. He scored 16 points across that span, leaving an extra 2.2 points on the tee according to the Kick Predictor which had predicted him to log 18.2 points from those 15 attempts.

Among players to have at least 10 kick attempts in the first four rounds of the 2022 competition, only Jake Clifford (-3.4) performed worse against his expected points, while Mitchell Moses’ 36 points from kicks were 5.7 more than predicted – the best overperformance of any player.

It was one of several problems in a Roosters side struggling to pick up where they left off from the 2021 campaign and a trend that the club would need to see reversed in the weeks to follow if they were going to finish in the top half of the ladder. They would get what they needed.

Walker has missed just one of his 11 attempts across the four weeks since, slotting eight conversions from nine and two of two penalty goal attempts. He was predicted to log only 12.8 points from kicks across this period, so his efforts have earnt an extra 7.2 game points for the Sydney Roosters across the last three rounds.

Kick Performance - Season

This dramatic upturn in form sees him rank as one of the top goal kickers in the competition according to the Kick Predictor despite his slow start. Walker has gained an average of one point per five kicks (0.2 points per kick) compared to his predicted points in the 2022 NRL season, the fifth most of any player in the competition.

NRL 2022 - Kick Predictor - top kickers

New Zealand Warriors’ dynamo Reece Walsh has been the best goalkicker in the 2022 NRL season according to the Kick Predictor, kicking at a 92% success rate and gaining 0.31 points per kick – the most of any player in the competition. Melbourne Storm’s Ryan Papenhuyzen (+0.30 points per kick), Canberra Raiders’ Brad Schneider (+0.26), and South Sydney Rabbitohs’ Blake Taaffe (+0.25) remain the only players above Sam Walker on the table of the Kick Predictor’s best goal kickers, a testament to the turnaround in form for the Sydney Roosters’ five-eighth since his sluggish start.

The improvement is sure to be welcome news as the Roosters face the Penrith Panthers (twice), Parramatta Eels (twice), Melbourne Storm, and Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in their next eight NRL games and will need all the points they can get against their fellow top-eight combatants.

The club has become accustomed to having clutch goal kickers across the last 10 NRL seasons. From James Maloney to Michael Gordon to Latrell Mitchell, the club has certainly not been short of ace goal-kickers in the last decade of the competition.

Sydney Roosters - Opta Kick Predictor Analysis historical

James Maloney – the club’s primary kicker over the last 10 years with 379 attempts – was the most impressive among those to make at least five attempts, picking up 0.13 extra points per kick according to the Kick Predictor. Jackson Hastings, who had less than a tenth the total attempts of Maloney, is the only other Roosters kicker with five or more attempts in the last 10 seasons to have gained at least 0.1 points per kick.

The alarm bells ring at the other end of the table, however, with Sam Walker (-0.15) leaving more points on the tee per kick than any other Sydney Roosters goal kicker among that cohort in the last decade. In fact, of the 10 goal kickers that the Roosters have used for at least five kicks in that period, four of the five to have gained the fewest points per kick are still at the club (Keighran 0.01, Walker -0.14, Taukeiaho -0.04, Tedesco -0.03).

Sam Walker has turned a corner from his goal kicking trouble in the opening month of the 2022 NRL season and the Sydney Roosters will need him to continue picking up points with the boot as they stare down the barrel of their toughest stretch of fixtures in the campaign.

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