2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Margin Betting: 54%
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Sharks v Broncos
2016 Offense: Sharks 8.80% (7th), Broncos 41.80% (1st)
2016 Defense: Sharks -38.96% (3rd), Broncos -28.37% (4th)
The season hasn’t even begun and already these two sides have drawn their critics, largely due to their lackluster performances in the World Club Series.
The Broncos were completely obliterated in the opening 20 minutes by what should have been an outgunned opponent, which has (reasonably) led to criticism of their forward pack, and the question of how they’ll replace Corey Parker. In fairness to Brisbane though, although their forwards were dominated, they were missing their first choice props (Korbin Sims and Adam Blair), both of whom will be available here.
The Sharks, in contrast, lack the same reason for optimism. They sent what was essentially a full strength team over to Wigan, and got belted by a side few regarded as serious competition for the defending premiers. We expect Cronulla to acquit themselves better in the season opener, however their offense was patchy at times last year and without Ben Barba and Valentine Holmes it’s hard to feel confident that they have many points in them.
Our tip: Brisbane
Bulldogs v Storm
2016 Offense: Storm 20.70% (4th), Bulldogs -46.00% (16th)
2016 Defense: Storm -63.75% (1st), Bulldogs -14.22% (6th)
The Bulldogs typically match up well against the Storm (they’ve won their last 6 on the trot), and presumably it’s this “hoodoo” of sorts that has them relatively popular with the bookmakers despite their 2016 season fizzling out in forgettable fashion.
The Bulldogs offense was shockingly bad last year (eventually dropping below the Knights to finish with a -46% Offense VOA), and over their last five matches they not only struggled to make line breaks, but their much-vaunted pack was getting out-gained by an average of over 250 metres per match. That must have been depressing for a side built to out-muscle opposing teams.
The Storm on the other hand were arguably the best team in the competition for much of the year (if not on one particular Sunday in October). 2017 is a new year though, and this year’s Storm model looks noticeably different to years past. They feature a new five-eighth, new second rowers and, for this match at least, a new fullback. For this reason, we’d expect the Storm to perhaps look a little disjointed early in the year, most noticeably in attack, where they typically execute their set plays with robotic precision.
The Bulldogs, for their part, should at least have continuity in their favour, but we’ll find it hard to tip Canterbury until they display at least a vague competency in attacking football.
Our tip: Storm
Rabbitohs v Tigers
2016 Offense: Rabbitohs -0.08% (10th), Tigers 9.66% (6th)
2016 Defense: Rabbitohs 17.28% (12th), Tigers 36.29% (15th)
This match shapes as one of the toughest matches of the round to tip. If ever Robbie Farah was going to have a reason to play out of his skin, this grudge match against his former club is surely it.
We shouldn’t expect the Tigers to just roll over though. As we explained last year, the Tigers actually performed better offensively without Robbie than with him, so his absence in and of itself shouldn’t necessarily be considered a major loss. Add to this the addition of Jamal Idris and the absence of the (allegedly) corrupt turnstile Tim Simona, and the Tigers edge defense, which has long been their Achilles heel, may even have improved as well.
The Rabbits admittedly finished last season playing good attacking footy in the very least, however the absence of Adam Reynolds leads us to doubt whether they’ll have the points in them to keep up with the Tigers. Plus, it’s hard to forget the Tigers bursting out of the blocks against the highly-fancied Warriors in the corresponding game last year.
Our tip: Tigers
Dragons v Panthers
2016 Offense: Dragons -19.86% (13th), Panthers 22.08% (3rd)
2016 Defense: Dragons 21.12% (13th), Panthers -3.06% (8th)
Few would have expected 12 months ago that the Panthers would enter 2017 as joint premiership favourites, but here we are. They were arguably the hottest attacking side in the league through the back half of the year (though the Raiders would have something to say about that), and having kept most of their roster intact (and adding prize recruit James Tamou) it smells like something’s brewing at the foot of the mountains. This would feel all too familiar though for long-suffering Penrith fans, and it’s often been the case with the Panthers that the greater the expectation, the greater the disappointment. The Panthers should want to make a statement right off the bat, and on paper at least, the Dragons should be accommodating.
St George Illawarra have been among the worst attacking sides for 2 years now, and through the second half of last season their defense started to let them down too. It’s worth remembering though, that prior to that, their defense was Top 4 quality, and if Paul McGregor’s to have any hope of remaining employed beyond July, they’ll need to quickly rediscover that form, which would prove a good test for the exciting young Panthers. Could be interesting.
Our tip: Panthers
Cowboys v Raiders
2016 Offense: Cowboys 14.95% (5th), Raiders 28.95% (2nd)
2016 Defense: Cowboys -43.38% (2nd), Raiders -14.59% (5th)
Seeing the Cowboys in action without James Tamou and Ben Hannant should prove interesting, and it certainly won’t be easy for them against last year’s other Preliminary Final loser. More than any other side, the Cowboys have built their success on the foundation of a dominant forward pack and this will be the first season they enter in a while with question marks over their pack. Scott Bolton is an honest toiler, but lacks the punch the Cowboys are accustomed to getting from their starting props. Whether they continue to rotate their entire pack simultaneously as they did in 2016 may give an indication of how coach Paul Green feels about his new engine room.
The Raiders have largely the same squad that was so damaging last year, including not only their entire spine but also their dynamic right edge of Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana. A trip to North Queensland is always tough though, and at this stage of the season, the Raiders’ exciting-yet-error-prone style of play may bring them unstuck on a balmy North Queensland night. The Cowboys’ defense was among the league’s best in 2016, and the conditions are unlikely to be conducive to the style of play the Raiders fans (and rugby league fans generally) love.
Our tip: Cowboys
Titans v Roosters
2016 Offense: Titans -27.86% (14th), Roosters 1.20% (9th)
2016 Defense: Titans 25.89% (14th), Roosters 3.15% (10th)
This match is easily the most difficult to tip, and for that matter the most interesting to see unfold.
The Titans will be rolling out quite possibly the best spine in the club’s history: Jarryd Hayne, Kane Elgey, Ash Taylor and Tyrone Roberts (and they’ll only get better once they add Nathan Peats at hooker). Ash Taylor was the flavour of the month a year ago, but The Obstruction Rule is of the view that not only was Taylor not the best half in his rookie class (that honour should have gone to Nathan Cleary), he’s not even the best half in his club. We say this not as a slight towards Taylor, but to remind those with short memories just how talented Kane Elgey is. Their backline looks a little slower than the speedy three-quarters we’re used to seeing from the Titans, but the team on the whole looks far more balanced than in previous years, and we look forward to seeing what Neil Henry does with them.
The Roosters were an enigma in 2016, but are widely regarded as a strong chance to bounce back as contenders. Adding Michael Gordon is a huge boost, freeing up Latrell Mitchell to move to centre (where we expect he should excel), and the addition of Luke Keary should finally give Mitchell Pearce a legit long-term halves partner to work with.
We’re taking the Roosters here, but wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Titans give it a red hot crack. They’ve won plenty of matches with worse squads than this before.
Our tip: Roosters
Warriors v Knights
2016 Offense: Warriors 4.63% (8th), Knights -42.63% (15th)
2016 Defense: Warriors 1.27% (9th), Knights 100.06% (16th)
The battle of 2016’s two biggest disappointments: the Warriors, who were everyone’s Premiers last February before failing to make the eight; and the Knights, who somehow managed to get worse after a wooden spoon season.
It wouldn’t be a bold statement to say that both these teams should improve – at this point that would just be regression to the mean. However, both sides have genuine reason for optimism.
This match will see the return of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for the Warriors, and their defense is expected is to improve under new coach Stephen Kearney (who was previously the assistant coach of the Broncos’ efficient defense).
For the Knights, it’s about a long-term rebuild. The addition of players like Jamie Buhrer, Ken Sio and the unfortunately unavailable Rory Kostjasyn won’t have broken the bank, but will give them another handful of NRL calibre players as they attempt to build a competitive squad. Last season was hard, and you’d have to be very optimistic to tip them, but at least they appear to (finally) be headed in the right direction.
Our tip: Warriors
Sea Eagles v Eels
2016 Offense: Sea Eagles -7.87% (11th), Eels -8.48% (12th)
2016 Defense: Sea Eagles 10.17% (11th), Eels -8.90% (7th)
The final match of the round is another that’s hard to get a read on. The Sea Eagles were another great disappointment in 2016, failing to play finals footy despite having a side stacked with representative stars (albeit aging ones). It’s early days, but it at least appears that coach Trent Barrett may have learnt from last year’s mistakes: Dylan Walker has returned to centre (had he started the season there in 2016, they may have made the playoffs), and from all accounts has been looking electric in the trials. How much trial form translates to the season proper though remains to be seen.
The Eels are even more difficult to assess, as they virtually had two different seasons last year: the first, pre-salary cap scandal, in which they had a Top 4 defense, and looked a genuine title threat; and the second, post-salary cap scandal, where they looked a mere shadow of their former selves. On paper this team looks every bit as dangerous as the one that was running through the league early last year, so with the darkness of 2016 behind them, we’re taking a punt that the Eels will pick up where they left off.
Our tip: Eels
A quick note on the early round stats: The nature of our VOA-based statistics is that they naturally require a league average as a starting point, thus the smaller the sample size, the less accurate these stats will be. However, to satisfy our readers, we’ll publish the stats and associated projections from Round 1 (despite a persistent letter-writing campaign, I’m yet to find any major footy tipping outlets who are willing to start their competitions from Round 10…). In order to do this, we’re forced to use the 2016 database as the foundation for the stats, and as the weeks pass these will be combined with the new season’s numbers and weighted progressively less each week until the numbers used are entirely from 2017. We can’t guarantee that this method is necessarily going to be effective (we’ve never tried it before, and naturally teams will have changed from one season to the next), but it’s the only way we can think of to present the data in the early rounds without it being totally skewed by an insufficient sample size. In short, for at least the first month it is best to consider our stats as purely for entertainment purposes. They may prove accurate (we’ll review them later in the season), but the method is firmly in the testing phase.