2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 13/16 (81%) [Last week: 6/8]
Margin Betting: 2/3 (67%) [Last week: 2/3]
2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Margin Betting: 54%
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Storm v Broncos
Offense VOA: Storm 15.32% (5th), Broncos 39.94% (1st)
Defense VOA: Storm -50.55% (2nd), Broncos -61.15% (1st)
The opening match of the round sees the undefeated Melbourne Storm hosting the Brisbane Broncos, who are fresh off yet another barnburner of a Queensland derby.
The Storm did enough to win in New Zealand last week, going toe-to-toe with the Kiwis for a half of football, before blowing them away in the 2nd stanza. Though the Storm’s offensive VOA numbers are lower than what we’re used to seeing from them (but still very good), it’s worth noting that both of the Storm’s opening matches were played in atrocious weather conditions that weren’t at all conducive to attacking football. As a result, we suspect that the Storm’s numbers may be artificially deflated, and on what should be a clear night in Victoria’s capital, we hope to see Melbourne start to look a little bit more Storm-ish. It’s a strange state of affairs indeed when we’re looking forward to Melbourne for the weather…
The Broncos went down to the Cowboys in golden point last week, but were far from embarrassed. When you consider the strength of the Broncos’ two opening opponents (Cronulla and North Queensland), the Broncos’ performances have been nothing short of superb, and as a result we have them currently rated as the form team in the competition.
But form will only get you so far. At some point, the physical toll of two gruelling matches may come back to haunt the Broncos, and it may well be fatigue that ultimately separates these two sides on Thursday night. We can’t help thinking back to how flat the Cowboys were in last year’s Preliminary Final following these teams’ previous meeting, and wondering whether Brisbane might suffer the same fate. Add to this the return of Billy Slater, whose presence will allow Cameron Munster to return to five-eighth (where he trained for much of the off-season), and the possible return of the Storm’s forward leader, Jesse Bromwich, and there’s reason enough to suspect the Storm might have a little too much for Brisbane. However, we’d stop well short of calling this a foregone conclusion.
Our tip: Storm
Bulldogs v Warriors
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -26.12% (14th), Warriors -6.27% (10th)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs -14.74% (5th), Warriors -7.36% (6th)
In the first match of the Friday double-header, the Bulldogs are taking a home match across the ditch to Dunedin.
Phil Gould remarked during last week’s clash with the Roosters that the Bulldogs have indeed improved their offense. Granted, they may have improved slightly, but given the imagination-less tripe they dished up in 2016, that’s not a particularly strong endorsement. Scoring tries from loose Roosters errors does not an offense make, and with the exception of a fantastic little set piece off James Graham, we haven’t seen any reason to think the Bulldogs have solved their attacking issues just yet.
The Warriors, however, haven’t looked any better themselves. They struggled to get past the Knights, and couldn’t muster a single line break against the Storm at home. A loss here could see Stephen Kearney facing early heat from the Kiwi press.
It’s difficult to separate the two sides. The Bulldogs will be without Kerrod Holland and Will Hopoate (presumably they’re still digging him out of the Allianz Stadium turf), while the Warriors will be without Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Though we’ve been critical of Hopoate in the past, he’s actually looked a lot better in 2017, and was no longer playing like he’s wearing lead boots. Though his loss may prove a blessing if Brad Abbey has a blinder, we worry that changes to the spine of a team already struggling for offensive continuity can’t be a good thing. In contrast, Tuivasa-Sheck’s absence will likely be filled by Tui Lolohea, who filled in there frequently in 2016. As a result, we think the Warriors offense should be less interrupted, and frankly, it’s better in the first place.
Our tip: Warriors
Titans v Eels
Offense VOA: Titans -33.87% (16th), Eels -9.77% (12th)
Defense VOA: Titans 58.18% (15th), Eels -4.93% (7th)
It would be easy to take aim at the Titans after they became the first team to lose to Newcastle since last April. But in fairness, to remain competitive at NRL level after playing 60 minutes with a 1-man bench is nothing to be ashamed of, and had they of won, it would have been a minor miracle.
As for Parramatta, they went down to Wollongong and easily dispatched with the Dragons. We still don’t think the Eels have scratched the surface of their ability, however it’s unlikely they’ll need to against the Gold Coast.
The Titans are so ravaged by injury they might need to have a meet-and-greet before the match, and sadly, they weren’t playing very well even when they were healthy. It’s scary to think what the Eels might do to them if the Gold Coast don’t aim up (or for that matter, if Parramatta do). We like the Eels, and it could be by a cricket score.
Our tip: Eels
Knights v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Knights -30.76% (15th), Rabbitohs 9.59% (8th)
Defense VOA: Knights 63.32% (16th), Rabbitohs 17.76% (12th)
After almost a full calendar year of losing, the Knights finally stopped the rot in unconvincing fashion at home against the Titans. After that long between drinks, we doubt that Knights fans would have cared how they got it done, and we wonder how many people called in sick on Monday morning in Newcastle. That was last week though, and in a stroke of good fortune, the Knights get another winnable game against the Rabbitohs.
The Rabbitohs were too strong for Manly, playing high percentage football to wear down the Sea Eagles. This match played right into the Rabbitohs hands though, as they love to win games through the middle, and Manly entered the match with just two recognised props. The Knights have a similarly soft forward pack, which doesn’t bode well for Nathan Brown’s men.
We keep saying it, but the Knights are indeed much better than in 2016. They have the capacity to beat sides who don’t turn up (or who turn up, then get carted off with injuries), but we’re not sure yet if they’re ready to beat even the weaker sides at their best. The Knights’ defense still looks porous (especially on the goal line), and though their offense is greatly improved, it’s probably not yet at a level to mask their defensive deficiencies.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Panthers v Roosters
Offense VOA: Panthers 17.07% (3rd), Roosters 6.52% (9th)
Defense VOA: Panthers 6.61% (10th), Roosters -0.53% (8th)
Saturday night will see a meeting of two of the most talented yet inconsistent sides in the competition, when the Panthers host the Roosters. The Panthers have now registered one stinker and one blinder in 2017, while the Roosters have won both their matches, but not without clocking off for extended periods during both games.
After our scathing criticism of the Panthers last week, they proved us right and bounced back in emphatic fashion, tearing the Tigers a proverbial new one. The Panthers scored at will, but more impressive than their enterprising attack (they’re already well known as one of the NRL’s most entertaining sides) was their rigid defense (they’re also typically known for bleeding points). Now, we’re not saying that the Panthers’ defense was better off without Bryce Cartwright (that would be cruel), we’re just not saying that they weren’t. Add in the use of the intelligent Dean Whare at centre, plus a touch of enthusiasm that can only come from having been torched by the Dragons, and the Panthers defense was something to behold.
As for the Roosters, their offense (and in particular, the kicking game of Luke Keary) was on full display against the typically stout Bulldogs defense. Nonetheless, when you concede 24 points to the Bulldogs (the last time the Dogs put 24 past someone other than Newcastle was in Round 18 last year, and even that was only against Wests), people are going to ask questions.
So how do you split these two enigmatic sides? The difference may well be in the loss of Blake Ferguson for the Roosters. Not because he’s especially required for their attack to work, but rather because his loss will force a change to the Roosters’ right edge defense. That’s the same right edge that will be forced to try and contain Tyrone Peachey and Dylan Edwards, who lit up the Tigers to the tune of over 370 metres and 5 line breaks between them. Yes, given both sides’ inconsistency, this match could easily be decided by which team wets the bed. But if everything stays dry, we give the Panthers a slight edge.
Our tip: Panthers
Cowboys v Sea Eagles
Offense VOA: Cowboys 11.07% (7th), Sea Eagles -8.66% (11th)
Defense VOA: Cowboys -42.75% (3rd), Sea Eagles 26.63% (13th)
So the Sea Eagles are 0-2, their board is infighting, they’re still missing four props and now, on top of all that, they have a trip to Townsville to play the Cowboys. How can you possibly make a case for Manly here? We’ll give it a red hot go.
For all their faults, Manly are still playing decent attacking footy with the ball in hand. Tom Trbjovic is proving to be a revelation for them at fullback, and with the freedom to inject himself on either side of the ball, the Sea Eagles have the capacity to make line breaks from anywhere on the field (which is important, as their under-strength pack has been consistently dominated).
Yes, they have a date with North Queensland, but if you had to choose when to play North Queensland, this is probably the time (other than in an Origin week). The Cowboys are still adjusting to the loss of James Tamou to Penrith, and now have to deal with the season-ending loss of Matt Scott, as well as Jason Taumololo, Lachlan Coote and Antonio Winterstein. We’d argue that the loss of key forwards is likely to hurt the Cowboys more than the Sea Eagles, as the Queenslanders’ success over the last 2 years has been built almost entirely on the platform laid by their All-World forward pack, whereas the Sea Eagles aren’t accustomed to getting much go-forward in the first place.
All of this being said, we’re still taking North Queensland. We’d love to tip Manly (and we do think the Cowboys are under-priced given the circumstances), but after watching them get ripped apart by Souths, we just can’t muster the courage to do it again.
Our tip: Cowboys
Raiders v Tigers
Offense VOA: Raiders 15.45% (4th), Tigers 21.16% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Raiders 3.63% (9th), Tigers 27.58% (14th)
It’s only Round 3, but already Raiders fans have begun soul-searching on social media following their 0-2 start to the season. On the other hand, Tigers fans likely went into hiding following their 34-point drubbing at the hands of Penrith.
While we understand Raiders fans’ disappointment with their opening fortnight’s results, we don’t actually think the Raiders are playing that bad. Consideration of a team’s performances goes beyond their ladder position, and when you consider the calibre of sides the Raiders have played, they deserve at least a pass. They took the Cowboys to golden point, and while they did lose their composure against the Sharks last week, we think the Sharks defense is deserving of most of the responsibility for that performance. The Sharks were exceptional, and against most other sides in the competition the Raiders would have scored multiple tries by halftime, and the match would have unfolded very differently. We completely expect regular transmission to resume once the Raiders run into a soft defense, and they’ll surely be relieved to look at the draw and find the Tigers colander of a defense coming to town.
As for the Tigers, what a difference a week makes. Th Add to this the return of BillyWeek One, but against a much better side playing much better football, they capitulated. The Tigers quickly grew frustrated when they couldn’t have their way with Penrith despite a mass of field position, and in the 2nd half went into full meltdown mode, making a swag of errors as the Panthers ran all over them.
These two sides have historically matched up well, and have put on some classics over the years. Recently though, the Raiders have had the wood on the Tigers, including winning both last year’s encounters by a combined score of 112-16. These two sides match up well stylistically, built for attacking flair with defense as an afterthought. For this reason, we’d expect a stack of points. We’d also expect the Raiders to score the majority of them.
Our tip: Raiders
Sharks v Dragons
Offense VOA: Sharks 13.46% (6th), Dragons -13.18% (13th)
Defense VOA: Sharks -33.74% (4th), Dragons 12.03% (11th)
If you were wondering what that ‘thud’ you heard on Sunday night was, it may have been the Dragons coming back to earth. Red V fans were delirious following their Week One thrashing of the Panthers, but alas, it may have been a false dawn.
The Dragons’ much-hyped new offense failed to offer much against the Eels, and that’s before we even touch on what happened to their defense. The Dragons were cut to ribbons by Parramatta, who aren’t a noted attacking powerhouse by any stretch. And if they struggled with the might of the Eels, just wait until they arrive in the Shire.
Like the 2016 Cowboys, this year’s Sharks may turn out to be even better than the model that won the premiership a year earlier (though they’ll hope they go one week further than North Queensland did). While they needed a healthy serving of good fortune to mask their weaknesses and earn their maiden premiership, this year’s Cronulla Sharks look a more complete side. Their pack is still dominating, and their defense might be even better than 2016. But their attack against Canberra was truly sublime, and could even be an asset in 2017. Jack Bird was a revelation at fullback, and Wade Graham seems to get better every game. We’d like to see the Sharks repeat that kind of performance against a more stout defense, but so far the Sharks look the goods.
As to how this match plays out, it’s hard to go past Cronulla. The Dragons’ only attacking option seems to be to try assert themselves up the middle, but if they face a little resistance (as Parramatta provided), they don’t have much else. Cronulla should be made of sterner stuff and have no trouble accounting for the Dragons at home.
Our tip: Sharks
A quick note on the early round stats: The nature of our VOA-based NRL 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.