2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 68/99 (69%) [Last week:7/7]
Line Betting: 27/47 (57%) [Last week: 1/2]
2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Line Betting: 54%
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NRL Round 14 Tips and Previews
Sharks v Storm
Offense VOA: Sharks -4.17% (8th), Storm 30.87% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Sharks -40.09% (2nd), Storm -48.39% (1st)
Sharks v Storm is fast becoming to kids of this generation what Storm/Sea Eagles was to kids of the 00s, or Raiders/Broncos was to kids of the 90s. After a few years of total Storm dominance (and we do mean total dominance – the Storm’s average winning margin from 2013-15 was 30 points), the Sharks have been a thorn in the Storm’s side for the past 18 months, winning 3 of their last 4 meetings, including that one meeting that mattered most of all. The Sharks are one of just two teams to have beaten the Storm this year (the other being the Titans, in one of the great aberrations), and in doing so, became the first team to keep the Storm tryless since the Roosters did it in Round 12, 2015.
But do we actually think they’re better than Melbourne? In short, no.
The Sharks are a very good rugby league team, no doubt. They compete with the Storm largely on the back of an elite forward pack, who don’t allow the Storm to control the ruck with the sort of ease with which they do against most opponents. The Sharks also feature an elite defense, with which they’re able to keep games close, and as we know, close games wind up being typically decided by little more than luck.
But a short term winning head-to-head record doesn’t make the Sharks better than the Storm (and if Will Chambers passed it to Cooper Cronk, we wouldn’t be having this conversation). The Storm are currently a better football team right across the board. Their offense is lights out better than the Sharks (Cronulla’s offense has been held to 3 tries or less in 9 out of 12 games this season; it’s only happened to Melbourne 4 times). Melbourne execute their set plays better, courtesy of the best spine in the NRL. Both defenses are exceptional, and choosing one over the other is largely a matter of personal preference – the Sharks aggressive line speed is awesome, but is it better than the Purple Wall? Probably not.
But it is close. So close, in fact, that the absence of a single key player could prove the difference. And therein lies the rub. With the Storm opting to rest Cooper Cronk for the biggest game of the year so far, we just can’t tip them. With the biggest difference between the sides being their offenses, the absence of one of the game’s best halfbacks is a deal-breaker. The Storm very well may still win (how many tries is Cronk worth to Melbourne, anyway?), but in light of that information, we believe the safest option is to take Cronulla.
Our tip: Sharks
Sea Eagles v Knights
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 31.16% (2nd), Knights -31.29% (15th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles -23.74% (3rd), Knights 32.46% (15th)
In Round 14, the Sea Eagles have
their second bye the Knights.
The biggest challenge for the Sea Eagles is likely to be complacency, though that doesn’t appear to be a problem, with the Sea Eagles naming star fullback Tom Trbojevic on an extended bench, despite not being due to return for another month.
We’ve been touting the Sea Eagles as a serious competition threat for a while now, and while we’ll concede that their offense is coming off the boil a little bit (and they were fortunate to get over the Raiders), we’re putting that down to the absence of Trbojevic, and completely expect them get going again soon enough.
Regardless, this is a great matchup for Manly (and, by extension, a poor one for Newcastle). The Sea Eagles have lost just one match all year in which they’ve won the possession battle (Round 2, when they capitulated against the Rabbitohs), and the Knights are among the league’s most accommodating sides in that regard, having won the possession battle themselves just twice. This is partly due to the Knights’ ill-discipline (they’ve conceded the 6th most penalties this year), but mostly due to poor field position leading them into conceding a league worst 2.5 drop-outs per game (incidentally, the Sea Eagles force a league-best 2.25 per game. Uh-oh…).
On the bright side for the Knights, this week marks the first time since we began this site that the Knights don’t rank dead last in either offense or defense. So they’ve got that goin’ for them. Which is nice.
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Broncos v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Broncos 2.79% (7th), Rabbitohs -18.73% (14th)
Defense VOA: Broncos -8.10% (8th), Rabbitohs 19.23% (12th)
Friday night will see the Broncos host the Rabbitohs, as South Sydney attempt to get revenge for Fumblegate, back in Round 8.
The Broncos are trying to right the ship, after back-to-back losses to the Warriors and Roosters – losses which appear to have cost Ben Hunt his first grade spot, with the halfback being dropped this week in favour of Kodi Nikorima, and Benji Marshall on the bench.
This match is huge for the Broncos, with an impending trip to Canberra after Origin on the horizon, as well as a date with the Storm the following weekend. A loss here would suddenly put their Top 8 spot at risk over the coming month, despite having been placed in the Top 4 just a week ago.
But we don’t see a loss eventuating. We’ve been tipping the downward trend of the Broncos for a while, but they’re still lights-out better than the Rabbitohs. The Bunnies have competed admirably the past couple of weeks, in losses to the Storm and Eels, but their offense remains totally ineffective because their forward pack is getting beaten week-in, week-out. They’ve managed just a single win this year in matches in which they’ve been outgained for run metres (a 1-point over an under-strength Penrith team in Round 6) – a major point of concern, given that they’ve lost the run metres battle a staggering 8 out of 12 times (particularly disappointing for a team supposedly built on its forwards).
And they’re not likely to beat the Broncos up the middle either. Brisbane rank 3rd in RMVOA (5.33%), a number which has seen them outgain their opponents in 9 of 13 matches so far this season.
Put it together, and this shapes as bad news for the Bunnies.
Our tip: Broncos
Titans v Warriors
Offense VOA: Titans -11.44% (12th), Warriors -10.48% (11th)
Defense VOA: Titans 55.52% (16th), Warriors 7.01% (10th)
The Titans and Warriors are two of the biggest weekly targets of this column for criticism, so we feel we’re in the unfortunate spot of having to choose who’s the stinkiest between two stinking turds this week (much like a federal election).
Comparing their offenses, their numbers are almost identical, though we must admit that at times over the past month, the Warriors attack has begun to look (gulp!)… passable? It’s taken them a while to get going, and we’re yet to see a complete 80 minutes from them this year (we’re not going to count a demolition of the Baby Broncos as a complete performance), but they appear to be starting to find a groove in attack. Through their past 4 matches, they average a LBVOA of 22.58%, which would be good enough to place them 4th in the NRL (and includes a bludger of an effort against the Dragons). We still don’t trust them, but the signs are there that they might be improving.
Their defense, on the other hand, is still terrible. However, the Titans’ is even worse.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the Titans’ defense improved last week against the Cowboys, as they conceded only(?!?) 3 tries to North Queensland. However, they still bled 7 line breaks, missed 38 tackles, and were run on for almost 1700 metres. Oddly, that would be considered a good day for the Titans.
So, against our better judgement, we have to lean towards the Warriors. We certainly don’t feel good about it, and we don’t expect either side to do a whole lot of tackling. But, if we must choose which team is worse, we’ll say it’s the Gold Coast. Just.
(As an aside; for those readers who believe in hoodoos, the Titans have beaten the Warriors just once in their past 13 outings, going back as far as 2010. It’s well established that we don’t believe that the result of meetings between sides from 5+ years ago have any bearing on current results, but we’re happy to overlook that when it suits our anti-Gold Coast agenda.)
Our tip: Warriors
Panthers v Raiders
Offense VOA: Panthers 8.87% (6th), Raiders 15.44% (4th)
Defense VOA: Panthers 16.36% (11th), Raiders -19.87% (5th)
The Panthers offense is back, baby.
Two weeks ago, this match was shaping up as a snoozer for the people of Bathurst, but after the Panthers turned on their best performance of the season against the Bulldogs, and the Raiders pushed the Sea Eagles all the way into Golden Point, suddenly this looks like a decent clash.
For Penrith, their offensive problems appear to have been solved by moving Matt Moylan to five-eighth, and adding Dylan Edwards at fullback. It may have only been their first match together in the halves, but Moylan and halfback Nathan Cleary came together like Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat, tearing the Bulldogs apart to the tune of 7 tries and 9 line breaks (though hopefully, unlike the aforementioned Ms. Abdul and Mr.Kat, it won’t be “two steps forward, two steps back” for the Panthers).
With their offensive woes solved, the difference between the sides is likely to be on the defensive side of the ball, where the Raiders appear to hold a decisive edge. However, on closer examination, we’re not so sure that’s the case.
In the process of fixing their offense, the Panthers appear to have also fixed their biggest defense issue (specifically, by booking him in for knee surgery). Consider the following: in matches this year in which the defensively illiterate Bryce Cartwright has played, the Panthers average a LBCVOA of 20.71% (which would place them 13th); when he’s absent, the Panthers improve to -1.29% (good enough for 8th). Of course, correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, but when coupled with actually watching him play, the evidence that he’s a defensive liability is quite damning.
So, if their offenses and defenses match up well, where will the game be won? Likely, in the forwards. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they enter this game without key forwards Shannon Boyd and Dunamis Lui, leaving a massive hole (literally) for Canberra to fill. Last week, against a Bulldogs side missing James Graham, the Panthers crushed the Bulldogs forwards, outgaining them by almost 700 metres. It’s unlikely that they’ll light up the Raiders in the same way – under-strength or not – but in a match that looks incredibly tight, there’s little other options by which to separate them.
Our tip: Panthers
Eels v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Eels -9.40% (10th), Cowboys -13.53% (13th)
Defense VOA: Eels 4.92% (9th), Cowboys 24.71% (13th)
There’s so many question marks over the make-up of these two sides that there’s every chance that whatever we write can be thrown out the window before kick-off anyway. Corey Norman might play; or he might not. Johnathan Thurston could be playing; unless he isn’t. Clint Gutherson could be five-eighth, or he could be centre, or he could be just about position in the Eels backline – at this stage we really have no idea.
So, all we can do is assess the two sides on their performances thus far, and on those, the Eels have looked the better team. The past two weeks, the Eels have gotten away to healthy leads, before almost getting run down in the back end of their matches (though we’re willing to give them a pass against the Warriors, as they finished the match with just one man on the bench). Their finishes are concerning, but they’re looking reasonably sharp with the ball since Mitchell Moses arrived (in the fortnight prior to his arrival, they mustered just a combined 5 tries in losses to the Roosters and Raiders).
As for the Cowboys, they turned in one of the most inept attacking efforts of the season against the Titans. Despite an unheard of 64-36 possession advantage against the worst defense in the league, they somehow managed to score just 3 tries. It felt like the entire second half was played on the Titans’ tryline, and yet the Cowboys seemed to spend the whole time completely lost for ideas.
Of course, there were positive signs – gaining almost double your opponents possession is a sure way of winning football games, and their forwards marched through the soft Titans’ pack with ease, outgaining them by almost 800 metres. But the Eels offer one of the league’s best run defenses (they rank 3rd in RMCVOA), so the Cowboys will need to do more with their opportunities if they hope to win this game.
This game is incredibly tough to call, and the presence (or absence) of either team’s stars would be enough to change our minds (there’s no way in the world that the Cowboys would be as directionless with Thurston in the side), but if they run out as named, we’d give the edge to the Eels.
Our tip: Eels
Tigers v Roosters
Offense VOA: Tigers -5.91% (9th), Roosters 14.16% (5th)
Defense VOA: Tigers 26.58% (14th), Roosters -11.53% (7th)
The Tigers turned on arguably their best performance of the year against the Dragons (though sadly, they still lost).
However, they’ve certainly provided us with food for thought. In keeping the potent Dragons offense to 3 tries, they certainly showed some improvement (though that comes with the caveat that the Dragons were disappointing, and that the Tigers still conceded 5 line breaks and over 1600 metres), but it was with the ball that the Tigers made us take notice.
Yes, they only scored 2 tries. But they made a whopping 7 line breaks against the Dragons, a number which would typically translate to at least double that amount of tries most weeks. And the best part was that the increase in performance didn’t come from their newly minted five-eighth Tui Lolohea; it came from a masterful performance by James Tedesco. So, when Lolohea settles in (and he’s only going to get better), the Tigers will suddenly have strike power right across the park.
But will they have enough to beat the Roosters this week?
Our answer is no, but only because the Tigers’ defense is typically so frail. Despite a couple of relatively unconvincing offensive performances the past two weeks, the Roosters have Origin halfback Mitchell Pearce returning this week, to an offense that we have ranked 5th in the competition.
We actually do think that the Tigers will score a few points, but they’ll likely need at least 20 to beat the Roosters, and that should be a bridge too far.
Our tip: Roosters
Bulldogs v Dragons
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -38.83% (16th), Dragons 40.50% (1st)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs -20.58% (4th), Dragons -14.48% (6th)
The final match of the Round sees the Bulldogs hosting the Dragons.
Typically, you expect some kind of bounceback from teams after a disappointing effort – unfortunately, both sides were disappointing last week, so we’re not sure who’ll be doing the bouncing.
The Bulldogs were absolutely woeful against the Panthers, as their typically elite defense got shredded for 7 tries, 9 line breaks, 40 tackle breaks and over 1600 metres. The Bulldogs had no answers for the Panthers’ quick passing game, particularly on their right edge, where Matt Frawley was repeatedly taken advantage of in a Matt Moylan masterclass. The Dragons will surely have taken notice, and you can expect Gareth Widdop to direct plenty of traffic down that edge when he eventually comes on for Michael Lichaa (assuming that Josh Reynolds does indeed make his return this week, as expected).
The Dragons though, were disappointing themselves. Over the last month, their defensive numbers have progressively slid downwards, and we’ve given them a pass due to the absence of stars Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan. However, they had them both on deck against the Tigers, and produced some of their worst defensive numbers of the year, conceding 7 line breaks and making 33 missed tackles against the Tigers, in a match they were ultimately fortunate to get away with. Across the last month, that gives the Dragons a LBCVOA of 48.66%, which would place them dead last in the NRL.
So needless to say, this game makes us nervous. We’re optimistic that the Dragons will fix their defensive issues soon, and the Bulldogs sure did a great job of playing the Panthers into form. But we’d be lying if we said that we’re not a little nervous.
Our tip: Dragons