2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 76/111 (68%) [Last week:3/4]
Line Betting: 28/52 (54%) [Last week: 0/1]
2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Line Betting: 54%
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NRL Round 16 Tips and Previews
Warriors v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Warriors -7.44% (10th), Bulldogs -39.04% (16th)
Defense VOA: Warriors 13.27% (10th), Bulldogs -25.96% (4th)
Round 16 opens with two last-start winners, as the Warriors host the Bulldogs at Mt Smart.
Long-time readers will know that we’ve been off the Warriors for a while, and that we don’t require a lot of prompting to write that the Warriors are rubbish (which reminds us, the Warriors are rubbish). Nonetheless (yes, we may be still drunk on the correct tip of a Warriors win abroad at the Gold Coast), we’re taking another drink from that manky well and backing in the Warriors once again.
The reason for our change in tune has less to do with the Warriors (who, despite improving, are still entirely disappointing), and more to do with their opponents. Quite simply, we don’t believe that the Bulldogs ‘bounced back’ in defeating the Dragons – we believe that both teams put in stodgy, unimaginative performances, and that the Bulldogs just happened to be in front at the end.
Nothing the Bulldogs did that day was vastly different to the 80 minutes of stink that the Bulldogs dished up in each of the weeks prior, which had them in a the midst of a four-game hole. They managed to win the run metres for a change, but that was only with a 57-43 possession advantage (it would be near-impossible to lose it with that much ball). Their attack was just as stale as usual, managing just 2 line breaks, despite a wealth of possession. And here’s a fun fact: in their past three games, the Bulldogs have managed a combined 4 line breaks. By contrast, over the same period, the least number of line breaks made by the Warriors in a single game is 5.
And therein lies the difference. Sure, the Warriors’ defense is woeful. But are the Bulldogs really likely to take advantage of it? They’ve played 14 games this season; they’ve scored more than 3 tries in just 4 (and haven’t done so at all since Round 7). Conversely, the Warriors have done so in 4 of their last 5 alone.
We still won’t feel good about it (it is the Warriors after all – you can never feel good about it). But in the last month, the Warriors have at least shown signs of improvement. We don’t believe the Bulldogs have.
Our tip: Warriors
Tigers v Titans
Offense VOA: Tigers -4.65% (9th), Titans -13.27% (12th)
Defense VOA: Tigers 35.72% (15th), Titans 70.85% (16th)
The Friday night, free-to-air, match-of-the-round this week is… the Tigers vs the Titans (sorry, what?). In fairness, you can understand why NRL schedule-makers may have assumed that this game would be largely unaffected by Origin players backing up, but regardless, if you’ve been getting harrassed to go to dinner with your in-laws, 8pm Friday night would be a fine choice.
The Tigers come into this match having lost their past 6 on the trot, while the Titans are on a 4 game stretch of losses of their own. It goes without saying, but neither side is very good.
Defense, in particular, has not been a feature for either side, so we’d be hoping that for the loyal souls who decide to sit through this on Friday night, they should at least be treated to a stack of tries. Both sides have conceded 5 or more tries in 4 out of their past 5 matches, and it should come as no surprise that the Titans and Tigers rank last and 2nd last respectively in both Defense VOA (35.72% and 70.85%) and points conceded (382 and 370).
Offensively, both teams have their moments, but struggle with consistency, largely because they’re often playing behind a beaten pack. We’ve mentioned previously how soft the Titans’ pack is (they’ve been outgained in all but 2 of their 14 matches this season, and rank 2nd last in RMVOA), but the Tigers have field position problems of their own. The Tigers are actually quite effective at making metres; their issue is that their soft defense is completely incapable of stopping them (they rank 14th in RMCVOA – 3.79%), and teams roll effortlessly downfield, leaving the Tigers forever working out of their own end (when they’re not standing in their own in-goal). But regardless of what causes the problem, the result is the same – losing field position.
So if both these sides have poor defenses and ordinary forwards, how do we split them? Field position is gold in the modern NRL, and if the Tigers hold a noticeable advantage anywhere, it might just be in discipline. The Tigers rank 1st in penalties conceded, and have conceded a whopping 22 less penalties this year than their counterparts. Given the softness of each side’s defense, a couple of extra piggy-backs could well prove to be the difference here.
To be quite honest, we do kind of feel like the Tigers are getting closer to a win, and they dearly need one to get away from a potential wooden spoon. So rationally, it feels like backing the Tigers (and terrifyingly, the Warriors) is the right move to make. Incidentally, it also feels like at about 10pm on Friday, we’ll want to tear our TV out of the wall, and throw it into the street.
Our tip: Tigers
Cowboys v Panthers
Offense VOA: Cowboys -8.15% (11th), Panthers 14.75% (5th)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 20.19% (13th), Panthers 14.70% (12th)
With Cowboys halfback Johnathan Thurston out for this clash with a shoulder injury, it looks like a large number of punters will be saved from themselves. Before Origin 2, the Panthers were $2.65 outsiders, and even without Thurston, the bookies now have this game even. Which would make sense, were it not for the fact that the Panthers are better than the Cowboys; with Thurston or otherwise.
The major knock on the Panthers is that they have yet to beat any current Top 8 sides in 2017 (though we expect that to change on Saturday, and they were robbed of a win over the Roosters back in Round 3). However, let’s take a moment to see who the Cowboys have managed to beat since they lost Matt Scott back in Round 2: the Titans, Rabbitohs, Knights, Bulldogs, Titans and Eels (or to put that differently; 14th, 13th, 15th, 12th, 14th and 9th. And, they also lost to the team currently running last). Surely what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so it’s somewhat odd that the Cowboys are spared the criticism aimed at the Panthers.
Both sides carry the same major weakness – defense, and everything it entails. However, the Panthers have been vastly better offensively across the season, and since Matt Moylan made the shift to five-eighth, they’re arguably the form attacking team in the competition. Where earlier in the season they distributed responsibility roughly evenly between Moylan, Nathan Cleary, and the now-departed Te Maire Martin (to their own detriment), they’ve now made it clear that Moylan is ‘the man’ – and he’s playing like it. Moylan single-handedly tore the Raiders apart to steal a win a fortnight ago, and he’s quickly becoming one of the NRL’s most dominant playmakers (he currently ranks 2nd in line break assists, despite the Panthers being awful for the first two months of the competition). To give an idea of how quickly the Panthers have transformed, consider this: heading into their Round 9 clash with the Broncos, the Panthers’ Offense VOA ranked 14th; just 5 games later, they now rank 5th.
And we still haven’t addressed the greatest mismatch – the forwards. Since Matt Scott went down, the Cowboys have gone down with him, with their typically dominant forward pack ranking just 12th in RMVOA (-1.75%). They’ve performed admirably, and we fully expect them to return to their former dominance in 2018, when Matt Scott returns and Jordan McLean arrives. But in the meantime, sending a Scott Bolton-led forward pack in to face Trent Merrin and company (who just lit up the more fancied Raiders and Bulldogs packs in their past two outings) is like bringing a spoon to a knife fight.
Like the Tigers/Titans game already discussed, we wouldn’t be surprised to see another feast of tries, and admittedly, the Cowboys have had the Panthers’ measure of late, having lost to Penrith just once since 2011. But on form, the Panthers have simply been better of late, and we don’t see any reason for that to change.
Our tip: Panthers
Raiders v Broncos
Offense VOA: Raiders 14.39% (6th), Broncos 2.46% (8th)
Defense VOA: Raiders -17.34% (6th), Broncos -10.75% (8th)
If you’re a believer that teams will lift for the games they absolutely need to win, then you simply have to take the Raiders this week.
The Raiders enter this match in 10th spot, but just 2 points adrift of the Top 8. However, the Broncos are just the first in a four-game stretch of games against current Top 8 sides on the horizon for the Raiders (they face the Cowboys, Dragons and Storm over the coming month), and if they don’t win at least half of those games, they’ll be in a world of hurt.
A Broncos team already reeling from the loss of Anthony Milford, and with potentially three players backing up from State of Origin are as ripe as they’ll ever be to be knocked off in the nation’s capital.
We’ve been major supporters of the Raiders all season long, believing that the Raiders are actually playing far better than their record indicates (and to be honest, we still believe that). But at some point, good football only counts for so much – they still have to actually win, something the Broncos have been far better at, despite being just as inconsistent.
Head-to-head these two teams look to be remarkably even. Most would agree that the Raiders hold an advantage offensively, though on recent form, the Broncos haven’t been bad, registering the same number of tries and line breaks (7 and 11) as the Raiders in their past two matches. Similarly, the Raiders’ forwards are more widely fancied than the Broncos’, but Brisbane actually rank higher in RMVOA (4th v 6th). On the other side of the ball they’re matched fairly equally as well, with one stand-out exception – the Broncos rank dead last in RMCVOA (7.14%). And it’s there that we see the difference between these two teams.
The Raiders offense is built on rumbling through the middle of the park, and playing off quick play-the-balls; no team in the competition is more accommodating in that regard than the Broncos, who gave up over 1700 metres against the Warriors three weeks ago, and have given up over 1600 metres on 4 occasions this year (the Raiders have done so just once).
In a match that shapes as tightly as this one, we think this could be the difference between the Raiders scoring 3 tries or 4, and winning the football game. And they really need to win this game.
Our tip: Raiders
Roosters v Storm
Offense VOA: Roosters 16.52% (4th), Storm 31.83% (1st)
Defense VOA: Roosters -15.79% (7th), Storm -46.71% (1st)
Tipping this game is a bit of a shot in the dark, with both sides majorly impacted by Origin, and we have no idea at time of writing who’s actually likely to back up and who isn’t.
That said, the Storm looked pretty handy last week even without their Origin stars. Though the game came down to the wire, there was a lot to like about the Little 3 who took over in the absence of Slater, Cronk and Smith; tearing the Baby Cows (Calves?) apart to the tune of 9 line breaks (the equal most the Storm have put on in a match all season). So in the event that some (or all) their stars are missing, it’s not the end of the world anyway.
As for the Roosters, they’ve quietly gone about their business this year. In their last start, they added the Tigers to a growing list of ordinary football teams that they’ve punished this year. The issue for the Roosters has come when they’ve faced a step up in class. Like the Panthers and Cowboys mentioned earlier, the Roosters have struggled whenever they’ve come up against top flight competition, having only won against the Panthers (through thievery), the Dragons (a match they were losing up until Gareth Widdop tore his MCL), and the Broncos. They unquestionably have the talent to make a deep run, but at some point they’re going to have to step up and beat a top side.
If there’s a single reason why they keep losing to top sides, we’d point to their handling errors. The Roosters play as though they’ve dipped their hands in football repellent – they rank last in errors (or first, depending on how you look at it) with an appalling 166 through just 14 games of football. The only other Top 8 team in the bottom 5 in that regard is the Sharks, but the Sharks have the sort of impenetrable defense to defend those mistakes – the Roosters, frankly, do not. So it should come as no co-incidence that in their lone decent performance against strong opposition (their Round 13 win over Brisbane), they happened to make their lowest number of errors for the season (8).
So, if the Roosters can replicate that sort of discipline with the ball, we wouldn’t be surprised to see them go toe-to-toe with Melbourne. But there’s not a lot of evidence to believe that that will be the case, and if they present the Storm with a stack of short fields to attack, you can bet they’re going to get punished, Origin stars or otherwise.
NOTE: Since time of writing (but prior to publishing), all three of Slater, Cronk and Smith have been ruled out, making the Roosters the “safest” option to pick (you’d expect in light of that news, the Roosters will be overwhelming favourites, so you don’t stand to lose much if you get it wrong). But let the record show – we still think the Storm can win this game, and if you want to get loose and back the Storm at $3+, get on it – we probably will.
Our tip: Roosters
Dragons v Knights
Offense VOA: Dragons 28.03% (2nd), Knights -36.75% (15th)
Defense VOA: Dragons -20.23% (5th), Knights 25.37% (14th)
If you thought you were going to log in this week to find us admit we were wrong to strongly back the Dragons against Parramatta last week, you’re sadly mistaken. In short, the Dragons comprehensively outperformed the Eels in every statistical category, and were it not for two fluke, runaway tries to Parramatta, it would have been 2 tries a-piece (it’s unfortunate that Parra have a bye this week, so you have to wait until next week for our full-length exposition, “Why the Eels are shit”).
Having said that, just because they outperformed Parramatta doesn’t mean that alarm bells aren’t starting to ring about the Dragons. They entered the month of June in 2nd place, and with a string of soft matches on the horizon; they’ve now lost two on the trot to the Eels and Bulldogs, and looked bog average in their win over the Tigers. To be blunt, we wouldn’t even be shocked at this point to see them lose to Newcastle.
We’re not that fussed about the Dragons’ offense – they’re still chewing up run metres, and they’re still making line breaks off the back of those. The recent shortage of tries looks more like regression to the mean than any sort of offensive failing (through the opening 7 Rounds, the Dragons were scoring more tries than they were making line breaks, which is highly unusual, and typically a mark of bad attacking teams – through 15 Rounds, only the Titans remain in that boat). Rather, we’re concerned by their defense.
Through their past three matches, they’ve conceded over 1450 metres on each occasion, a mark that had been crossed just twice in their previous 11 matches. Giving up a swag of metres has put their defense under strain, and impacted on their field position. Fortunately, the Knights are the worst team in the league at making metres (-11.66% RMVOA), so they shouldn’t be in too much danger of being exposed this week.
The Knights could be forgiven for already having an eye on next week’s big spoon-clash with the Tigers, but we hope they turn up here to play, because the Dragons are certainly beatable. The Knights showed against the Sea Eagles that if teams don’t put in a decent effort, Newcastle are capable of hanging around. We fully expect the Dragons to at least make some attempt to right the ship this weekend, but if they don’t, those alarm bells could become air raid sirens.
Our tip: Dragons
Sharks v Sea Eagles
Offense VOA: Sharks 6.17% (7th), Sea Eagles 25.81% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Sharks -37.56% (2nd), Sea Eagles -26.25% (3rd)
The final match of Round 16 should be a doozy.
Like the Dragons, the Sea Eagles enter this match having looked generally unconvincing of late. However, unlike the Dragons, the Sea Eagles have still managed to find ways to win, and as a result, they sit in 5th spot, ready for a deep run into the playoffs.
The Sharks should present as the perfect test for the Sea Eagles. Manly were one of the league’s hottest offenses during the opening section of the year, but since losing Tom Trbojevic, they’ve looked solid if unspectacular against some pretty ordinary defenses, including the Titans and Knights. With an extra week’s rest, we expect ‘Turbo’ to be 100% (he didn’t look right against the Knights), and we hope that the Sea Eagles attack will be firing. There’s no better measure than the resilient Sharks.
Last week, missing 4 Origin stars, was just the second time this year that the Sharks have conceded 4 tries in a match (the other was all the way back in Round 1, against Brisbane). Beyond that, you’ve always known what you’ll get from the Sharks – they’ll concede 3 or less tries, 4 or less line breaks, and (with just two other exceptions) they’ll miss 28 or less tackles. The Cronulla defense is like clockwork. However, in the Sea Eagles, we might have an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.
Just as the Sharks rank 2nd in LBCVOA, the Sea Eagles rank 2nd in LBVOA – mirror images of each other. While the Sea Eagles rank 3rd in tries, the Sharks rank 1st in tries conceded. We genuinely don’t know how this will play out.
So we’ll go back to our original point, and lean on the recent slight drop in Manly’s form. We certainly don’t know that they won’t be able to crack the Sharks defense – if anyone can, the Sea Eagles would be one of the best bets – but in all likelihood they probably can’t. And that’ll have to be good enough for us.
Our tip: Sharks