2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 79/118 (67%) [Last week:3/7]
Line Betting: 29/56 (52%) [Last week: 1/4]
2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Line Betting: 54%
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NRL Round 17 Tips and Previews
Eels v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Eels -18.53% (14th), Bulldogs -41.00% (16th)
Defense VOA: Eels 5.14% (9th), Bulldogs -25.48% (4th)
Round 17 opens tonight with what should be a really competitive contest.
The Eels have opened up as raging hot favourites, but excuse us if we don’t share the bookmakers’ enthusiasm for Parramatta. There appears to be a common misconception that the Eels are somewhat decent in attack. They’re not. Let’s retrace their steps to their last outing against the Dragons. Yes, they scored 4 tries. But how did they get them? They scored 2 runaway tries from loose balls, a 3rd off a deflection, and their 4th came from a kick. For all the praise their offense got with King Gutho at fullback, they only mustered a single lousy line break, against a Dragons team that’s averaged over 4.5 line breaks conceded over the past 7 weeks. That’s atrocious. (And for added context, the God-awful Bulldogs offense they’re being compared to this week, made 2.)
On the other side of the ball, it’s not even a contest. For all their faults, the Bulldogs do at least defend well. They’ve only been badly lit up by the Panthers and Sea Eagles (whose offenses rank 6th and 3rd respectively), and they’ve kept their opponents to 2 tries or less in an incredible 9/15 matches this season. Their defense is truly remarkable, while the Eels’ is the polar opposite – having leaked 4 tries or more in 8/15 matches. And if they were bad before, they’ve been especially poor since the arrival of Bryce Cartwright-impersonator Mitchell Moses, averaging 5.8 line breaks conceded and over 30 missed tackles per game since his arrival.
So in general, no, we don’t think the Eels are significantly better than the Bulldogs, and in many ways they’re arguably worse (though there’s no argument about their defense – it’s almost non-existent, and the loss of Beau Scott won’t help). However, what is giving us pause for thought is the Eels’ under-rated forward pack. We’ve written many times about the Eels’ surprising performances in the middle of the field, which is reflected in their 3rd place ranking in RMCVOA (-4.06%). In their last start, they actually out-gained the nasty Dragons’ pack for the second time this season (the only other teams to out-gain the Dragons even once were the Tigers and, co-incidentally, the Bulldogs). Send in a Bulldogs pack missing James Graham and Greg Eastwood, and suddenly we feel very nervous.
Everything about this match looks like a dire, low-scoring affair, and if ever there was going to be a nil-all draw, this could be it. With the missing troops in the middle for the Bulldogs, we suspect they’ll struggle for field position, even further reducing their likelihood to score points, which slightly tips the scales in favour of the Eels. But this game is definitely there to be won, and to be honest, $2.85 is awfully tempting.
Our tip: Eels
Titans v Dragons
Offense VOA: Titans -15.59% (13th), Dragons 30.14% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Titans 64.23% (16th), Dragons -11.96% (7th)
Oh my, where do you start with these two teams?
Last week, the Bulldogs and Warriors match was the worst 80 minutes of football we’ve watched this year (for about 12 minutes until the Tigers vs Titans stinker kicked off). Masochistic NRL fans were forced to sit through a combined 24 errors and 9 penalties (yes, that means that bloody whistle was blowing more than once every 2 and a half minutes), in a game that was enough to make you tear your own eyes out.
The Dragons weren’t much better though, getting booed off their own ground at half-time after going to the break trailing 28-10 to the lowly Knights. They’d ultimately win that game, but at the point that you’re conceding 28 points in a half of football to Newcastle, you’ve certainly got defensive issues. This was just the 5th time in two-and-a-half years that the Knights have scored 28 points or more in a match, and the Dragons somehow managed to do it in under 20 minutes. It’s worth noting though that as bad as the Dragons have been lately, the Titans have been worse, and consistently so since day one.
The Titans rank last in Defense (-64.23%), and are objectively almost twice as bad defensively as the next worst team (the Tigers). Last week was just the 5th time all season that the Titans have conceded 3 tries or less in a match, and to be fair, if the Tigers had ever managed to stop dropping the ball, they likely would have easily added to that tally.
So we have two awful defenses going head-to-head on Friday evening. How do we separate them? Offense, of course. The Dragons have been in pretty ordinary form of late, but offensively, they’re rolling along like nothing ever happened. With the exception of their shut-out at the hands of the Bulldogs, they’ve consistently racked up statistics, ranking in the top 3 in LBVOA, RMVOA and TBVOA (3rd, 1st, and 2nd). In contrast, the Titans’ offense has been erratic at best, often struggling for field position due to their third string forward pack (which, by the way, happens to be the Dragons’ best asset).
Put it all together, and we’re quite comfortable taking the Dragons. We expect this to be a try-fest, as neither side seems capable of stopping anybody, but the Dragons’ offense should be able to put on 30+, and make it too much for the Titans to chase down.
Our tip: Dragons
Broncos v Storm
Offense VOA: Broncos 6.90% (7th), Storm 36.63% (1st)
Defense VOA: Broncos -10.31% (8th), Storm -46.22% (1st)
In a potential match-of-the-round, the Broncos will host the Storm on Friday night.
The big storyline heading into this clash has been whether or not Cameron Smith will play. We tend to think that a more pertinent question is: does it matter?
So far this season, Smith has sat out 3 matches – their demolition of Newcastle, the Baby Storm’s win over the Cowboys, and their golden point loss to the Roosters. In those games, they’ve scored 8, 4 and 5 tries respectively, and averaged almost 9 line breaks per game, indicating that as good as he is, the Storm’s offense is capable of rolling along regardless of who’s in the spine (you may also remember that the Storm upset the Sharks without halfback Cooper Cronk).
So, Smith or no Smith, we’re not too fussed. What’s more interesting to us is the form of the Broncos, or more specifically, the outstanding form of Benji Marshall. Consider the following: on the season, the Broncos average LBVOA and TBVOA of -3.42% and 10.96% respectively. In the three games in which Marshall has played five-eighth, those numbers rise to 25.61% and 21.39%, suggesting that he not only passes the eye test – the team is performing better overall. A big chunk of that team performance can be directly attributed to Marshall, who has 3 line break assists and 17 tackle breaks from just 3 starts (and 5 total appearances), compared to (for example) Ben Hunt, who has 4 and 21 from 8 starts (9 total), and Kodi Nikorima, with 4 and 13 from 7 starts (9 total). So thus far, Marshall has been far and away the best Broncos half not named Anthony Milford, and the Broncos’ fortunes are likely to be tied to his performances.
However, is he good enough to crack the Purple Wall? Probably not. The Storm defense has begun to look a little bit shaky the past two weeks without regular centres Will Chambers and Cheyse Blair (they’ve conceded 7 line breaks over the past fortnight, and every single one came on the edges), but the return of Chambers should go a long way to returning the Storm defense to it’s former glories. It should be a good contest, but the Storm are a little bit better on both sides of the ball.
Our tip: Storm
Roosters v Sharks
Offense VOA: Roosters 18.90% (4th), Sharks 2.66% (8th)
Defense VOA: Roosters -11.98% (6th), Sharks -33.59% (2nd)
The clash of teams-who-are-very-good-but-not-the-Storm should be a corker as well, and it’s a shame this game will be tucked away in the 3pm Saturday timeslot, where nobody’s likely to watch it.
The Roosters got the chocolates last week against the Baby Storm, but in a lot of ways, that win raised more questions about the strength of the Roosters’ title aspirations than it answered. Yes, they ultimately found a way to win (though it’s worth noting that the Storm actually scored more tries), but for a team harbouring hopes to compete for a premiership, to let in 5 tries, 9 line breaks, and miss 32 tackles to a team who was missing their entire first-choice spine (and both starting centres) is absolutely inexcusable. The Storm tore through the Roosters all over the park, but particularly went to town on the Roosters left edge, where Latrell Mitchell and Daniel Tupou defend. If the Roosters roll out the same team as named, you can bet that Luke Lewis and Jason Bukuya are going to have an absolute field day down that side.
The Sharks, on the other hand, have no such problems with defense. They were annihilated by a Sea Eagles offense with a wealth of possession last week, but then again, who hasn’t been? It was the first time all year that they’ve conceded more than 4 tries, and just the 3rd time that they’ve conceded more than 3, so we’ll give them a pass.
Rather, the Sharks lost because they had willies for hands last week, making an appalling 18 errors in a single game of football – the equal second-worst effort of any team, all year (unsurprisingly, the worst performance is owned by the Warriors). We’d expect some sort of rebound performance from the Sharks, and on average the Roosters are no better anyway – the two sides rank last and 2nd last in errors on the season. So, if the Roosters are hoping to be able to profit from a one-sided possession count like the Sea Eagles did, they should probably think again.
Our main reservation with the Sharks is the absence of a genuine hooker, with the side having lost Jayden Brailey to a broken jaw. In his place will likely be “utility” Fa’amanu Brown, though he’s only been sighted as a half in first grade previously, so there are sure to be question marks over his dummy-half service.
But as it stands, we’re inclined to think that the Sharks’ defense should be enough to get them over the line. It looks incredibly close, and we really hope they’ve worked on their ball handling in the past week, but after seeing what the Storm’s reserve spine did to the Roosters defense, we just can’t back them against James Maloney and co.
Our tip: Sharks
Sea Eagles v Warriors
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 29.99% (3rd), Warriors -7.94% (9th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles -27.88% (3rd), Warriors 9.93% (11th)
After last week’s demolition of the Sharks, we want to go back in time and pat ourselves on the back for declaring the Sea Eagles Top 4 smokies, all the way back in Round 10 (granted, they actually lost that game, but not the point – the Sea Eagles are the real deal, baby). Sure, the Sharks were utterly dreadful, but the Sea Eagles didn’t have to punish them as mercilessly as they did. If opposition teams learnt anything from the Sea Eagles’ performance, it’s “don’t repeatedly drop the ball against Manly”.
Speaking of dropping the ball, the Warriors are due to face the Sea Eagles this week. We’ve already mentioned their season-worst handling performance from back in Round 4 (which is somewhat unfair, they’ve actually been above average the rest of the year, largely on account of their pedestrian offense), but for a refreshing change, let’s try and think of things that the Warriors do well.
Of late, their pack hasn’t been terrible, and as a result, their boring, possession-and-field-position dependent attacking style has actually started to pay off. They’re scoring over 4 tries per game over the past month, largely by playing off the back of good performances up the middle. They’ve gained 1400 metres or more in each of their last 4 matches; before that, they’d done so in just 3 of their prior 11. So what changed? For a start, Charlie Gubb and Ligi Sao haven’t been sighted over that period (Sao in particular was averaging a woeful 8.2 metres per carry on the season), while Ben Matulino and Albert Vete have returned. It looks like Stephen Kearney is finally figuring out the best forward combination for this team going forward.
But it doesn’t change the fact that the Warriors’ defense is shockingly bad. They concede 4 tries or more in over half of their games, making it near impossible to compete, whether Kieran Foran plays or not. And the Sea Eagles don’t need an invitation to score points.
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Raiders v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Raiders 17.67% (5th), Cowboys -12.22% (11th)
Defense VOA: Raiders -14.21% (5th), Cowboys 16.77% (13th)
At some point, we’re going to get sick of declaring the Raiders unlucky, and accept that they just can’t win. This week will not be that point.
The Raiders have been unlucky. They’ve lost a whopping 6 matches by six points or less. Though you may be of the view that that shows an inability to finish games or some such, don’t. Quite simply, they’ve had bad luck (for a discussion on why games close games are essentially a coin flip, click here). As to just how unlucky they’ve been, we’d put their chances of losing 6 out of their 7 close finishes at about 3%. They’re very unlucky.
The Cowboys, however, are coming off an incredibly fortunate performance, in which they were outplayed, but were able to get home on sheer mass of possession, as they rode a 58-42 possession differential to an unlikely victory. If their game plan against the Raiders is to show up and hope that they get almost 50% more ball than their opponent again, they’re going to be disappointed (and will probably get pumped).
The Cowboys’ defense is consistently bad, ranking 4th last in LBCVOA (17.35%) and 2nd last in TBCVOA (14.53%). This spells really, really bad news for North Queensland. As it happens, making line breaks and busting tackles are exactly what the Raiders do best, ranking 6th and 1st in each category, respectively.
And when those points start rolling in, we just can’t see the Thurston-less Cowboys having enough firepower to chase them down. Their only hope is to pray for another glut of curious penalties to gift them undeserved opportunities. Good luck with that.
Our tip: Raiders
Knights v Tigers
Offense VOA: Knights -31.92% (15th), Tigers -10.56% (10th)
Defense VOA: Knights 27.10% (14th), Tigers 35.50% (15th)
After waiting almost an entire weekend, 2pm Sunday will finally give us the game we’ve all been waiting for: Spoonfest 2017.
This is the game the Knights have been building towards for two-and-a-half years – a win, and they’re in the box seat to offload the wooden spoon to the Tigers; a loss, and they likely nail down their third consecutive piece of cutlery. And to add to the fire in the game, it was reported earlier in the week that the Tigers have snuck in at the last moment and snaked the Knights for their five-eighth of the future, Connor Watson. The drama!
It’s almost a shame that these two clubs have to resolve their differences by playing football – something that neither side is particularly adept at (we’d like to propose that they get together at another time to “miss tackles for charity” – they’d raise a fortune). It’s difficult to run a form line through either of these sides. The Tigers’ season peaked in Round 1, when they hammered the Rabbitohs. Since then, they’ve lurched from crisis to crisis, accumulating just 2 further wins, and losing their last 7. But then again, the Knights have won just 1 of their last 12 (which admittedly, is more than twice as good as their 2016 win rate).
So if they’re both long-term losers, who’s been losing the best (or the least worst)? It’s hard to say, but we’re inclined to side with the Knights, if only for better consistency. With the exception of their bludger against the Sea Eagles (which oddly, they arguably should have won), they’ve at least demonstrated a relatively consistent ability to threaten opposition lines, making 3 line breaks or more in 5 of their past 7. They’ve struggled to convert those opportunities into tries, but of course they have – they’ve had next to no field position, and even less ball. Over that period, they won the possession count just once, and haven’t outgained an opponent since Round 2.
But in the Tigers, they have met their match for futility. They themselves have been outgained in each of their last 7, and won the possession count in just 2 of those. So realistically, this is easily each side’s best shot at a fair opportunity to show what they can do with the footy. And when they do, the Knights’ defense just might hold up a little bit better.
Don’t get us wrong; the Knights defense is horrendous. But the Tigers’ is in an entirely different dimension of suck. They’ve somehow managed to average over 6 line breaks and 27 points conceded over a 7-week period,throughout which they’ve faced such attacking “heavyweights” as Souths, the Titans, and the Sharks minus their Origin stars. The Tigers defense is so bad you almost feel guilty watching them, like you’re doing something naughty, and you should hide it from your wife.
So, we’ll take Newcastle. It’s not a foregone conclusion by any stretch – assuming James Tedesco returns, the Tigers will have the best player on the field, and he’d surely be worth a couple of tries against a defense as bad as Newcastle’s. But very generally speaking, we think that the Knights’ attack has looked a little more fluid, and their defense… look, let’s just not talk about that.
Our tip: Knights
Rabbitohs v Panthers
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs -14.35% (12th), Panthers 9.23% (6th)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs 13.41% (12th), Panthers 9.55% (10th)
The final match of the round will pit the in-form Panthers against the Rabbitohs.
This looms as something of a revenge match for the Panthers, who are currently 2 points adrift of the Top 8 – 2 points that they essentially forfeited when they chose to bench their entire starting backline against the Rabbitohs in Round 6 (a match they ultimately lost by a solitary point). This match will play out entirely differently (not least because three of the players called up that day – Michael Oldfield, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak and Te Maire Martin – are no longer even at the club).
The Panthers are currently red hot, and last week’s hiccup aside (they were better than the Cowboys, but not enough better to put the game out of range of a leaping Kyle Feldt), they’ve been steamrolling better teams than the Rabbitohs over the past month.
That doesn’t mean the Bunnies are without hope though. The Rabbits have struggled to score points all season long, but when they finally got a decent performance out of their engine room in their last start against the Titans, they fired on all cylinders, running in 7 tries and 12 line breaks, on the back of an impressive 1500+ metre game. It should go without saying that the Panthers’ back is significantly better than the Titans’, but with the Rabbitohs coming off a bye, this is their best opportunity to turn in another strong performance, and get their season back on track.
So, it’s possible. But is it likely? No. The Panthers need this win just as much as the Rabbitohs, and they come in on the back of 6 weeks of impressive offensive performances, whereas the Rabbitohs have had just 2 decent efforts in the same period (and their other strong attacking performance – 5 tries against the Tigers – also came on the back of over 1500 metres. Co-incidence?). We’ll take the Panthers because on average, they’ve been better right across the board. But assuming that the Rabbitohs forwards show up with a bit of intent, the Panthers might find they have a game on their hands.
Our tip: Panthers