2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 83/126 (66%) [Last week:4/8]
Line Betting: 31/61 (51%) [Last week: 2/5]
2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Line Betting: 54%
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NRL Round 18 Tips and Previews
Roosters v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Roosters 19.10% (4th), Rabbitohs -12.51% (11th)
Defense VOA: Roosters -8.77% (7th), Rabbitohs 8.35% (11th)
We’ve got one last Origin-affected round to endure, before we can settle in for the run home.
This round opens with the local derby between traditional rivals, the Roosters and Rabbitohs.
For the Roosters, they’ll be without Origin representatives Blake Ferguson, Mitchell Pearce, Dylan Napa and Boyd Cordner, spreading the pain across the whole side. The Rabbitohs are unaffected.
Last week, the Roosters got comprehensively lit up by the Sharks, as Cronulla capitalised on an overwhelming 61:39 possession advantage to pummel the Roosters into submission. That said, we actually found a bit to like about the Roosters’ performance (as odd as we’re sure that sounds).
When you consider just how little football the Roosters actually had, the fact that they were able to put 4 line breaks past the league’s 2nd best defense is actually quite impressive. To put that number in context, the Sharks had only conceded 4 line breaks or more in 4 of their prior 15 matches (and it’s only been achieved on one other occasion by a team who lost the possession count – the Titans, and it was essentially even, 51:49). So, as one-sided as the match was, there were positive signs for the Roosters offense against an elite defense (and their 9 errors was the Roosters’ 2nd best handling effort of the year. Bravo).
As for the Rabbitohs, they really just confirmed what we already knew about them. In the first half, they posed next to no threat to the Panthers, as Penrith won the battle in the middle of park. However, one loose Matt Moylan pass, two kick-and-hopes and a ripper of a Sam Burgess offload later, and the Rabbitohs somehow took a 16-point lead into halftime. From there, the Panthers quit, and the Rabbitohs did what they do best – charge straight through the middle of the park, in what was the worst stampede we’ve seen since The Lion King (RIP Mufasa). The poor, predictable Rabbitohs have won just 6 matches this year, but only once (against Penrith’s reserves in Round 6) have they won a game in which they’ve been outgained by their opposition. It doesn’t seem to matter who they play – if the Rabbitohs’ forwards don’t win, neither do they.
Which brings us to this week’s clash with the Roosters. At full strength, we’d have the Roosters winning comfortably, but in the absence of Dylan Napa and Boyd Cordner, we have some reservations about the Roosters’ pack. The Roosters should still have points to burn – without their stars in Round 12, the Roosters put 3 tries and 5 line breaks past the Raiders. Our concern is that on that particular day, the Roosters also leaked almost 1600 metres, and if they do that to Souths, they’re likely to get punished for it.
We think the Roosters can win, but given the question marks involved, we’d err on the side of conservatism and back in the favourites. Just.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Panthers v Sea Eagles
Offense VOA: Panthers 6.00% (8th), Sea Eagles 27.48% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Panthers 13.02% (12th), Sea Eagles -22.21% (4th)
Like the match above, this game would be a comfortable win for Manly at full-strength (we’d say they’re about 10 points better at this stage of the competition). However, Manly aren’t at full-strength, and that may be the Sea Eagles’ Achilles’ Heel.
We don’t buy into the view that this Sea Eagles side is over-performing. There’s nothing wrong with their best 17 at all – they have two Australian Test players in their outside backs (Dylan Walker and Akuila Uate), another in the halves (Daly Cherry-Evans), a Kangaroo and Kiwi in the pack (Jake Trbojevic and Marty Taupau), and another Kiwi Test player who typically comes off the bench (Lewis Brown). Add in a few of the game’s best young players in Tom Trbojevic and Brian Kelly, and the Sea Eagles put out an excellent unit. Their issue isn’t their best 17 (which they’ve been fortunate enough to roll out each week, barely affected by injury) – it’s the lack of quality depth behind it.
Take the Panthers for example. This week, they’ll lose Kiwi Test star Dean Whare to a broken jaw. They’ll re-shuffle Tyrone Peachey into the centres, and bring another Kiwi Test player James Fisher-Harris into the squad. On the Sea Eagles side, they’ve lost Test players Jake Trbojevic (Origin) and Lewis Brown (injury), and replace them with… honest toilers Jarrod Kennedy and Shaun Lane. It’s like chalk and cheese.
The Sea Eagles’ forwards depth has hardly been tested this year (touch wood), and when it has, it’s been found embarrassingly short. Taupau has missed just 3 matches this year, but the Sea Eagles lost 2 of them, failing to run for over 1350 metres in each instance (and FYI, the match that they won was against a Cowboys side much further below strength than they were). And it’s subjective, but we’d argue that Jake is worth more to the Eagles than Taupau.
This is the first time the Sea Eagles have really had to dip into their depth, and we’re just not confident that they’ll be able to stand up to it. If they get beaten for field position, the Panthers offense is every bit as dangerous as Manly’s at the moment, and are likely to find holes in the Sea Eagles’ defense (especially without Jake Trbojevic tidying up the middle of the park).
Of course, there’s every possibility that the Panthers will invite the Sea Eagles downfield with errors and penalties, as they do most weeks. And then we’ll have ourselves a ball-game.
Our tip: Panthers
Storm v Eels
Offense VOA: Storm 44.16% (1st), Eels -17.89% (13th)
Defense VOA: Storm -44.05% (1st), Eels 2.59% (9th)
On Saturday night, the Storm will face the Eels without a whopping six Origin players. including their entire starting spine (Billy Slater, Cameron Munster, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith, plus Will Chambers and Tim Glasby). In contrast, the Eels are unaffected.
We’ll take the Storm, thanks.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s explain why. So far this year, the Storm have played two matches without Slater, Cronk and Smith – and in those games, they made a combined 18 line breaks (not a misprint) and scored 9 tries. So, we’re not terribly concerned by the risk of a drop in offensive production. The kids are alright. Will they be worse than the entire starting Queensland Origin spine? Probably. Will they be worse than Parramatta? We really, really doubt it.
Secondly, the strength of the Eels is in their forward pack. They slide along going generally unnoticed, but the Eels quietly have one of the better forward groups in the league. Unfortunately for them though, the Storm are one of the few packs who are better, and they’re pretty much untouched by Origin duties (they lose Glasby, but will add Origin 1 representative Nate Myles). The Storm rank higher in both RMVOA (6th v 11th) and RMCVOA (1st v 3rd). So, we’d expect the Storm to wind up with more field position, and to be more capable of using it when they get it.
There’s not a lot of teams we’d back without their entire starting spine (in fact, there’s no other team we’d back without their entire starting spine), but the Storm aren’t your average football team. They’re light-years ahead of any other team in the competition, and stripping them of their best players doesn’t mean they’re defeated – it just makes it interesting.
Our tip: Storm
Bulldogs v Knights
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -40.48% (16th), Knights -35.69% (15th)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs -27.39% (3rd), Knights 30.69% (14th)
The final match of the round will pit two of the league’s most underwhelming sides against one another, when the Bulldogs host the Knights.
In the blue corner, there’s the pitiful Bulldogs offense. They’ve scored less tries and less points than any other team in the league, and rank last in LBVOA to boot (-34.57%). Their offense is so bad, that they’re on track to be the first team to miss the finals (without being punished for cap cheating) while ranking in the Top 4 in points conceded since the 2007 Sharks. They truly are abysmal.
But in the red corner, you have the Knights. The Knights are similarly poor with the ball in hand, but are equally as feeble in defense as well. Last week, with a shot at offloading the wooden spoon to the Tigers, they got shredded for 9 line breaks and 5 tries – to a team who’d managed just 9 line breaks in their previous three games combined. Yikes.
So, obviously, the Bulldogs are the better side. However, without Origin stars Brett Morris, David Klemmer and Josh Jackson, it should at least be competitive. If the Bulldogs defense takes a substantial hit, then these two teams suddenly aren’t that different from one another. By their nature, low-scoring games can go either way (take last week’s Eels/Bulldogs encounter for example), so the Knights’ best chance is to grab an early lead, then aim up in defense. If they let the Bulldogs get out in front, it’s probably game over.
Our tip: Bulldogs