2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 100/152 (66%) [Last week:5/8]
Line Betting: 39/75 (52%) [Last week: 5/6]
2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Line Betting: 54%
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NRL Round 22 Tips and Previews
Bulldogs v Eels
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -39.54% (16th), Eels 0.74% (7th)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs -20.99% (3rd), Eels -4.02% (8th)
You could be forgiven for looking at the ladder and assuming that tonight’s match will be a carve-up (and for that matter, it very well still might be). But as soon as we see “Bulldogs” on the NRL schedule, two things immediately spring to mind.
Firstly, their impotent offense. At this point, it’s common knowledge that the Bulldogs’ offense is the worst in the league. We could sit here and rattle off stats all day to explain why the Bulldogs are the league’s worst attacking team. Is it because they’ve scored the lowest number of tries? The lowest number of points? The 2nd lowest number of line breaks? The 4th lowest number of tackle breaks? The fact they haven’t kicked a 40/20 all year? No, no, no. It’s all of those things.
However, as rubbish as they are with the ball in hand, you still have to respect their defense. In over half their matches, they’ve kept their opponent to 2 tries or less (including in their golden point loss to the Eels back in Round 17). If they can do that again here, they’re still a decent chance to pull off an upset.
So, can the Eels offense be stopped? We explained in some detail last week why we expected the Eels to regress without their best player, Clint Gutherson, and to be honest, we were wrong. They continued their recent purple patch of attacking form largely uninterrupted, making it 3 weeks in a row that the Eels have made 9 line breaks and 1580 metres or more in a match (we don’t care how little you may think of the Eels, those numbers are groin-grabbingly good). What we’re unsure of though, is whether last weeks performance really demonstrated that they can now attack without King Gutho, or if they were artificially inflated by the Broncos recently horrible defense. Over the four weeks prior to that match, the Broncos were averaging 6 line breaks conceded per match anyway, and that was despite winning the possession count every week. On the arse-end of a 54:46 run of possession, it could be argued that 9 conceded is pretty much par for the course.
Nonetheless, we’ll stick with Parramatta, and believe in their offense until proven otherwise. But it’s worth pointing out that last week’s attacking effort arguably came with an asterisk, and the Bulldogs should provide a much better measuring stick.
Our tip: Eels
Dragons v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Dragons 29.08% (2nd), Rabbitohs -14.89% (13th)
Defense VOA: Dragons -12.29% (7th), Rabbitohs 11.52% (12th)
Just when you thought it was safe to tip the Dragons…
We’ve been putting most of the Dragons’ recent woes down to their sputtering defense, but perhaps it’s time to talk about their offense. Going back to their scrappy Round 13 win over the Tigers, the Dragons’ points totals are as follows: 16, 2, 10, 32, 10, 14, 52, 14. Unsurprisingly, the three games in which they scored higher than 14 points coincide with their only 3 wins. So, let’s take a look at their offense and try to find the cause of their problems.
The obvious target is their forward pack, but in fairness, they’ve still gained over 1400 metres in 6 of their last 8. Their line breaks are still consistently high (averaging almost 6 per game over that period), and they’ve even won the possession in 5 of the 8. So where have the tries gone?
The shortfall seems to be traceable to one particular source: Josh McCrone. Now, this isn’t intended as a McCrone-bashing; Dragons fans do enough of that already. Rather, we’d argue that he exceeded expectation so superbly during the opening few months, that he’s now the victim of a natural regression. Through the opening 9 rounds, he managed an impressive 9 try assists, and 7 total line breaks assists. In the 10 matches following, his numbers have collapsed to just 1 and 2 respectively. In a way, it’s actually impressive that the Dragons have scored as many points as they have while getting virtually no contribution from their halfback through the second half of the season.
But will the Rabbitohs actually beat them? Last week against the Knights, there’s an argument to be made that the Dragons were statistically better, they just happened to lose. They made more line breaks, tackle breaks, offloads and run metres; they just failed to score more tries. The Rabbitohs also lost, but they were comprehensively outplayed by a superior opponent.
We’d agree that the Dragons aren’t playing especially well, but it’s a stretch to say that they’re worse than the Rabbitohs. If there’s a positive for Souths, it’s that when they are good, they’re typically excellent; and if they turn up to play, they could easily smoke the Dragons, the way St George have been playing. However, the Rabbitohs haven’t played a good game in over a month, and have only really played to their potential in at best two games this year. So we’re not holding our breath that this will be three.
Our tip: Dragons
Cowboys v Storm
Offense VOA: Cowboys -12.06% (11th), Storm 43.31% (1st)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 13.11% (13th), Storm -39.54% (1st)
On Friday night we should all be given a real treat, as the Cowboys welcome the Storm to Townsville, in a match with huge implications on the Top 8.
Last week, the Cowboys met the Roosters, and through much of the first half, it appeared that the Cowboys would once again snatch a victory on the back of a one-sided possession count, as they got out to a 16-6 lead, thanks largely to a 60:40 run of possession in the first half. In the second half though, possession flipped to be level by full-time, and as we’ve expected for some time, when the shoe was finally on the other foot, the emperor was wearing no clothes; as the Cowboys conceded 16 unanswered points on their way to a 22-16 defeat. (On re-reading, I realise that by poorly mixing two clothing-related metaphors, I may have unintentionally conjured the image of a nude man, wearing only a single shoe. For that I apologise, and suggest that you try and put it out of your mind and move on; or alternatively, do what my wife does and imagine it’s Shaun Johnson.)
Against the Storm, who are amongst the league’s most penalised sides (they average almost 7.5 penalties conceded per game) it’s fair to expect that the Cowboys could once again make a game of it by hoarding possession from their opponent (for the record, the Cowboys have conceded the 5th least penalties, and made the 4th lowest number of errors). However, how much possession would they actually need in order to beat the Storm?
Thus far in 2017, the Storm have lost just 4 matches, and just 2 with the Big 3 playing. In those two losses, the Sharks needed a 55:45 possession advantage to get home, while the Titans needed an incredible 59:41 advantage (and even with all that ball, they could still only manage 2 line breaks against the Great Wall of Melbourne). On a talent level, the Cowboys fall somewhere between the Sharks and Titans (we’d argue that they’re closer to the Titans), but let’s say they’ll probably need at least 55% possession to get home (and in reality, they’ll probably need even more than that). It’s conceivably possible – the Storm have been held to 45% possession or less in 6 out of 19 matches – but it’s a long way from being likely (and it hasn’t been done since the Storm beat Cronulla back on the 8th of June without Cooper Cronk, with the Storm averaging almost 1 error less per game in the 2 months since).
So it’s possible – in rugby league, almost anything’s possible – but is it likely? No. The Storm are categorically better than the Cowboys in every measurable way, with the notable exception of discipline – and it will be interesting to see if the Cowboys can play to their strength, tighten right up, and make a game of this.
Our tip: Storm
Knights v Warriors
Offense VOA: Knights -29.45% (15th), Warriors -3.16% (10th)
Defense VOA: Knights 37.18% (15th), Warriors 3.96% (9th)
On Saturday afternoon, the Knights will host the Warriors as they seek to win back-to-match matches for the first time in almost two calendar years.
They earned the opportunity by somehow snatching a victory from a Dragons side playing for their Top 8 survival (now we have seen everything). In the aftermath of the win, Knights coach Nathan Brown argued that the game wasn’t even one of the Knights’ best, and that they played better during their recent losses to the Broncos and Bulldogs. To be frank, we agree with him.
Outside of the eventual scoreline, there wasn’t a whole lot to be impressed by in the Knights’ performance. They could only muster 3 line breaks from 53% possession against the Dragons (compared to 4 and 5 against the Bulldogs and Broncos respectively, both with negative possession counts), and didn’t force a single drop-out (they were able to force 4 against the Bulldogs, and 3 against the Roosters, as the Knights begun to demonstrate an ability to build pressure). Defensively, the Dragons shredded the Knights for 8 line breaks and a disturbingly high 47 missed tackles (their worst effort of the year). The Knights won because the Dragons were awful, not because they did anything at evenly remotely close to an NRL standard. However, in a way that’s a positive step for the Knights – for most of the past two years, the Knights haven’t been able to win, even on their better days; to be jagging a win against a potential top 8 side while playing well below their best is arguably a sign of progress.
And the Warriors are ripe for the picking. Since they lost Shaun Johnson for the year against the Panthers three games back, and Kieran Foran took over as their lead playmaker, the Warriors offense has grinded to a halt, making just 5 line breaks in the past two matches combined, after averaging over 6 per game since the end of May (no wonder the Bulldogs think that Foran will fit right in, with those sorts of numbers). With their attack struggling, and their defense average in the first place, there couldn’t be a better time to meet the Warriors.
Which makes this match so hard to pick. Over the past two years, any time you pick the Knights, you’re a 91% chance of losing. Conversely, any time you pick the Warriors, you’re a 91% chance of hating yourself, and all of your life choices. On this particular week, we’re opting once again for self-loathing, but agree that the Knights are a decent shot at an upset.
Our tip: Warriors
Titans v Broncos
Offense VOA: Titans -20.06% (14th), Broncos 18.15% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Titans 49.14% (16th), Broncos 7.46% (11th)
We warned you last week, and if there were any doubters, they’ve surely been converted. It’s time to face facts and admit something that nobody seems to be talking about; the Broncos are to defense, what Ray Hadley is to commentating – shithouse.
As it stands, the Broncos have plummeted to 11th in Defense VOA, and they’re only even that high because their numbers are being held up by a strong opening 2 months. From the Penrith game onwards, the Broncos defense has been abysmal, and in pretty much every possible way. In that period, their LBCVOA is 26.17%, RMCVOA is 8.17%, and their TBCVOA is 20.69%. If expanded over the course of the season, those numbers would place the Broncos 4th last, last and 2nd last respectively. They’ve conceded 20 or more points in 5 of 11 of those matches, and the only reason that isn’t higher is that they’ve had the good fortune of playing 4 of the league’s 5 worst offenses in that time (and this weekend, they’ll complete the set).
Unfortunately though, defense isn’t exactly a strength of the Titans (if anything, it’s a concept that’s completely foreign to them). Over the same period, the Titans have not only conceded 20+ in 7 of 11 games, but have even gone one better and given up 30+ in 4 of them. So, we essentially have two ordinary defensive teams, primed for some serious point bleeding. As a result, the difference is likely to come down to attack.
In that regard, there are no such problems with the Broncos. While their defense has become largely hypothetical, their offense is very much the real deal. They average over 6 line breaks per game over the last 6 weeks, and over 4 tries. By comparison, the Titans average barely more than half those line breaks (3.5), while converting them into less tries (3.5). And for the record, we actually think the Titans have been attacking relatively well.
So, we have to back the Broncos, but we’re not doing it with much enthusiasm. Last week’s effort against a damaged Eels team was especially disappointing, and leaves serious question marks over their premiership credentials. We’d really like to see them turn in a strong defensive effort against the Titans to right the ship, but at this point, we’ll settle for just a win.
Our tip: Broncos
Sharks v Raiders
Offense VOA: Sharks -1.41% (8th), Raiders 15.09% (5th)
Defense VOA: Sharks -25.79% (2nd), Raiders -19.67% (5th)
We’re calling it now – game of the Round.
This game means everything to both teams, and just might have the makings of a boilover.
The Sharks were clinical in their slow dismantling of the Warriors last week, however they did show some signs of weakness. Without five-eighth James Maloney, their offense – which has been far more effective of late – slowed right back down, as they made just 2 line breaks in the match (their worst performance since their Round 8 stinker against the Titans). Similarly, their forwards were somewhat disappointing, as they ran for just 1327 metres, their 3rd worst performance of the year, and worst in a game in which they had superior possession.
And with Maloney still out, that should make the Sharks nervous here. If they turn in a similar attacking effort, it’s unlikely that they score another 26 points – the Raiders are a far better defensive team than the Warriors, and also feature a superior forward pack. And if they can’t post a decent point total, they’ll leave themselves vulnerable to the Raiders’ offense.
The last time these sides met, the Sharks turned in one of the best defensive efforts of the year, keeping the Raiders to just 2 tries and a pathetic 934 metres, as the Sharks completely shut Canberra down. However, that effort will be nearly impossible to replicate, and the way the Sharks attacked last week, 2 tries could be enough to beat them anyway.
For their part, the Raiders will be welcoming back Jordan Rapana and Josh Papalii, and are coming off a 5 try, 9 line break demolition of the Rabbitohs. The Raiders have their issues, but in a match that they simply must win in order to remain even a faint hope of playing into September, we’d have to give them a chance, even if the Sharks were at full strength. Without James Maloney, that just might be enough to tip this into the Raiders favour.
Our tip: Raiders
Sea Eagles v Roosters
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 17.45% (4th), Roosters 11.78% (6th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles -19.70% (4th), Roosters -12.31% (6th)
You had to feel sorry for the Sea Eagles last Sunday.
Here was a team – who, to this point in the competition, have been arguably among the best in the league – getting so comprehensively destroyed by their opposition, it was like they weren’t even there (and for that matter, they probably wished they weren’t).
That match was just another in an increasingly long line of thrashings at the hands of the league’s better offenses – in matches against other teams ranked in the Top 5 for Offense VOA, the Sea Eagles now average 26.3 points conceded per game. And it’ll only get marginally easier this week – the Roosters rank 6th.
When these two sides met in Round 5, the Sea Eagles squeaked out a win, but it’s worth remembering that at that point, their pack was at 100%. As it stands now, they’re still missing Curtis Sironen, and will also be dealing with the absence of Addin Fonua-Blake due to suspension. As we’ve mentioned previously, in matches where they’ve been carrying a below strength forward pack, they haven’t fared nearly so well (the short version of that story is that they’ve lost 3 out of 5 games, been outgained in all 3 losses, and have averaged 29.2 points conceded through that period). We think their fortunes are going to change very soon, we just think that might be another week away.
Unfortunately for the Sea Eagles defense, the Roosters look to be rounding into form. In their past two matches, they’ve scored 9 tries and made 11 line breaks combined, and have smoked their opposition for run metres, including outgaining the Cowboys by over 400 metres. If they’re able to continue that form, they should be able find plenty of points through the Sea Eagles stuttering defense.
Ordinarily, this match would shape as a prime match-up for Manly, and for that reason, we do think it will be competitive. Manly are the league’s most disciplined team for handling errors; the Roosters are among the worst. The Eagles are the league’s best team at forcing drop-outs; the Roosters have conceded more than they’ve forced in 4 of their past 5. You’d expect Manly to win possession, and from there, they can certainly score points.
However, they’ve just been leaking too many of late for us to be comfortable picking them against a reasonably dangerous attacking team. Manly aren’t as bad they looked last week (nobody’s as bad as Manly looked last week), but we just can’t trust them to keep the Roosters out… yet.
Our tip: Roosters
Panthers v Tigers
Offense VOA: Panthers -2.50% (9th), Tigers -12.53% (12th)
Defense VOA: Panthers 4.11% (10th), Tigers 27.83% (14th)
The Panthers are winning, but we wouldn’t say that we’re awfully impressed.
Against the Bulldogs, they played their part in one of the most boring games of football ever witnessed, as they grinded and grinded and grinded until eventually they got home. But, it wasn’t the sort of effort we want to see from the Panthers against an opponent with the offensive weaponry of a cap gun. In the past month, although they’ve been winning, they haven’t offensively lit up an opponent outside of their second half effort against the Warriors, and we’re starting to get a little concerned. It’s nice to be able to tackle your way to victory, but it would be even nicer to put an inferior opponent to the sword. And for that matter, they need to – they trail in for-and-against to both the Cowboys and Dragons, two sides they’re jostling with in the bottom half of the eight. Thankfully, the Tigers – and whatever it is they call defense – has arrived on the schedule just in time.
Unfortunately for Penrith though, they’ve arrived on the back of their best defensive performance in recent memory. Against the Titans, the Tigers conceded just 1 line break, 11 missed tackles and 4 points, total (all high-water marks for the season, and the lowest score they’ve held an opponent to since Round 2, 2015). Of course, those numbers are all obvious outliers in yet another season of defensive ineptitude (they’ve conceded 6 or more line breaks in over half their matches, and 5 or more tries). But it at least demonstrates that on their day, if the planets align correctly, if the wind is blowing exactly right, and if their opponent is completely unraveling before your very eyes, the Tigers are capable of stopping somebody.
But can they stop the Panthers? To be honest, we do think it’s actually possible, if only because the Panthers have made very little effort to actually score points in recent weeks. That said though, we’re optimistic that while they might stop Penrith, they probably won’t.
For a start, as benign as the Panthers offense has been over the past month, it’s still been better than it was during their woeful opening two months to the campaign, and right in the middle of that, they pumped the Tigers for 9 line breaks and 36 points. Secondly, the Panthers are expected to welcome back Kiwi Test centre Dean Whare this week, and the Panthers’ offense with Whare at centre is night-and-day better than when it features Peachey there. With Whare in the centres, the Panthers have a LBVOA of 23.87% (good enough for 2nd in the NRL) and TBVOA of 17.31% (good enough for 3rd), compared to -26.67% and -5.32% respectively when he’s out. The reason for that is two-fold: Dean Whare is the Panthers’ best centre (and is among the league’s best centres, for that matter), but also because it frees Peachey up to attack the middle of the field, where his elusiveness (he ranks 4th on the Panthers for tackle breaks) creates defensive confusion for the players around him to take advantage of.
And lastly, the Panthers need to flog the Tigers. With for-and-against at a premium, a healthy butt-kicking of the Tigers would be effectively worth an entire extra win to Penrith, and with the talent on their upcoming schedule, it may be their last opportunity. We don’t expect them to come out guns blazing – they’ve been impressively measured for the last month, and don’t expect that to change – but if they can get out in front of the Tigers (not a foregone conclusion, mind you), they need to be aware that in order to make the finals, a win isn’t good enough – they need to crush the Tigers’ souls, and dance on their graves.
Our tip: Panthers