2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 111/168 (66%) [Last week:6/8]
Line Betting: 44/84 (52%) [Last week: 1/3]
2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Line Betting: 54%
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NRL Round 24 Tips and Previews
Eels v Titans
Offense VOA: Eels -3.70% (8th), Titans -24.78% (14th)
Defense VOA: Eels -0.78% (9th), Titans 49.86% (16th)
Tonight continues what feels like a never-ending prank from Channel 9, as we’re forced to suffer through yet another Thursday Night Football bludger (on the bright side, at least the Bulldogs aren’t playing).
Both teams were absolutely deplorable last week, making this a really difficult game to get excited about. The Eels somehow managed to lose to Newcastle, on the back of a meagre 44% possession share, which came courtesy of a self-inflicted 14 errors. Compounding their problems, the Eels’ typically stout defense (okay, perhaps ‘stout’ is a stretch, but it’s generally firm-ish) conceded 5 tries (just the 4th time the Knights have hit that mark), and an unbelievable 1549 metres (to a Knights team who to that point, hadn’t gained 1500 metres in a match all season, and had only cracked 1300 four times). In every possible way, the Eels were utterly dreadful, and thoroughly deserved the embarrassing touch-up they were handed by the team coming last.
Fortunately for Parramatta, the Titans were even worse (and have been worse for quite some time). To their credit, the Titans weren’t dropping the ball (although their season-high 10 penalties conceded certainly didn’t help matters), however their already-bad defense hit a new standard of awful. Coming off an embarrassing 54 point thrashing from the Broncos, the Titans backed that up by conceding a Tim Simona-esque 13 line breaks (topping the previous league-worst defensive effort of 12, jointly held by the Titans and Tigers). We didn’t even know it was possible to concede that many line breaks in a match – it works out to having your line broken once every 6 minutes, even less if you don’t include all the time they spent standing in their own in-goal, lamenting their sorry excuse for a performance.
So how do you pick a winner from this pair? You have to look back over the weeks prior, and while last weekend’s stinker was just par for the course for the Gold Coast, the Eels had been excellent for at least the last month. We expect the Eels to take last week as a bit of a reality check, and to resume their previous standard immediately (for that matter, so too will the Titans; it’s just that their previous standard wasn’t very good in the first place).
Our tip: Eels
Rabbitohs v Warriors
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs -6.47% (10th), Warriors -4.08% (9th)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs 6.77% (11th), Warriors 10.56% (12th)
Is it wrong to think that this match could be one of the most interesting games of the round?
Two sides who are both out of the running for the finals, and known for little else but their inconsistency (in fairness to the Warriors, they arguably have finally found some sort of consistency of late, having now lost six games in a row). The Rabbitohs enter the match as deserving favourites, having won their last 2, and looking relatively good in doing so. Their discipline remains patchy – their errors over the past five weeks have been: 14, 8, 14, 6, and 15. As always with the Rabbitohs, you don’t know what you’re going to get, but when their passes stick, they’re actually quite dangerous. Their two recent wins have coincided with an uptick in performance from their forwards, having gained 1400 metres in both efforts (something they hadn’t done since their last win, against Penrith in Round 17), and against the Warriors forgiving run defense (they rank 3rd last in RMCVOA), we’d expect they should find plenty of run metres once again.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we think this will be a touch-up. For all their faults (and believe us, they’ve got plenty), the Warriors actually looked dangerous at times against the Raiders. Yes, they ultimately got toweled up, but that’s only because their defense is of the kind that routinely brings shame to the players and their families. Their offense was perfectly satisfactory; making 6 line breaks, single-digit errors, and out-gaining the more fancied Raiders pack by over 200 metres.
Over the four weeks prior to the Rabbitohs’ win over the Bulldogs (who don’t count), Souths averaged 7 line breaks conceded per match. The Rabbitohs’ defense doesn’t hold a candle to the Raiders, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities that the Warriors could turn this into an old-fashioned shoot-out.
But yet, we just can’t bring ourselves to pull the trigger on the Warriors. There’s every chance that the Rabbitohs butter up their hands and rain errors all over the field, but we’ve just been burned too many times by New Zealand. If you have the courage to take New Zealand, we certainly don’t think you’re without hope; but in all good conscience, we just can’t recommend anyone putting themselves through that. It’s a duty of care thing.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Broncos v Dragons
Offense VOA: Broncos 21.27% (3rd), Dragons 30.19% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Broncos -2.88% (8th), Dragons -4.86% (7th)
This Friday night match shapes as a lot of fun, and in our opinion, should be far closer than the bookies have it (at time of writing, the Broncos are an unbackable $1.28 favourite).
The match pits two of the most enjoyable attacking teams against one another, and at a time when they’ve both been suffering from a defensive meltdown.
The Broncos appear to have solved their defensive issues, turning in two strong efforts against the Titans and Sharks. However, it’s worth noting that the Titans have been dreadful generally of late (they only made 1 line break and scored 1 try the week prior against the lowly Tigers defense), while the Sharks struggled with a clearly hampered James Maloney, and were limited to just 40% possession (it’s always going to be difficult to score when your opponent has 50% more ball than you). The weeks prior to that, the Broncos were diabolical, getting slaughtered by the Eels, Storm, and (relatively speaking) the Knights. So, we’re not calling their defense out of the woods yet, and the Dragons will give them a real test.
As for the Dragons’ defense, well it’s just bad. The same pathetic Titans offense that the Broncos comfortably held to 0 tries and 2 line breaks came out last week and put 3 tries and 5 line breaks past the Dragons. Worse, their previously dominant forward pack is suddenly getting run over by everyone they meet, with a RMCVOA over the past three weeks of 15.23% (to put that in context, it’s more than twice as bad as the worst in the league – the Broncos’ 6.88%).
Put it all together, and we could easily see a match in which both teams run for over 1500 metres, and we could see something like 10+ line breaks between them. The question though, is who winds up in front? We have the Dragons ranked higher in Offense, and they’re coming off a 13 line break effort against the Titans (yes, it’s the Titans, but still… wow). On the other hand, there’s definitely an argument to be made that the Broncos’ 7 line breaks and 5 tries against an elite defense like Cronulla’s is at least as impressive, if not moreso.
As it stands, we’re backing the Broncos in, but essentially on home ground advantage, and rumours that up to four Dragons could be late scratchings. A shoot-out like this could easily go either way, and whether we’re right or wrong, we’re sure it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Our tip: Broncos
Knights v Storm
Offense VOA: Knights -24.92% (15th), Storm 33.95% (1st)
Defense VOA: Knights 27.37% (15th), Storm -41.72% (1st)
For the first time in months, last weekend the Storm looked less than perfect (and we’re not just talking about Suliasi Vunivalu performing the worst attempted hurdle since Jeffrey Julmis). For just the third time this year, their offense was completely shut down by the Roosters (for those of you playing along at home, the other two occasions were in their Round 3 win over the Broncos, and their Round 6 loss to Cronulla), and their defense, likewise, showed signs of vulnerability. Sure, they only conceded 13 points and 4 line breaks, but we’re talking about a team who’ve held their opponents to 2 or less line breaks in 10 out of 21 matches – we hold the Storm to a higher standard than any other team. The Storm are fortunate that their defense is so good, even if their offense starts getting shut down, they should still be able to tackle their way to victory. However, if their defense drops off – even if only by 10 or 20 percent -then they suddenly begin looking at least somewhat more vulnerable.
Of course, this isn’t the week where we think they get their pants pulled down. The Knights may be on a three-week winning streak, but those wins have come on the back of some shockingly inept performances from their opponents (both the Dragons and Eels made 14 errors in their losses to the Knights, while the Warriors were the Warriors). That’s not to say that the Knights can’t present a challenge to the Storm – they can, and almost certainly will. They just won’t win.
We think the Knights have arrived on the calendar at just the right time for Melbourne. The Newcastle defense is miserably inadequate, and prior to last weekend’s win over the Eels, had conceded 7 line breaks per match over the seven weeks prior. That’s the perfect opposition for a Storm offense that perhaps needs to work on its execution a little bit ahead of the finals. They should have every opportunity to execute their set plays, and get everything humming again with just three regular season rounds remaining. And on the other side of the ball, their defense will get a real test.
The Knights attack has looked genuinely good over the past fortnight, and at various times this year has looked every bit the equal of some of the league’s best attacking sides (their strong attacking performances in losses to the Broncos, Dragons and Panthers spring immediately to mind). The Knights rarely earn quality field position, which limits their try-scoring potential (they’ve won the net run metres just twice all year – both wins), however they do execute their set plays quite well, and have powerful ball runners like Mitch Barnett and Lachlan Fitzgibbon, who are capable of breaking tackles one-on-one.
We think the Storm win this game, but not necessarily in the cake-walk that people might expect. The Knights should present a decent test for Melbourne – which is exactly what they need right now.
Our tip: Storm
Roosters v Tigers
Offense VOA: Roosters 15.34% (6th), Tigers -6.94% (11th)
Defense VOA: Roosters -13.95% (5th), Tigers 26.54% (14th)
In going down to Melbourne last week, the Roosters did something that no other team has done this year – outplayed the Storm with the Big 3 on the field.
To be fair the Storm have lost two matches with their three megastars on the paddock (to the Sharks in Round 6, and the Titans in Round 10), however it would be a stretch to say that they were genuinely outplayed on either occasion. In the case of the Sharks, that match was essentially a defensive stalemate, with the only try coming from a Billy Slater knock-on in-goal in the dying minutes; in the case of the Titans, the Storm made an incredible 7 line breaks to 2, only to lose to a fluky 5 tries from kicks.
Last weekend, however, it was the Storm who got to rob the better team, as the Roosters somehow lost the match to a 77th minute try, despite having made more line breaks (4 to 1), more tackle breaks (26 to 17), and having scored the same number of tries (2). They mightn’t have won the match, but they possibly did something more important than that – they demonstrated that on their day, they can play better than Melbourne.
They did it by defending phenomenally well. The Roosters didn’t concede a single line break until the match-winning try in the dying minutes. This, despite the Storm entering the match averaging over 7 line breaks per game for the past seven weeks. The Storm’s 17 tackle breaks was their equal lowest for the year, and the Roosters did this despite handing the Storm a host of short fields to attack, via 10 errors and a further 11 penalties. On this performance alone, the Roosters have well and truly announced themselves as a genuine premiership threat, and possibly the most well-balanced team not playing out of AAMI Park (if only they could stop dropping the damn ball).
The Tigers also had a win (and over a Top 8 side, to boot), but there’s a lot less to get excited about there. Don’t get us wrong – just keeping the wooden spoon at bay is reason enough to celebrate at Concord, let alone beating a contender like Manly. However, looking under the hood, the Tigers’ performance was a little less impressive, and perhaps had a little more to do with a mini-meltdown from the Sea Eagles.
The Tigers’ issue remains their defense. They still conceded 5 tries, several of which were just way too easy. The two Akuila Uate tries were shockingly simple in their execution (how does a team get their edge numbers wrong so often?), while the Jack Littlejohn effort on Lloyd Perrett’s try was only spared the ignominy of being the “softest defensive effort of the year” by Marty Taupau’s “effort” minutes later. As serviceable as the Tigers’ offense can be at times (and in all fairness, they’ve been decent enough for three weeks on the trot now), their defense remains excruciating to watch, and they simply don’t have the talent to consistently score the 5+ tries they need to win games (in fact, they’ve only hit that mark 5 times all season, despite conceding that many in more than half their matches).
With the Roosters on the horizon, we’d expect another 5 tries conceded by Wests, and if the Roosters defend as they did last weekend, we’d give the Tigers next to no chance of running that down.
Our tip: Roosters
Cowboys v Sharks
Offense VOA: Cowboys -15.28% (13th), Sharks -8.34% (12th)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 14.69% (13th), Sharks -24.28% (2nd)
Let’s begin by shutting down a common misconception that spread over social media last week.
Yes, the Cowboys were incredibly brave in their efforts against the Panthers, and it was a shame to see them forced to play out the match with fifteen men. However, the Cowboys didn’t lose because of injuries. The Cowboys lost because despite a ridiculous 60:40 possession advantage in the first half (through which they had sixteen players for virtually all of it, and seventeen for the opening 13 minutes), they only able to turn that into a pathetic 3 line breaks, and a 4 point lead. That’s nowhere near good enough, and what they copped when the possession eventually leveled out (by full-time, possession had tightened up to 52:48) was exactly what they deserved – a 7 line break, 3 try avalanche of offense from the Panthers, which could easily have been even more points if Penrith players didn’t all hate their wingers. That is how you use a one-sided possession count; not by staggering around aimlessly handing it to Jason Taumololo in the hope that he that he’ll barge his way over. Yes, it was unfortunate that the Cowboys ran out of puff; however the game should have already been over at that point. They didn’t earn the lead they should have, and got punished for it. End of story.
That said, they should have another opportunity to make use of a stack of possession this week, as the notoriously ill-disciplined Sharks come into town. Cronulla have made the most errors and given away the 3rd most penalties in the league this year, hitting rock bottom against the Broncos last week, as they made 14 errors, with a further 7 penalties conceded, and handed the Broncos a game-changing 60:40 possession advantage. Our concern for the Sharks isn’t their discipline alone – they can typically compensate for it by earning field position through their dominant forwards, and then winning back possession through repeat sets (their 2 drop-outs forced per game is equal 2nd in the league to Manly).
No, our major concern is that, as critical as we were about the Cowboys’ offense, the Sharks’ recent efforts haven’t been any better. They’ve averaged just 2 line breaks and 2 tries per game over the past fortnight, while their forwards have been held to under 1200 metres on both occasions (something that previously hadn’t happened since Round 1). If the Sharks are turning the ball over, and are getting pinned down their own end, then their opportunities will be badly limited, and we’re not terribly confident that they’ll make the most of them anyway.
Which makes this a really tough call. We’re ultimately leaning towards the Sharks, but only because their defense is typically so strong. If the Cowboys struggled to put much of a dent in the Panthers’ defense, the Sharks should handle them comfortably. However, we’re not confident that the Sharks have many points in them either, and we’re expecting a low-scoring grind Saturday night in Townsville.
Our tip: Sharks
Raiders v Panthers
Offense VOA: Raiders 16.31% (5th), Panthers 0.89% (7th)
Defense VOA: Raiders -19.27% (4th), Panthers 2.73% (10th)
Sunday afternoon at Canberra Stadium will see the most anticipated match of the round, as two of the most in-form sides of the past month go head-to-head. The Panthers enter the match having won six in a row, and 10 of their past 12. Conversely, the Raiders have won three on the hop, and 4 of their last 5.
Since their defeat to the Cowboys six weeks ago, the Raiders have been excellent on both sides of the ball. They’ve put 8+ line breaks past the Rabbitohs and Warriors, and gave a good account of themselves against the elite defenses of Melbourne and Cronulla, averaging 4.5 line breaks and 3.5 tries across those two games. Defensively they’ve been just as good, conceding no more than 3 tries in a game through their past five matches.
Penrith, on the other hand, have been taking the good with the bad. All season long, the Panthers have struggled to put together complete performances, and the 2nd half against the Cowboys was the closest we’ve to seen to one. Granted, the Cowboys were rapidly tiring with just a two-man bench, but any time a team pours on 7 line breaks in a single half of football is nothing to be sneezed at. We don’t know, however, if it was enough for us to believe in the Panthers here.
The Panthers rolled the Raiders earlier this year in Bathurst, but they were able to protect their defense with an incredibly dominant forwards performance (for that matter, it’s how the Panthers have beaten most teams). However, compared to that night, the Panthers will be without Leilani Latu and possibly Trent Merrin (at the very least, they’re unlikely to get big minutes from Merrin, in his return from an MCL tear), while the Raiders have added Shannon Boyd and Dave Taylor. We’d still fancy the Panthers’ forwards’ chances, but it’ll be a lot closer than last time, and they’ll be unlikely to dominate field position in the same manner. And if the Raiders are allowed to spend too much time down Penrith’s end, they’ll almost inevitably score.
Admittedly, the Panthers’ defense has been generally sound throughout their winning streak, conceding 3 tries or less in 5 of their past 6. However, they still miss an absurdly high number of tackles (TBCVOA of 22.28% – ranked last), which is particularly bad news against the Raiders. Canberra break more tackles than any team in the competition (TBVOA of 25.96% – 1st), and against the brittle Panthers defenders, they could easily wind up busting over 40 (the last time they met, they broke 44). That may be fine down the Raiders’ end of the field, but if the Panthers are falling off tackles in their red zone, you can bet it’ll lead to tries.
We’ve spent the past few weeks begging for the Panthers to open up their playbook and take a few more risks, but that’s not the gameplan here. If the Panthers are to be a shot, they need to borrow from their Manly playbook – keep it simple, keep the errors down, and control field position through the forwards. If Trent Merrin plays – and if they can collectively get on top of their bigger opponents – they’ll give themselves a good shot. However, if they start raining errors, or if they can’t keep the Raiders working it out of their own end, we doubt whether the Panthers defense will stand up to what Canberra throw at them.
This is an intriguing match-up, and we give Penrith a big chance; but they’ll need to play better than anything they’ve shown us to win this match, and while possible, we’d stop short of calling it ‘likely’,
Our tip: Raiders
Bulldogs v Sea Eagles
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -41.82% (16th), Sea Eagles 18.37% (4th)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs -19.74% (3rd), Sea Eagles -11.05% (6th)
It’s time to talk about Manly’s defense.
Yes, they’ve run into a few strong attacking sides over the past month (the Tigers not included), but their defense has been disastrously poor in almost every conceivable way. Allow us to share the Sea Eagles’ averages over the past four weeks:
- Over 7 line breaks conceded per game (LBCVOA of 44.61%);
- Over 51 missed tackles per game (TBCVOA of 71.71%);
- Over 1495 metres conceded per game (RMCVOA of -0.62%).
To give you some context, the following are the season averages for the Titans – the owners of the league’s worst defense:
- Just under 6.5 line breaks per game;
- Over 29 missed tackles per game;
- Just under 1440 metres conceded per game.
Yes, you read that right – the Sea Eagles defense has been as bad as it can possibly get. They get a pass for their metres conceded due to the quality of the forward packs they’ve faced, but their other numbers are astronomically bad, even allowing for the quality of their opponents.
Which makes us suddenly worried about Manly. We thought they were a legitimate Top 4 side just a few weeks ago, and now their defense seems to have fallen off the same cliff as the Dragons’ (and is beating it on the way down).
We can’t imagine the Bulldogs winning this game – to be honest, at this point, it’s hard to imagine the Bulldogs winning any game. However, we’ll be watching this closely to see if the Sea Eagles can begin showing a bit of defensive resolve. It’s one thing to get carved up by teams like the Storm and the Roosters; if you start bleeding points to the Tigers and Bulldogs, it’s time to start making some changes.
Our tip: Sea Eagles