2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 122/184 (66%) [Last week:5/8]
Line Betting: 48/89 (54%) [Last week: 2/2]
2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Line Betting: 54%
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NRL Round 26 Tips and Previews
Cowboys v Broncos
Offense VOA: Cowboys -14.59% (13th), Broncos 19.34% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 14.20% (13th), Broncos -5.93% (8th)
The opening match of Round 26 sees the Cowboys and Broncos looking to add another chapter to their ever-building rivalry, and rugby league fans finally getting a decent match on a Thursday night (while last Thursday’s trip into another dimension was admittedly interesting; a decent contest, it was not).
With their late win over the Tigers last week, the Cowboys have a chance to secure a finals spot with a win over the Broncos. They finally have the chance to roll out the same 17 as they did the week prior, which should count for something, although it’s worth noting that they weren’t especially impressive in beating the Tigers (and the last time they got to use an identical 17, back in Round 11, they actually lost).
As per usual, the Cowboys needed a healthy possession advantage in order to narrowly secure a win against a pretty ordinary opponent (they finished with a 54:46 advantage over Wests), and even then, they were getting comprehensively outplayed until back-to-back penalties helped them into the Tigers red zone, where their laughably poor defense did the rest. To be clear, we’re not criticising the penalties – both were justified. We’re simply pointing out that without that help, the Cowboys had managed just 2 line breaks and 1 try through 65 minutes, against the 3rd worst defense in the rugby league.
That said, it would be presumptuous to assume that the Broncos defense will be any better. We expressed our reservations about the Broncos’ D in last week’s preview, only to have those reservations proven extremely well-founded, as Brisbane conceded 52 points to an Eels side that hadn’t even hit 40 since 2016. Now, not all of those conceded tries can be attributed to the defense – the first try, for example, was quite literally handed to the Eels. But even allowing for the fluky nature of some of the Eels’ points, it doesn’t absolve the Broncos’ defense of blame. They still conceded 6 line breaks to a team that could muster just 2 a fortnight prior against the might of Newcastle. Further to that, some of their attempted tackles on Semi Radradra were so outrageously poor, even Luke Brooks would have been rolling his eyes.
But does it make them worse than North Queensland? We don’t think so. The Cows needed a few lucky breaks to roll a Tigers side that’s conceded 22 or more points in every game for the past month, and they’re just a fortnight removed from losing to a Sharks side who were coming off a 22 point hiding themselves. And the team that handed the Sharkies that touch-up? Brisbane.
Look, we don’t know what happened last Thursday night. Sometimes things happen that nobody understands. Donald Trump becomes President. The Tigers decide to keep Luke Brooks over Mitchell Moses. Magnets.
It’s best not to overreact to one game of football and instead, play the percentages. Over the course of a long season, the Broncos – even while carrying a pretty sub-standard defense – have been in a different tier to the Cowboys. The Cowboys may be desperate (with their season on the line, you’d certainly hope they are), but “desperate” does not equate to “good”.
Our tip: Broncos
Eels v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Eels -0.58% (8th), Rabbitohs -7.32% (10th)
Defense VOA: Eels -4.30% (9th), Rabbitohs 9.30% (11th)
As we’ve already touched on, last Thursday’s game was bizarre. Bizarre for many reasons, but not the least of which was the sudden trumpeting of the Eels as apparent premiership contenders. Never before have we witnessed both analysts and fans so delirious about a team that just conceded 34 points in a single game of football.
Let’s take a moment to think about that. The Eels have only scored 34 points in a game on one other occasion all season (their Round 2 win over the Dragons, in which they scored exactly 34 points). So on any other day this year, if they defended in the manner they did against Brisbane, they would have lost (or drawn, in the case of the Dragons. Gone to golden point. And then lost). Why the Eels would suddenly be considered a genuine threat on that effort is baffling. Yes, they scored 9 tries, but frankly, that’s just an anomaly. They only made 6 line breaks, which is great, but not especially out of the ordinary for a Broncos defense that has now conceded 6 or more in 7 of their 23 matches this year.
We think Parramatta are good, and completely deserve their finals spot. However, they’re far too inconsistent for us to take them seriously as a premiership contender. Yes, they played very well last week; but three weeks ago, they got pumped 29-10 by Newcastle. Yes, their discipline was incredible last week, making just 4 errors; but the two weeks prior they averaged 14.5. Four weeks ago, they defended stoutly against the Bulldogs, missing just 21 tackles; but the past three weeks they’ve averaged 40. They’re just not consistently above average, and pointing to a trash win in which they conceded over 30 points as justification for their Top 4 existence is laughable.
That said, the Rabbitohs aren’t exactly consistent either, although in the three weeks prior to getting slaughtered by the Storm, the Rabbitohs had put together the closest they’ve come to consistent performances (and let’s face it; nobody plays well against the Storm; Cronulla and Sydney excluded), and those shouldn’t be glossed over just because of the soul-destroying loss they suffered last week (in much the same way as the Eels’ inadequacies shouldn’t be forgotten just because they put 50 on Brisbane). The Rabbitohs can win this match if they play to their ability, and we genuinely think they’ll make a real game of this.
Do we think the Rabbitohs win? No, but only because their typical good days are less frequent than the Eels’ good days (though at their best, the two sides are much of a muchness). We’re not giddy over Parramatta like the rest of the rugby league world, and to be honest, we wouldn’t even be surprised if they lost.
Our tip: Eels
Roosters v Titans
Offense VOA: Roosters 17.12% (4th), Titans -27.66% (15th)
Defense VOA: Roosters -18.13% (4th), Titans 53.68% (16th)
The last time we challenged the Roosters to prove that they’re equal to the Storm, they stepped up, losing to Melbourne to a last gasp try, in a match in which they were arguably the better team. Now, we’re challenging them again.
We really like everything that the Roosters have been doing lately, and at this point, we have them as the 2nd best side in the league. However, the question is: how much daylight is between Melbourne and second place? Are the Roosters really competing for the premiership, or are they merely competing for the right to have their asses handed to them in the Grand Final?
Last week, the Storm showed exactly what a superior team should do against an over-matched, motivation-less opponent. They utterly destroyed them. The Storm didn’t just win; they completely humiliated their opponent to the tune of 64-6. As they should. In life, mercy is a sign of strength. In sport, mercy is a sign of weakness. It shouldn’t be enough to merely win; you should win so overwhelmingly as to put fear into the hearts of anyone else who might come across you later. And make no mistake; nobody wants to play the Storm.
Now, conveniently, the Roosters have the bumbling Titans on their schedule, wandering innocently into Allianz Stadium, primed for a royal flogging. We’re talking about a team who’ve conceded 5 or more tries in their past five matches in a row, while scoring just 9 themselves – from all five matches combined. The Titans are catastrophically bad at football, and they’ve got to survive another 80 minutes before they’re finally put out of their misery.
The Roosters, meanwhile, come in on the back of a physical victory over a fellow Top 8 side, having won 8 of their last 11, and knowing that a win will lock them into a Week One home final. They’re playing the best football they’ve played all year, and are facing a broken opponent, who are already on their knees.
Melbourne just won by 58.
Your move, Roosters.
Our tip: Roosters
Sea Eagles v Panthers
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 16.32% (5th), Panthers 0.80% (7th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles -8.22% (6th), Panthers -1.76% (10th)
The Sea Eagles were vastly improved last week in beating the Warriors. They still weren’t very good.
Before we all the hail the Sea Eagles as ‘back’, let’s acknowledge something – even in pulling off an unlikely comeback victory, they were still outscored 4 tries to 3 last weekend. By the Warriors.
Yes, you read that rightly. Were it not for Isaac Luke’s inability to kick goals, the Sea Eagles would have lost to a Warriors side that hasn’t won a game since June. The previously scintillating Sea Eagles offense sputtered its way to just 3 tries and a pedestrian 16 tackle breaks (the 2nd least put on the Warriors this season), while their defense looked mildly improved at best (and it’s a sad state of affairs when conceding 21 points to New Zealand is considered an improvement).
So on form, the Panthers should have the Sea Eagles covered. However, they have problems of their own. During last week’s narrow loss to the Dragons (who punished Manly by 30 six weeks ago), the Panthers lost boom fullback Dylan Edwards for the next three weeks. This is a problem for the Panthers twofold – firstly, because they lose the production of one of the best young players in the game; but secondly, because now they have to replace him. How they decide to go about doing that will have ramifications, not only for this match, but potentially for a run into the finals, so they need to get it right, and get it right immediately.
Looking at the team Penrith have named, they have essentially three options:
- Dean Whare plays fullback – this is the team they’ve named, however Anthony Griffin loves to play silly buggers with his Tuesday team list, so it’s anything but a certainty that they run out as per program. Whare is easily the least experienced custodian on the team, though he has played there for Penrith before – he started at fullback in the opening six matches of 2013. The side lost 5 of those matches, and neither he, nor the team, were very good. Pros: Minimal disruption to the existing backline. Cons: Arguably the worst fullback of the group.
- Matt Moylan plays fullback – With Penrith having named Moylan on an extended bench, you’d have to assume he’s at least some chance of playing, and if so, would surely be an option to start at fullback. In this case, Moylan would slot in at fullback defensively, while continuing to play five-eighth in attack, where Tyrone May would then revert to a roving, running role. This option may be unlikely, since Whare was named at fullback – Griffin loves to jumble the team, but it’d be unusual for him to name a bloke to start, then drop him altogether. Pros: Minimal disruption, Moylan is an Origin-calibre fullback. Cons: With effectively three halves in the team again, they run the risk of reverting back to their ‘too many cooks’ stinkiness from the opening two months of the competition.
- Dallin Watene-Zelezniak plays fullback – In this case, DWZ would shift from the wing to fullback, and Whare would either replace him on the flank, or come into the centres, bumping Waqa Blake to the wing. Pros: It’s a better combination than Whare at fullback. Cons: It’s a lot of change to the existing backline, Whare played wing earlier in the season and looked fairly ordinary.
Of the options, we’d drop Moylan straight into fullback, although it’s not up to us. If we had to guess, we’d say that this is the likely outcome, if the Cowboys win. If the Cowboys lose, Penrith are already effectively into the finals, in which case they’d be less likely to risk Moylan (who’s been in and out with a hamstring problem for the past two months), and may even run out as named. In that case, you’d almost have to back Manly, even allowing for how bad they’ve been.
As it stands, we don’t know how how tonight plays out, or who eventually plays for Penrith, so we can only make our tips on their merits. As it stands, Penrith are playing far better than Manly, who they haven’t lost to since 2014. However, if the Broncos get up and Penrith roll out a funky backline, we could definitely get on board with the Sea Eagles.
Our tip: Panthers
Storm v Raiders
Offense VOA: Storm 41.58% (1st), Raiders 15.20% (6th)
Defense VOA: Storm -44.02% (1st), Raiders -13.22% (5th)
The Storm are very, very good at football.
If the Sea Eagles had just done the right thing and rolled over for the Warriors last weekend (or the Cowboys for the Tigers, for that matter), this match could have been an absolute bottler. Instead, the Raiders are out, the Storm have already long since sealed up the minor premiership, and this match counts for absolutely nothing, other than a tune-up for the Storm.
Of course, last week was also just a tune-up for the Storm, and they opted to ‘tune up’ by doing really horrible things to the Rabbitohs; the sorts of horrible things that get blocked on your work computer. It’s hard to remember the last time a team dominated as much as this Storm side. If they continue on this road, they may well finish as one of the best sides of the modern era.
If the Storm can eventually win the premiership, they’d be the first minor premiers to win the competition since 2013, and if they were to also win this weekend, they could become the first (salary cap compliant) premiers to have won 20 games in a season in the NRL era (the last premiers to win that many games in a season were the 1983 Sea Eagles, who won 22 in a 26 game season). They’d be arguably the greatest side of the NRL era, and may well be the best team we’ve seen since the 94 Raiders.
Of course, that’s if they win. If they don’t win the Grand Final, they’ll disappear into the depths of ignominy, a place reserved only for the greatest of flops – wherever it is that the 2001 Eels reside.
We think the Storm are the best team in football, and the Raiders should provide a suitable contest (in the very least, they’ll do better than the Rabbitohs did). With the Storm on the cusp of history, it would be an awful shame if they dropped the ball now.
Our tip: Storm
Knights v Sharks
Offense VOA: Knights -23.17% (14th), Sharks -10.07% (12th)
Defense VOA: Knights 29.44% (15th), Sharks -19.66% (2nd)
As with any other week, we won’t be tipping the Knights. But what we will say is this – the thought of the Knights springing an upset here to dodge the wooden spoon isn’t as far-fetched as some of you may believe.
The Knights’ weakness is clearly their defense. Yes, they’re below average across the season on both sides of the ball, however that isn’t a fair reflection of their late-season improvement. Across the past four weeks, the Knights are averaging 5 line breaks and 4 tries per game, after averaging just 3.3 and 2.8 respectively through their opening 19 matches. Their attack is firing, and is running into a Sharks defense that’s averaging 6 line breaks conceded over the past three weeks. Granted, the Sharks have played two elite offenses in that period (as well as the Cowboys), but they’ve also won the possession battle in two of those encounters, including being gashed for 6 line breaks by the Roosters last week, while Sydney only had 41% of the ball.
So, the Knights are at least some chance at scoring, and while their defense is hot garbage, the Sharks’ attack hasn’t looked too flash itself. The Sharks haven’t scored over 4 tries in a game since the 1st of July, and have been held to 2 tries in 4 of their past 7. This must be of some concern to the defending premiers. We were giving them a pass for a while due to the absence of James Maloney, however he’s been back for three weeks, and in that time, their only decent attacking performance came against an injury-ravaged Cowboys side (in their other two matches combined, they made just 3 line breaks, and scored only 4 tries – total).
We’re taking the Sharks here, on the assumption that their defense will turn it around. Cronulla have been so good defensively for so long, that we just can’t believe that they’ve forgotten how to tackle. It may well be that the age of their squad is catching up to them, and if that’s the case, the youthful Knights’ squad will have plenty of young legs running around on Sunday. The Knights jagging a miracle to dump off the wooden spoon would be one of the good news stories of the year, but unfortunately, we think they’ll fall agonisingly short.
Our tip: Sharks
Dragons v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Dragons 22.50% (2nd), Bulldogs -35.54% (16th)
Defense VOA: Dragons -6.59% (7th), Bulldogs -19.20% (3rd)
We hope the Bulldogs have all their belongings nailed down before they visit Tariq Sims and the Dragons on Sunday, after Sims stole Dallin Watene-Zelezniak’s football, his wallet, and the win last week at Pepper Stadium. Sims pulled off the play of the year when he robbed DWZ in plain daylight (in front of 18,000 witnesses) to keep the Dragons in the hunt for the playoffs, and now the Bulldogs are the only thing standing in their way from a finals berth.
Despite sitting in 8th spot, the Dragons benefit from Manly and Penrith playing each other on Sunday, meaning that one team will necessarily lose, and be jumped by the Dragons on for-and-against (unless the Panthers and Sea Eagles were to make a gentleman’s agreement to play out a draw and secure them both a finals spot, but that would be naughty). A month ago, a date with the Bulldogs looked groin-grabbingly easy. Now, not so much.
The Bulldogs have hit an unlikely purple patch of form over the past fortnight, during which they’ve scored at least 26 points, and averaged 6.5 line breaks in those matches (they’d neither scored that many points, or exceeded 6 line breaks in a match all year until this point). The Bulldogs suddenly believe they can score, and they’ll show up to ANZ Stadium (the Bulldogs home ground, despite this being an away game) armed with the game’s 3rd best defense, and well-equipped to stop the Dragons’ high octane offense.
So, we have this game a lot closer than you might suspect. If we had to guess, we think that this match gets decided in the engine room. Consider this: when the Dragons outgain their opponent, they average 4.7 tries per game; in matches in which they’ve been outgained, they average just 2.25 (including averaging 2.5 tries per game over the last fortnight, both matches in which they had the majority of the possession). There’s no team in the competition who’s performance is tied as closely to the output of their forwards as the Dragons (it’s no co-incidence that they’ve been struggling since losing a variety of key forwards since Round 15), and we don’t expect this game to be any different.
Our main issue with the Bulldogs though, is that we don’t think their pack is up to it. They stomped all over the Titans last week (who hasn’t?), but prior to that, they’d been outgained in 4 of their previous 5, and have generally struggled to stop opposition sides from making metres (prior to last week, the Bulldogs hadn’t held a team to under 1400 metres since stopping the woeful Knights pack back in Round 18). That sort of effort won’t be enough to stop the Dragons, and while we think they’ll be competitive, the Dragons should be both too powerful, and too motivated.
Our tip: Dragons
Tigers v Warriors
Offense VOA: Tigers -8.42% (11th), Warriors -5.52% (9th)
Defense VOA: Tigers 24.39% (14th), Warriors 10.02% (12th)
So this is how the 2017 regular season ends; not with a bang, but a whimper.
Those of you who closely follow the NRL (and if you don’t, why are you here?) would know that the league holds off on finalising the final 6 Rounds of the competition, so that the best games go into the best timeslots. That means that somewhere in League Central, there must have been a meeting that went down something like:
“You know what’d be the perfect ending to the season?”
“The Storm hosting the Raiders? We could present the J.J Giltinan Shield at the immediate conclusion of the regular season, in front of their home fans, and if we’re lucky, the Raiders might be fighting for a Top 8 spot.”
“No. Let’s finish with the Tigers and the Warriors. Because ‘bugger it’.”
“That’s brilliant! Let’s put the Bulldogs on free-to-air every Thursday night, too.”
And so here we are. The 2017 regular season will be closed out by two teams who’ve combined for just 6 wins between them since Round 10. (For comparison’s sake, the Dragons have won 6 on their own over the same period, and they’ve been shithouse.)
The Tigers are overwhelming favourites for this match, presumably because it’s being played at Leichhardt, and will be a farewell game for the departing James Tedesco and Aaron Woods. It’s also worth pointing out that the Warriors have been awful away from home this year, winning just 1 game away from Mount Smart (against the Titans at CBUS). In fairness, the Warriors have been awful regardless of where they play, but there’s a line of thought that they’re moderately better at home.
However, we’re going against the grain and backing the Warriors to end their 8-game losing run. Remember from earlier that the Warriors did just outscore the Sea Eagles for tries last week, and on their day, the Warriors can score points. With Michael Chee Kam and Matt McIlwrick suspended, the Tigers will be welcoming back the suspect defense of Kevin Naiqama to their starting side (he ranks 4th on the Tigers for missed tackles, while actually completing less tackles than any of the three players ranked above him), and also moving Elijah Taylor into hooker (a position he’s only played 6 times, without ever winning a game). On the other side of the coin, the Warriors are unchanged (it’s a matter of opinion whether or not that’s a good thing in this particular instance).
It’s incredibly hard to pick a winner here; it’s like having choose between your kids (if you hate both your kids, and think they’re terrible at football). But we have to decide, so we’re voting for continuity and picking New Zealand. But just so you know, we don’t feel good about it, either.
Our tip: Warriors