2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 127/192 (66%) [Last week:5/8]
Line Betting: 51/93 (55%) [Last week: 3/4]
2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Line Betting: 54%
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NRL Finals Week One Tips and Previews
Roosters v Broncos
Offense VOA: Roosters 14.00% (5th), Broncos 20.26% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Roosters -20.58% (2nd), Broncos -7.20% (7th)
The finals open with arguably the match of the week, with the Roosters hosting the Broncos at Allianz.
On paper, these sides are relatively evenly matched, with the Broncos holding a narrow edge in attack, while the Roosters are better defensively (and, of late, much better).
The major question here, though, will be how the Broncos handle the loss of Darius Boyd. The Broncos have so far played 5 matches without Boyd in 2017, winning 3. However, the spine they’ll be trotting out on Friday night – Kodi Nikorima, Anthony Milford, Benji Marshall and Ben Hunt – hasn’t actually been used in any of those matches. The Broncos opted for Jordan Kahu at fullback in the first 3 of those games, losing 2, before understandably looking elsewhere. From there they tried Jamayne Isaako (in his only appearance of the year), before trying Kodi Nikorima at the back in their 42-12 win over Canterbury.
However, in that effort, Ben Hunt was playing halfback, and Andrew McCullough hooker. We’re happy to see Milford and Marshall together in the halves (we’ve long considered that combination to be the best the Broncos have got), however it would be naive to think that there aren’t plenty of question marks over rolling out a new spine in a match such as this.
And scoring points will be of the utmost importance to Brisbane, since they seem completely incapable of stopping them. The Broncos record creates the illusion of defensive competence thanks to the string of bad attacking sides they’ve played of late. Looking back over their past 2 months of football, they’ve held 5 teams to 2 tries or less. But let’s take a look at who those teams were: Canterbury (last in Offense VOA), Gold Coast (2nd last), Cronulla (5th last), North Queensland (4th last) and St George-Illawarra (had the flu). When they had to play teams with any semblance of offensive ability the results weren’t quite so good. They got hammered for 42 points by the Storm in Round 17, gave up 22 to Newcastle a week later, 28 to Parramatta in Round 21, before the 52 point embarrassment a fortnight ago. In short, the Broncos’ defense only looks competent against the league’s very worst attacking teams – and the Roosters are not one of those.
We still think this match will be competitive, if only because we’re happy to believe that the Broncos will still score points; new spine or not. However, it’s hard to believe that they’ll suddenly be able to keep an elite offense to under 20 points (something they haven’t done since losing to Sydney in Round 13), and that’s a lot of points to have to chase.
Our unrealistically specific tip: Roosters 22-18
Storm v Eels
Offense VOA: Storm 42.18% (1st), Eels -1.00% (8th)
Defense VOA: Storm -45.20% (1st), Eels -3.64% (8th)
If you’re unfortunate enough to have to work with (or even, heaven forbid, live with) a Parramatta fan, then you’ve no doubt already got Saturday afternoon circled as the day on which you get to see that smug, shit-eating grin washed of their face by the best team in football.
To put it bluntly (and sometimes you need to be blunt, especially with a fanbase who view their team conceding 34 points in a match to Brisbane as evidence of their premiership credentials), Parramatta are the worst team in the Top 8, and the only reason they’ll make it to Week 2 is the fact that they can’t be eliminated. They’re the only team left alive in the competition who’ve lost to Newcastle; and are only in the Top 4 courtesy of an unusually soft draw. They only faced Melbourne once (and in an Origin week, to boot), the Roosters once (in which they got flogged, 48-10), and Cronulla once (again, a 20-6 footballing lesson). They’ve “charged” into the Top 4 courtesy of winning 11 of their past 13 matches. In those wins, the only top 8 sides they’ve beaten were the Broncos (who, as we’ve already pointed out, are struggling to defend against anybody) and the Baby Storm. The other 8 teams they defeated will all be watching the finals from home, and when Parramatta did play a Top 8 side in that period – they faced the Cowboys in Round 14 – they got smoked 32-6.
The Storm, meanwhile, have done it the hard way, playing 3 top 8 sides in a row post-Origin (Manly, North Queensland and Sydney), winning them all, and doing it by an average margin of over 18 points. They also lit up the Rabbitohs 64-6 a fortnight ago. You know, the same Rabbitohs team that the Eels scraped home against 22-16 a week later.
The Eels deserve some credit for scraping into the Top 4, and as a reward, they can watch two other teams get bundled out this weekend, while they live to fight another day. But we don’t see them winning this weekend, or any other weekend in September, for that matter.
Our unrealistically specific tip: Storm 28-12
Sea Eagles v Panthers
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 18.20% (4th), Panthers 1.07% (7th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles -9.14% (6th), Panthers -1.40% (10th)
This match is the hardest game of the round to tip, largely because of the unknowns hovering over the Panthers line-up ahead of this elimination final. We warned you last week that if the Cowboys lost (as they did), that the Panthers would then likely trot out a spine with Dean Whare at fullback – a spine with Buckley’s chance of winning a football game. The reasoning, was that it appeared that the Panthers would then opt to insert Matt Moylan straight in at fullback when they got to a game in which they actually needed to win, so it made sense to minimise disruption to their combinations. One week, and a convoluted news story later, and playing Moylan at fullback is suddenly no longer an option, leaving the Panthers spine looking every bit as murky as ever.
Which you’d think would then make the Sea Eagles an easy tip. However, it’s really not that simple. For a start, the Panthers have Dylan Edwards recovering from a Grade 2 MCL tear, and looking increasingly likely to play (Te Maire Martin, for example, suffered the same injury for the Cowboys, and managed to miss just a single match, albeit with a distinct limp). If Edwards were to return this week – and if the Panthers then picked up where they left off before he got hurt, having won 7 matches in a row – the Panthers should be deserving favourites.
Even allowing for last week’s 28-12 demolition of Penrith, Manly really haven’t been very good. They can pat themselves on the back all they like, but their defense is appallingly bad, and has been for months. Yes, they only conceded 12 points last week, but hidden in that performance is the fact that they still conceded 4 line breaks to a Penrith team who were missing half their spine, and had just 43% of the ball. Had possession been even remotely even, the scoreline would suddenly be a lot closer; add Dylan Edwards in place of the ill-suited Dean Whare at fullback, and the Panthers are likely in front. Remember, this is the same Sea Eagles team that were out-scored for tries a week earlier by New Zealand. The same Eagles team that conceded over 7 line breaks per game on average, over the five weeks prior.
The issue though, is that there’s no guarantee that Edwards returns; and if he doesn’t, the Panthers are pretty much toast. Whare is an excellent centre but a dreadful fullback, while playing the better-suited Dallin Watene-Zelezniak at fullback would require a wholesale re-shuffle of the Panthers’ backline, leaving new combinations that would get abused by Dylan Walker and Brian Kelly (apparently, both literally and verbally).
We’ve tipped the Panthers again, on the assumption that Edwards plays; there’s just something about that kid that makes us think he straps his knee up and rushes back to save the day. If he doesn’t, we don’t want any part of Penrith, and you can assume that Manly should ease to victory.
Our unrealistically specific tip: Panthers 24-22
Sharks v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Sharks -10.03% (12th), Cowboys -15.79% (13th)
Defense VOA: Sharks -16.24% (4th), Cowboys 15.49% (13th)
People can point to the Cowboys as being the NRL’s unluckiest side all they want; we’ll never agree. For a start, the majority of their injuries have made very little difference – the Cowboys weren’t going to win the competition from the moment that Matt Scott went down in Round 2. In that moment, the Cowboys’ defense (that was elite in 2016) completely imploded, and has never at been at a level that would make them serious contenders. Are all the extra injuries unfortunate? Sure, but they’d already dropped off so far from their previous level that it didn’t really matter.
Instead, we actually consider them really lucky in other ways. Plenty of teams suffer injuries to key players – the Panthers, for example, enter the week potentially without half their spine; the Broncos and Eels are both short a fullback. However, the Cowboys have been blessed with enormous luck to still be here regardless, and honestly, in a pretty good spot.
Sure, they’ve lost 5 of their past 6, but prior to that, they won 4 in a row, courtesy of lop-sided possession, and winning the penalty count every single week. Even in losing to Brisbane last week, they were given every opportunity, winning the possession 55:45, and the penalty count 9-2. In fact, going as far back as Round 11, the Cowboys only lost the penalty count once. The Cowboys may be unlucky with injuries, but they sure are blessed by the referees.
And then they got lucky again, when the Dragons wet the bed last week against the Bulldogs. With the Dragons’ loss, the Cowboys not only made the finals, but did so with arguably the softest draw possible. The Sharks have been bog average throughout August, and are distinctly beatable; and if they can overcome Cronulla, they’d then likely get the playoff goats, Parramatta, in Week Two. As bizarre as it may sound, the Cowboys are actually well placed for a deep run here.
The issue though, is that they have to beat Cronulla. At their best, the Sharks are indisputably better than this particular North Queensland team. But will they be at their best? If we’re going to knock Manly for conceding 4 line breaks to a Penrith team that was starved of possession, it’s only fair to point out that the Sharks did the same thing… to Newcastle, who had just 44% of the ball. Yes, Manly’s crappy defense came with their season on the line, whereas the Sharks were playing for nothing, however in the very least it’s noteworthy, particularly in the context of some of their recently poor defensive efforts. The Sharks leaked 6 line breaks to the Roosters the week prior; 5 to this very Cowboys team before that – and all three were matches in which the Sharks held the bulk of possession. If the Cowboys get their typical rub of the green by the match officials, it’s not beyond of the realms of possibility that North Queensland can give this a real shake.
We’re inclined to roll with Cronulla, largely out of blind faith that their staunch defense has to return eventually. But if it doesn’t come back this week, they may not get another chance; since their offense (which has been held to 3 tries or less in 15 of 24 matches) is simply not good enough to carry them.
Our unrealistically specific tip: Sharks 18-12