2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 4/8 (50%)
Line Betting: 1/2 (50%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
(NOTE: If this is your first visit to the site, be sure to click here for an explanation of what we’re all about. Then, be sure to sign up at the bottom of the page to get betting tips sent straight to your inbox!)
A quick note on the early round stats: The nature of our VOA-based NRL statistics is that they naturally require a league average as a starting point, thus the smaller the sample size, the less accurate these stats will be. However, to satisfy our readers, we’ll publish the stats and associated projections from Round 1 (despite a persistent letter-writing campaign, I’m yet to find any major footy tipping outlets who are willing to start their competitions from Round 10…). In order to do this, we’re forced to use the 2017 database as the foundation for the stats, and as the weeks pass these will be combined with the new season’s numbers and weighted progressively less each week until the numbers used are entirely from 2018. We can’t guarantee that this method is necessarily going to be effective (although we tried it last year and it was surprisingly successful, the level of player turnover this off-season is unprecedented, and likely to greatly affect the outcomes), but it’s the only way we can think of to present the data in the early rounds without it being totally skewed by an insufficient sample size. In short, for at least the first month it is best to consider our stats as purely for entertainment purposes. They may prove accurate (we’ll review them later in the season), but the method remains firmly in the testing phase.
NRL Round 2 Tips and Previews
Sharks v Dragons
Offense VOA: Dragons 22.71% (2nd), Sharks -21.41% (13th)
Defense VOA: Dragons 0.90% (8th), Sharks -3.39% (7th)
In last week’s preview, we flagged the possibility that the new-look Sharks offense had a potentially very low floor, but even we underestimated just how bad the Sharks offense would look.
Like a few teams in Week One, Cronulla’s offense looked clunky and disjointed, and their flaws were amplified by a forward pack that was getting pretty well dominated by the Cowboys. It was fortunate for Cronulla that the Cowboys were themselves actually having a scratchy outing with the ball, or the night could have easily become embarrassing.
The good news for the Sharks is that this week should hopefully bring with it some improvement. The hot talking point from last week’s loss has been the disappointing performance of Valentine Holmes at fullback (an issue that we raised in our Season Preview a week and a half ago), and rightly so. To that end, Sharks coach Flanagan will reportedly shuffle Josh Dugan to fullback, Holmes to the wing, and Aaron Gray into the centres. We love these moves, and expect Cronulla to look significantly improved as a result.
The bad news, however, is that their offense will most definitely need to be humming, because if there’s one team in the league whose offense is already firing, it’s the Dragons. While Brisbane stumbled along similarly to Cronulla last week, the Dragons ran riot, with Ben Hunt adding the gravy to the sizzling, hot beef of the Dragons engine room. Maybe we’re just suckers (we bought into the Dragons early last season as well, and we all remember how that turned out), but the Dragons looked mighty impressive. They were doing all the same things as in 2017 – rolling over the top of teams in the middle of the field, then attacking back-pedaling defenses back through the ruck – but they just seemed a lot more composed doing it. They looked sharp, and the combination of Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop looked like a match made in rugby league heaven. Granted, it was only one game, but they really were exceptional.
And they were impressive in all the ways that the Sharks were underwhelming. While Cronulla’s forwards were beaten up by the Cows, the Dragons looked terrifyingly dominant. While the Sharks were killing themselves with mistakes, the Dragons looked reasonably crisp, making the 5th least errors of the opening weekend (10).
We don’t think Cronulla will remain as poor as they were against North Queensland (they couldn’t possibly), but they have a lot of ground to make up on St George. Their re-modeled spine is a massive step in the right direction, but it remains to be seen if it will be enough to outpoint the Red Vee.
Our tip: Dragons
Roosters v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Roosters 2.42% (7th), Bulldogs -23.49% (15th)
Defense VOA: Roosters -22.91% (2nd), Bulldogs -16.65% (4th)
Let’s get something out of the way. The Roosters were utterly horrific against the Tigers last week, there’s no getting around it. Sydney were inexcusably bad, and they totally deserved the loss were handed. The Tigers are such a bog average footy side that typically all that’s required is to hold onto the ball and wait for the inevitable gaping holes in their defensive line in order to score a procession of tries; so to give away a whopping 9 penalties and make a further 12 errors is just bad football.
On the bright side, it’s unlikely we see the Roosters play that badly again all season. This week, they’ll have Luke Keary returning at five-eighth, completing one of the league’s best spines. The addition of Keary should give their set plays more polish, and they should have plenty of room to work against a Bulldogs pack who were easily overpowered by the Storm a week ago.
We were otherwise actually quite impressed by the Bulldogs’ effort in Melbourne. Right up until Josh Addo-Carr’s length-of-the-field thievery, Canterbury were right in the contest. Their offense looks vastly improved from a year ago, and Moses Mbye looks like a natural fit at fullback. This match looms as an excellent test for how far the new Bulldogs have come. Their defense looked reasonably solid against the Storm machine, and their offense looked more than capable of producing points (though they only produced 18 points against the Storm, it’s worth noting that Melbourne only conceded that many points on 5 occasions in the entire 2017 season). There’s reason enough to think that they should be competitive, if they can just a good share of field position.
Which actually makes this match appear closer than you might’ve thought. Canterbury were blown away by the Storm, but then again, most teams are. The Roosters were (justly) criticised for their performance against the Tigers, and the Bulldogs must surely be licking their lips. That said, we don’t actually think that the Roosters pack are as bad as has been made out. We’re backing the Sydney forwards to get over the top of Canterbury, and from there, they should have too much firepower for Canterbury to contain. But if there’s one major takeaway from last week for every other team in the competition – including the Bulldogs – it’s that the Roosters are most definitely beatable.
Our tip: Roosters
Broncos v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Broncos 4.16% (6th), Cowboys -14.32% (12th)
Defense VOA: Broncos 6.60% (10th), Cowboys 18.13% (13th)
It was as disappointing to us as it was to everyone else just how ordinary the Broncos looked last Thursday night, though we wouldn’t go far as to call it surprising.
On paper, the Broncos’ spine didn’t look flash to begin with, and behind a badly beaten forward pack, they stood very little chance. The Sam Thaiday experiment at hooker has thankfully been shelved (though this was expected, with Andrew McCullough reportedly pulling up fine after his return from injury), but they’re still stuck with Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima in the halves; if for no other reason than that they don’t really have many other options. The issue with this combination is that they lack a classical seven; a confident game-manager to give the team direction and shape. Both Milford and Nikorima are confident running halves, but the Broncos may be learning the hard way that perhaps they under-valued Ben Hunt. Compounding the problem is a lack of viable alternatives. Jack Bird could potentially play five-eighth on his return from injury, but is primarily a runner as well. Outside him, the only other halves in the Broncos’ squad are unproven youngsters who may potentially be a better fit, but aren’t likely to displace Test players like Milford and Nikorima. So, for better or worse, it would appear that Brisbane are forced to try and make this work. Theoretically, it may prove to be the making of Milford as a half. However, he certainly has some development to do, and not a lot of time to do it with the Cowboys rolling into town.
That said, the Cowboys have halves problems of their own, with five-eighth Michael Morgan today ruled out, leaving Te Maire Martin to once again line up alongside Johnathan Thurston. This isn’t necessarily a huge problem – they did just put 4 tries past the highly regarded Sharks defense, after all – but it’s not ideal, particularly with the side still missing Lachlan Coote at fullback.
Given the sheer dominance of the Cowboys’ forwards last week – and the presence of a genuine halfback in Thurston – we have to lean towards North Queensland. It won’t be the end of the world if Brisbane loses this weekend; most teams are likely to lose to the Cowboys this year. However, we do want to see Brisbane’s offense start to look a lot more cohesive.
Our tip: Cowboys
Warriors v Titans
Offense VOA: Warriors 2.25% (8th), Titans -28.01% (16th)
Defense VOA: Warriors 20.90% (14th), Titans 39.72% (16th)
So, are the Warriors… good?
We’re certainly not prepared to say so (fool me once, New Zealand Warriors), but we have to give credit where credit’s due: offensively, the Warriors delivered one of the most polished performances of Week One in their dismantling of the Rabbitohs. They were sharp (they made just 7 errors, the 2nd least of any team in the opening round), they were creative (gone was the gameplan of five hit-ups, followed by staring at each other looking confused) and, most importantly, they were effective.
However, we need to approach their opening performance with caution. For a start, their opponents were the Rabbitohs, one of the weaker defenses a year ago. And speaking of defense, despite winning, the Warriors defense was still carved up for 8 line breaks by the Rabbitohs. The Warriors may have comfortably been able to outpoint the Bunnies, but if that sort of defensive performance becomes their standard, they’ll struggle to beat just about anyone.
Fortunately though, ‘just about anyone’ is exactly who they’ve got this week, with the Titans heading across the Tasman having beaten the Warriors just once since 2010, and coming armed with a defense even more porous than South Sydney. The Titans were far and away the worst defense of 2017, and enter this match having just leaked 6 line breaks and 5 tries to a Canberra team missing their best player.
So with two shockingly poor defenses squaring off, we’ll be backing the team with the most enterprising offense, and for Week One at least, that team was the Warriors. We’re not yet ready to commit to the Warriors long-term, but maybe we can start with something casual, and see where it goes.
Our tip: Warriors
Panthers v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Panthers 7.52% (5th), Rabbitohs 0.84% (9th)
Defense VOA: Panthers -13.03% (5th), Rabbitohs 25.37% (15th)
For about half an hour last weekend, it looked like the Panthers were on track to match the Roosters for the most disappointing performance of the week, as Penrith continually shot themselves in the foot with errors early in the tackle count. Then, Viliame Kikau happened.
In just 35 minutes of football, Kikau exploded for 5 tackle breaks, 2 line breaks, a line break assist and an offload, in a performance that turned the match on its head. On the back of his performance, the Panthers came roaring back in the second half, piling on 24 unanswered points in what can only be described as “total domination”. While it would no doubt be disappointing to Anthony Griffin to see his troops start out so poorly, it surely must be reassuring to know that his side is capable of seizing a match entirely from a consensus top-8 caliber team.
In contrast, the Rabbitohs turned in an insipid second half a day earlier. After actually looking pretty darn sharp throughout the opening stanza, the Rabbitohs were shockingly robbed of a fair try in the left corner just before halftime, and then compounded the disappointment by watching Shaun Johnson take the Warriors the length of the field to score a try themselves, all in the time that the Rabbitohs should have been lining up a conversion of their own. Understandably, the Rabbitohs were disappointed. But, unlike the Panthers against Parramatta, the Rabbitohs didn’t fight back in the second half. Rather, they rolled over and allowed the Warriors to completely have their way with them.
So, given the difference in performances in the face of adversity, you can understand why we we’re reluctant to put much faith in the Rabbitohs. And if either side is going to face much in the way of adversity on Saturday afternoon, it will likely be Souths, who are running into one of the league’s most fierce forward packs in front of what’s likely to be another bumper home crowd.
Last week, the Panthers only played decent footy for three quarters of an hour, and that was all they needed to hammer the Eels. Imagine what could happen if they rip in for the full 80.
Our tip: Panthers
Storm v Tigers
Offense VOA: Storm 53.66% (1st), Tigers -9.69% (11th)
Defense VOA: Storm -56.88% (1st), Tigers 1.40% (9th)
So, the Storm are still good. That clears that up. Now, on to the Tigers.
The Tigers’ ‘fairy-tale upset’ of the Roosters (or, alternatively, “Welcome home, Teddy”) was the toast of rugby league on the weekend, and with good reason. For the Tigers’ rag-tag bunch of no-names to snatch a win off their highly fancied (but apparently not highly paid; wink, wink) opponents from the Eastern Suburbs was a great story. What it wasn’t, though, was a great performance. In fact, it wasn’t even good.
Let’s be clear about something: the Roosters were eye-wateringly bad. They committed 12 errors, and conceded a further 9 penalties, which combined to gift the Tigers a weight of 54% of possession. And what did Wests do with all that football? They scored 1 try. Just one. And it came from a deflection off Michael Chee Kam’s face.
A win’s a win, but this doesn’t instill us with a lot of confidence about the Tigers’ attacking ability. For comparison’s sake, the only other teams to receive as much possession as the Tigers enjoyed on Sunday scored 5 tries (the Titans and Dragons, from 59% and 60%, respectively) and 4 tries (the Cowboys, with 57%).
You could perhaps make an argument that the Tigers’ defense has improved, but it’s hard to judge; the Roosters turned the ball over on almost a third of their sets, so the Tigers weren’t asked to do much defending in the first place. If they have improved, we’ll surely find out on Saturday night, when they face a Storm side who just slaughtered the Bulldogs defense to the tune of 36 points.
But we’re not holding much hope. You couldn’t say for certain that the Storm will definitely win; they might turn up and leave their talent at home in a similar manner to what the Roosters did last week. However, if the Tigers require their opponents to completely shit the bed to be any chance of winning (and even then, need a last-minute miracle falcon to take a game that’s been handed to them), they’re not likely to win a lot of football games.
Our tip: Storm
Sea Eagles v Eels
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 10.03% (4th), Eels -1.60% (10th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles -16.78% (3rd), Eels 11.75% (11th)
If we have one takeaway from the Sea Eagles’ loss to the Knights, it’s that they miss Blake Green. Not because of all the tries he laid on – he actually set up surprisingly few for Manly, adding just 11 try assists year. Rather he gave the Sea Eagles something that’s impossible to measure in raw statistics – the threat of try assists.
Daly Cherry-Evans is ‘the man’ in Manly’s offense, with almost everything designed to run through him. That’s fine, but on one condition – Cherry-Evans requires a viable second (and third) option in order to take the heat off him, and it’s that that Manly have lost without Green. (For a comparative case study, consider the Cowboys, who – despite featuring the game’s best halfback for over a decade – never got particularly close to winning the premiership until the arrival of Michael Morgan; and didn’t actually win until the addition of a third ball-playing option at fullback in Lachlan Coote.)
In 2016, the Sea Eagles tried to run their offense without a legitimate second option alongside Cherry-Evans (we apologise unreservedly to all Sea Eagles fans for reminding them of the “Dylan Walker as a five-eighth” era), and it was a dismal failure. Manly bumbled their way to 13th spot on the ladder, scoring just 454 points in the season (4th last), while turning to veteran Jamie Lyon mid-way through the year in the hopes of resurrecting their season. Then, Blake Green happened. Virtually overnight, Manly went from the outhouse to the penthouse, scoring an additional 98 points in 2017, compared to the season prior. Now, once again without Green, they look a lot more like the 2016 version of themselves than the impressive 2017 model. The reason for this is that new five-eighth Lachlan Croker was almost completely omitted from their gameplan, leaving Manly’s attack looking awfully predictable, and easy for the Knights to shut down. This isn’t a criticism of Croker; to be honest, we have no idea whether he can play or not, as he did so little in his maiden outing. Rather, we’re stressing that if Manly are to improve, they need to at least trust him with more responsibility, in order to free up Cherry-Evans to play with more time. If he fails, so be it, – the Sea Eagles can move on and try somebody else. But rolling him out there on training wheels is doing both he and his team a disservice.
As for the Eels, they looked good. That is, for about half an hour, until their forwards gassed, and they got mauled by a bigger, meaner forward pack. It’s probably unreasonable to judge them on their second half wipeout, since it’s reasonably unlikely that they’ll have to face that sort of carnage again for a while. Rather, we were reasonably impressed with the execution of their set plays, and compared to the majority of the other teams in Round One, we’d actually say that Parramatta looked reasonably sharp.
Which makes this game tough to call. Weirdly, it may well come down to the weather. We expect a fiery contest featuring aggressive line speed in defense from both sides, which is sure to test both sides’ fitness. At time of writing, Sunday afternoon is forecast to be unseasonably hot, and – having already seen how the Eels handle a little bit of sunshine – we’re inclined to favour the younger pack of the Sea Eagles (while the Eels feature 4 over 30s in their forward pack, Manly will feature just 1 on the weekend; having interestingly dropped two of them for this matchup).
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Raiders v Knights
Offense VOA: Raiders 16.52% (3rd), Knights -21.60% (14th)
Defense VOA: Raiders -11.95% (6th), Knights 16.81% (12th)
If you’d told us last week that the Raiders would score 28 points against the Titans, we’d have been reasonably confident that Canberra had won. And we’d have been wrong.
The Raiders’ second-half bed-wetting was enormously disappointing, and not just because they lost. It was disappointing, because as unfortunate as they’d been to miss the finals in 2017, they’d typically rolled out a strong defense most weeks; and with Josh Hodgson unavailable for another three months at least, we’d have thought that they’d lean on that defense to win football games. As it turns out, they did neither of those things.
In fairness to Canberra, they were unlucky – Konrad Hurrell’s match-winning try came from a nothing kick that was headed straight to Blake Austin until he got gobbled up by the turf monster (and gobbled so badly that Henry Perenara sent it to the video as a ‘no try’ due to obstruction), but regardless, to blow an 18 point lead in a very winnable matchup must be soul-destroying. The good news for Canberra is that they get an opponent of a similar level this weekend.
Like the Tigers mentioned above, we weren’t particularly impressed by the Knights (though to be clear, Newcastle were still lightyears better than Wests). If Newcastle proved anything last weekend, it wasn’t that they’re now a good team – they aren’t (sorry). Rather, they proved that if you show up against them and execute poorly, the Knights will now beat you (which is more than could have been said of them previously, and is more than could be said of the Tigers sans falcon).
The reason we don’t regard the Knights as a ‘good’ team is that their pack is still terrible. We warned you about it in our season preview, and they couldn’t have proven us any more correct, as they were outgained by over 250 metres, despite winning the possession count. On this particular occasion, they were fortunate – the Sea Eagles were happy to give away 9 penalties, the majority of which came either late in the tackle count, or when the Knights were pinned in their own end. Were it not for penalties, there’s every possibility that Newcastle would still be buried somewhere deep inside their own 20, and that’s the crux of the problem. The Knights’ offense looks really smooth, and their defense has definitely improved. However, you just won’t win a lot of games if you can’t get out of your own end.
Which makes this a winnable match-up for Canberra. The Raiders forwards should have far too much for Newcastle, and their offense demonstrated against the Titans that they’ve still got plenty of points in them, even without their best player. Though if the Raiders drop their intensity, the Knights have proven that they now have the ability to punish them. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Our tip: Raiders