2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 9/16 (56%)
Line Betting: 3/6 (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 3 Tips and Previews
Storm v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Storm 38.21% (1st), Cowboys -17.84% (13th)
Defense VOA: Storm -43.11% (1st), Cowboys 21.00% (14th)
Oh my good lord, the Storm were bad last week. As in, Roosters in Week One bad. We don’t know what came over them, but this was easily the worst game the Storm have played in over 12 months, and sits alongside Parramatta as the worst anyone’s played so far this season. But still, they were actually winning with 2 minutes to go. Yes, this partially points to the crumminess of the Tigers, but we’ll get to them later. For now, let’s just appreciate how good a team the Storm are, that even when they’re at their very worst, they’re still somehow competitive. (The Eels, for example, were not competitive. Nope. Not for a minute. Not even a little bit.)
So no, we’re not concerned about the Storm, and we’d be shocked if they were to serve up another bludger of a game like that this week (or this year, for that matter). What we are beginning to get a little bit concerned about though, is the Cowboys.
Their offense has at best looked ho-hum through their first two outings, which is partially explained by the absence of Michael Morgan (who at time of writing has been named to return), and the consistently under-rated Lachlan Coote. However, they do still have this bloke named Johnathan Thurston (we hear he’s pretty good), so the simple, forward-dominated attacking structure in the opposition 20 is a tad disappointing (and, it would appear, is getting a bit stale).
The real concern for us though, is their defense. A year ago, the Cowboys had an unfortunate tendency to allow line breaks through the middle third of the field, and at the time, we put it down to the shortage of troops in their engine room. However, that’s no longer the case, and yet the Broncos were able to easily punch holes through the belly of the Cowboys (3 of the Broncos’ line breaks came between the numbers), and similarly, the Sharks were able to attack the Cowboys up the middle the week before (when they weren’t dropping the pill). This was an area where we’d thought the return of Matt Scott would clean up, but so far this season, he’s been missing some disappointingly soft tackle attempts, and actually sits equal with Johnathan Thurston – a halfback – for the most missed tackles in the team (8). He’s deserves a long leash on account of all he’s accomplished in the game, but given his advancing age (he’s 32) and the severity of the injury he’s returning from, we can’t help wondering if his best days are behind him (he obviously needs longer than two weeks to be judged, we’re just raising the issue).
And now, they get the Storm, a team just as capable of tearing you open up the middle via Billy Slater, as they are of going around you with their Fijian wingers. We really like the Cowboys this year, but we just can’t get excited about them this week. We have genuine concerns about their defense, and if their forwards don’t really aim up, there’s a chance they may actually get torched.
Our tip: Storm
Bulldogs v Panthers
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -19.18% (14th), Panthers 7.86% (8th)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs -3.75% (8th), Panthers -17.87% (4th)
Maybe we’re wrong, and maybe moving Jeremy Marshall-King into the starting side will be a masterstroke by coach Dean Pay. But at first glance, dropping halfback Matt Frawley looks to us like a panic-move, made by a rookie coach feeling the pressure to deliver his first win.
We make the point because while the Bulldogs find themselves winless through two weeks, their attack has actually been the least of their concerns. Sure, they’ve only scored a combined 30 points so far, but those points have come against two of the league’s best defenses (the Storm and Roosters), and they’ve actually managed an impressive 8 line breaks in those matches as well. Under the circumstances – and considering just how bad their offense was last year – we’d argue that they’ve actually been rather good. And even if they haven’t been, we’re not entirely sure why Frawley has been singled out. Through two weeks, he actually has the same number of try assists and line break assists as his halves partner Keiran Foran (2 and 1, respectively), while adding a further 2 line breaks (Foran has 0) and 6 tackle breaks (again, Foran has 0) of his own.
No, where the Bulldogs are struggling is quite obviously on defense, where they’ve conceded a combined 66 points in two weeks. And again, Frawley isn’t the problem. While Foran (a well-regarded defender for a half) has missed 6 tackles, Frawley has missed just 2 (all while actually making more tackles as well). To be clear, we’re not saying that Foran should be dropped instead; rather we’re saying that if your problem is defense, dropping your five-eighth seems an unorthodox way of fixing the problem (unless, of course, your five-eighth is Bryce Cartwright). Perhaps finding a forward rotation that’s capable of keeping their opponents to under 1500m would be a good place to start (although with the rumbling Panthers on the horizon, that’s a lot easier said than done).
And now, that defense is set to face a Penrith side who’ve demonstrated a penchant for obliterating opposition defenses. So why aren’t we falling over ourselves to enthusiastically back the Panthers? Well, mainly because when they aren’t obliterating opposition defenses, they’re making our eyeballs bleed with some of the most basic errors you’d ever see from a professional rugby league team (the constant errors, coupled with a monotonous 22 penalties blown by Henry Perenara, filled Saturday afternoon with more whistling than a 1920s Walt Disney movie). On one hand, they’re one of just 7 teams to have made double-digit errors in both their outings. On the other, they’re also one of just 2 of those teams to have still found a way to win both their matches (the other is St George) – demonstrating just how good they are when they’re not being bad.
But how much good football can we realistically expect Penrith to play at this point? 50 minutes? 40 minutes? We don’t have the answer, but if the opening rounds have been any indication, we’ll guess they’ll play ‘enough’. Enough good football to win the game, and not a minute more.
Our tip: Panthers
Tigers v Broncos
Offense VOA: Tigers -14.31% (11th), Broncos 9.32% (6th)
Defense VOA: Tigers -1.05% (9th), Broncos -9.70% (6th)
Look. It brings us absolutely no joy to repeatedly have to be the harbingers of reality for Tigers fans. Tigers fans are right up there as the best in football, and make up a large chunk of our regular readership. However, our readers (presumably, Tigers fans included) visit the site each week expecting an unfiltered, honest appraisal of each team. And our honest assessment is that thus far, the Tigers have been bog average at absolute best.
We pointed last week to their complete ineptitude with the ball, and the fact that they very nearly lost, despite the Roosters playing their worst game in recent memory. And if you were wondering just how bad the Storm have to play in order to lose, now you know. The Storm made an atrocious 16 errors in a single game of football, more than in any match last season (the closest they got was making 15 errors against Cronulla in Round 6, and they lost that as well, 11-2), and tied for equal most so far in 2018 with Souths (in a match they lost 32-20), the Eels (they got hammered, 54-0), and the Cowboys (who were saved only by the fact that their opponents, Cronulla, also made 15 errors of their own). The fact of the matter is that through two games, despite their opponents gifting the Tigers a win in both field position and possession through self-inflicted damage, the Tigers have barely scraped home by just 2 points per game, and have scored a total of 2 tries combined – both of which came from passes that hit the deck. Honestly, we’re glad they won (those wins are sure to come in handy in a few months when they’re fighting off the spoon), but they’re playing terribly (admittedly with plenty of spirit, but nonetheless terrible).
The Broncos, on the other hand, resumed business as usual with a surprising win over the Cowboys. Of course, if it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander; and we feel obligated to point out that if it weren’t for a try-saver by the upright (or a try off a forward pass, or Ben Hampton refusing to catch the ball) they probably would have lost. However, to us, the result is secondary to the process (that much should be pretty clear by this point in this particular preview), and the Broncos were objectively decent.
Sure, the problems with their spine are still there. They still lean heavily on a pair of running halves, and look a bit directionless when executing their set plays. However, when these running halves are on song, they are dy-no-mite, and – combined with James Roberts – they exposed the lazy middle of the Cowboys time and again.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that so far in 2018, the Tigers defense has clearly improved. However, we’re not even completely sold on that yet, given the ineptitude of both the Roosters and Storm in their own showings. Sure, they limited the two typically elite offenses to a combined 2 tries (which in a vacuum is very impressive). However, we suspect that the numbers are at least somewhat skewed by the fact that both sides ended almost a third of their sets with errors, and spent a good chunk of their remaining time in poor field position as a result. The Tigers defense has barely been tested, so we certainly can’t give it a seal of approval (also, the Storm blew at least two certain tries out wide in their loss via a knock-on and a forward pass, though admittedly the same could be said of many matches).
Honestly, we promise that when the Tigers actually turn in a good performance rather than collecting a win by default, we’ll be the first to heap praise on them – and you’ll know that they actually deserve it. If you’re after hollow lip-service to make you feel good about the Tigers in the meantime, you can always visit one of the name-brand sites.
But since you’re here already, we’ll warn you not to be fooled by a couple of freak results against good teams playing the worst matches of their lives.
Our tip: Broncos
Raiders v Warriors
Offense VOA: Raiders 17.79% (3rd), Warriors 8.99% (7th)
Defense VOA: Raiders 3.28% (10th), Warriors 13.88% (12th)
What on earth were the Raiders thinking?
That’s certainly what was on our minds, and probably on the lips of Canberra fans everywhere as they watched their side blow another late game lead. Let’s recap: the Raiders, fresh off a disappointing loss to the Titans, found themselves 8 points up against Newcastle with 17 minutes to go. And what did they decide to do? They immediately began kicking for the sidelines – even in attacking field position – making a clear decision to tackle their way to victory. Trying to defend an 8-point lead for over a quarter of an hour is a bold choice for even the toughest defense. But for a team who had just conceded 50 points in a little over 2 hours of football, the strategy was flat-out bizarre (a little bit of back-of-the-envelope maths would tell you that they’d been conceding more than a converted try every quarter up until that point, what made them think things would suddenly improve?). As impressive as their offense has been in Josh Hodgson’s absence, their defense has been equally as awful; and their inexplicable confidence in it got exactly what it deserved.
But is the Warriors’ defense any better? Maybe, but it’d be debatable by how much (if at all). Granted, they kept the Titans to just 2 line breaks and 1 try (the same Titans who put 3 and 5 past the Raiders, respectively), but the Gold Coast struggle to do much at the best of times, and just a week prior, the Warriors were gashed by Souths for a shocking 8 line breaks and 4 tries (a performance worse than either of Canberra’s efforts thus far). Yes, they’ve probably improved, but whether or not they’ve improved to a level capable of keeping out the Raiders is debatable.
What about the Raiders, then? Can they keep out the high-flying Warriors offense? Probably not, but to be clear, we’re not yet ready to toast the Warriors as the attacking powerhouse they’ve looked like over the opening fortnight. For a start, let’s look at who they’ve beaten – the Rabbitohs and Titans, two teams whose Defense VOA rank 11th and last respectively. Sure they looked sharp putting 32 on Souths, but that’s the same team Penrith just put 18 on in under half an hour. Similarly, they looked alright putting 20 on the Titans – that is until you realise that over their last nine matches, the Titans are conceding 30 points per game on average, including 30 to the Raiders in Week One. We like the look of what the Warriors are doing in general, however, it’d be a stretch to declare them significantly better than Canberra up to this point.
Tossing a coin might be a fair option here, but we’re rolling with the home team. They’ve been playing decent enough football so far, and could be easily 2-0 like their opponents. At Canberra Stadium, where they’re likely to get the rub of the green (no pun intended), that just might get them home. Besides, if we picked the Warriors for two weeks in a row, we’d feel icky.
Our tip: Raiders
Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs -0.59% (9th), Sea Eagles 25.14% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs 12.75% (11th), Sea Eagles -27.24% (2nd)
Sticking to the positives, Souths had every opportunity to win last week (they just didn’t). Their defense kept the Panthers scoreless in the first half, which was a good step up after the caning they got from the Warriors. Also, George Burgess looks good, both with the football and with his lovely long hair (he’s made just 25 fewer metres than twin brother Tom, despite having 9 fewer hit-ups; we suspect there may be a reverse-Samson thing going on here). That’s pretty much it though, as Souths are still finding their feet under new coach Anthony Seibold. They’re not the worst team in football, but they’re also nowhere near playoff-calibre (yet).
The Sea Eagles, however, took just a week to find themselves, and they did it in a big way, pumping the Eels 54-0. In Week Two, they debuted an offense with a far more even distribution of the ball, and as a result, every member of their spine contributed to an incredible offensive performance (who knew?). Last week, we urged the Sea Eagles to give more responsibility to players not named Daly Cherry-Evans, and they responded even better than we could have imagined. Apisai Koroisau had a hand in everything in the opening sets leading to their first try, Tom Trbojevic was frequently posted on the short side, offering attacking alternatives to Cherry-Evans, and by the end of the match, even Lachlan Croker had chimed in with a try and try assist of his own. Best of all, dispersing responsibility did little to reduce the impact of Cherry-Evans himself, who imposed himself on the game with 2 line breaks assists, a try, a try assist and a 40/20. This looked a lot like the Manly offense of 2017, and that Manly offense was pretty darn good.
Which gives us little reason to expect the Rabbitohs’ first win to come here. The Rabbitohs are a reasonable team, and have the individuals with the talent to exploit opportunities if they’re given to them. But without Adam Reynolds, their attacking sets look pretty aimless, and they were easily contained by Penrith (outside an exciting kick return try, the Rabbitohs managed just 1 other). Without many points in them, they’d need a massive defensive effort to make this game competitive, and we just don’t think they’ve got the steel.
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Eels v Sharks
Offense VOA: Eels -15.14% (12th), Sharks -26.98% (15th)
Defense VOA: Eels 37.95% (15th), Sharks -11.66% (5th)
While fans of both clubs may have circled this match in the pre-season as a top-of-the-table blockbuster, instead it will leave one side anchored to the bottom of the ladder, winless after three rounds. That doesn’t necessarily make this a bad game though, as over the opening fortnight both sides have shown glimpses of decent football (though admittedly, you have to squint a bit).
Parramatta were just appalling last week, there’s no getting around it. They got torched in the opening quarter to find themselves trailing 18-0 after just 15 minutes, and never looked like getting back into the match. They’ve now been held scoreless through their last 3 halves of football combined, which casts some doubt over their attacking ability. However, while it seems like a lifetime ago now, it’s worth remembering that when they had some decent attacking position early in Week One against Penrith, their set plays did look alright, running in several tries down Penrith’s left edge. Unfortunately for the Eels, that was the last time they enjoyed significant field position (as well as being outgained by Penrith, they were held to under 1000m by Manly), and without it, they’ve lacked many opportunities to capitalise on what should be one of the better attacking spines.
As for the Sharks, they were putrid in Week One, and likewise again in the second half against St George (while it was an exciting finish, sitting through that crap-fest was like pulling teeth, if you were then dropping the teeth every second possession). It’s worth remembering though that as rusty as Cronulla have been, their defense has actually been as reliable as ever through their opening two matches, keeping them competitive against the Cowboys, and almost getting them the win last weekend. This is a team whose identity is built on its defense, and all their successes have come off the back of it (they won the 2016 Grand Final by keeping the Storm to just 12 points), so as long as their defense is still in good working order, we still have faith that success shouldn’t be far away for Cronulla.
But will it come this week? The two teams match up reasonably evenly, with Cronulla’s attacking ineptitude so far matched well by the Eels’ own defensive frailties. How many points that pairing translates to for Cronulla is anyone’s guess, though we subjectively feel like they attacked better than their numbers indicated last week, and their low score was more a reflection of the Dragons’ defensive precision. Their new spine will again be better for the run, and we’re optimistic that they should find some points through one of the many holes that Manly exploited last week. We don’t share that optimism for the Eels’ offense, who run into a Shark net that just kept the high-flying Dragons to a single line break.
This does look like a competitive battle, and it’s likely to feature aggressive defense on both sides. However, while the Eels aren’t as bad as they looked a week ago, the Sharks aren’t either, and have probably showed a few more signs of improvement at this point.
Our tip: Sharks
Titans v Dragons
Offense VOA: Titans -33.38% (16th), Dragons 14.39% (5th)
Defense VOA: Titans 44.13% (16th), Dragons -9.33% (7th)
If you look up about a half an inch (or less if you’re on your mobile device), you’ll see how these teams match up (Dragons = good; Titans = bad). So given the statistical mismatch, how can the Titans beat the Dragons?
It probably won’t be in the forwards, where the Dragons feature one of the league’s best forward packs, and the Titans rank 5th last in RMVOA. Jai Arrow has been excellent, ranking 2nd in the league for run metres, and averaging over 10m per hit-up, but he’s getting very little support from the rest of his pack. Jarrod Wallace will be a good addition, but compared to the monsters in the St George pack, it’s a no-contest.
It also won’t be on defense, what with the Titans conceding over 20 points in both matches so far (the Dragons, meanwhile, are yet to concede over 16). They’ve leaked 13 line breaks through their “defense” (2nd worst in the league), and missed a disgraceful 83 tackles in just two games (the worst in the league, by more than 10).
Perhaps it’ll be in the try scoring department? People seem to think that the returning Ash Taylor is pretty special (nobody involved with this site, but… you know… people do). Again, it’s doubtful though. The Titans lean heavily on scoring tries from kicks (which, as you’d be aware, is an unreliable source of points), largely because they’re incapable of generating line breaks (they’ve made the 2nd least in the competition). Not to worry though, if they ever did manage to make a line break, it’s unlikely they’d be in a position to convert it into points, given their afore-mentioned lack of run metres.
Sadly, it would appear that the Titans are likely to be left crossing their fingers and hoping that the Dragons just turn in a stinker. It’s not impossible (the Tigers have two wins that prove that), but it’s certainly not likely.
Our tip: Dragons
Roosters v Knights
Offense VOA: Roosters 14.59% (4th), Knights -8.87% (10th)
Defense VOA: Roosters -25.41% (3rd), Knights 16.13% (13th)
Finally, we come to the Roosters and Knights.
Last weekend, the Roosters finally showed us what we’ve been waiting to see, after a horrible misfire in Week One. The Roosters were superb on both sides of the ball against Canterbury; and honestly, they’re probably just scratching the surface (which is a scary thought).
Comparing the Roosters’ two performances so far, it’s like chalk and cheese. Plays that were a second too early or a second too late a week earlier were turned into tries against the Bulldogs, and seeing James Tedesco look like James Tedesco must have been a huge relief for Roosters fans. Granted, they were still sloppy with their discipline, but in fairness, most teams have been a bit sketchy at different times over the opening fortnight, and the Roosters are notoriously naughty anyway. They really don’t need to dial it in too much to be a very, very good football side.
As for the Knights, yes, they were once again fortunate to snatch a late win (if the Raiders had stepped on their throats as they should have, it likely would have been game over), but you have to give credit where it’s due: this is a team that refuses to give up, and through two weeks, their attacking plays have been as smooth as Blake Ferguson’s immaculate head. Unfortunately, they still have enormous problems with a lack of go-forward (they’ve been outgained by an average of 225m per game), which stops us from embracing them with any great enthusiasm, but you have to admire their transformation from a year ago (and, unlike the other reversals of fortune for 2017’s bottom-feeders, this looks like the real deal).
However, that lack of punch in the middle is likely to be exposed this week by a Roosters outfit that just put over 1600m on the Bulldogs, in a match in which they actually lost the possession count. The Sydney pack often gets forgotten when we’re drooling over the likes of North Queensland, St George or Penrith, but they’re no slouches themselves. Dylan Napa had the game of his life against Canterbury, and this is a forward pack so good that Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Zane Tetevano are forced to start off the bench.
There should still be opportunities for Newcastle – if you wait around long enough, the Roosters will ALWAYS invite you into their own end eventually though errors, penalties, or typically some combination of both – but the Roosters defense is usually very good, and the Knights will have to score at almost every opportunity to make a game of it.
On the balance of it, the Roosters look like deserved favourites, but Newcastle aren’t without a hope.
Our tip: Roosters