2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 14/24 (58%)
Line Betting: 5/10 (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 4 Tips and Previews
Cowboys v Panthers
Offense VOA: Cowboys -18.02% (12th), Panthers 8.66% (8th)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 29.78% (14th), Panthers -1.98% (10th)
How much is Nathan Cleary worth to the Panthers? That’s the million-dollar question that punters (and Phil Gould) need to figure out, and the next two months will hopefully give us a few clues.
According to the bookies, Cleary’s worth an awful lot, with the Panthers blowing out to over $4 at time of writing. Maybe we’re just being contrarian, but in this particular match-up, we like those odds.
The appeal of the Panthers here lies in how their strengths stack up against the Cowboys’ weaknesses. Thus far, both sides have struggled with their structured attacking sets. James Maloney has struggled to get on the same page as his outside men at Penrith, and was only just beginning to settle in when the Panthers lost Cleary, and Maloney was thrust into the role of dominant playmaker. In the long run, we expect this to actually be a blessing in disguise for the Panthers, as it’ll force the ball into their best player’s hands more often, and by the time Cleary returns, Maloney should (hopefully) be firing on all cylinders. In the meantime, it’s less than ideal, however it’s worth pointing out that the Panthers have scored very few tries from their set attacking patterns anyway, so how much they’ll lose from Cleary in that regard should be minimal.
In the Cowboys’ case, they too have struggled in the their opposition’s red zone, mainly due to the limitations of a mind-numbingly simple gameplan, and the absence of Lachlan Coote (who’s expected to make a comeback this weekend via the Queensland Cup, and should subsequently liberate Johnathan Thurston). The Cowboys’ lack of success generally can be linked to their inability to free up their outside men (the Cowboys outside backs have combined for just 2 line breaks in the opening three weeks). If the Panthers’ defense has an obvious weakness, it’s out wide, where their three-quarters have allowed over a third of their conceded line breaks (and if you add the halves to that number, it jumps to over a half). Penrith’s middle is generally water-tight, so the Cowboys’ typical attacking set of ‘give it to Taumololo or Hess and hope for the best’ isn’t likely to reap many rewards. The Cowboys will need to send the ball wide early and often to put points on Penrith, something they’ve failed to do effectively in 2018 (or 2017, for that matter).
When it comes to the Cowboys’ Achilles Heel, however, it’s a very different story. Where the Cowboys struggle defensively – in the middle of the park, around the ruck – just so happens to coincide with exactly what the Panthers do best. For all their flaws in executing their structures, the Panthers have so far been rescued on two occasions (and almost for a third time last week) by individual efforts, straight through the middle of the defensive line. The blossoming Dylan Edwards leads the team in both line breaks (4) and tackle breaks (15), and being a running fullback, he spends much of his time hovering around the forwards in support play (similar to Billy Slater). Tied for second in both numbers is Viliame Kikau, who’s a lot like what Coen Hess would be, if Hess could actually tackle (should they line up opposite each other, it should be spectacular). Most importantly, the absence of Cleary should theoretically have a minimal effect on this style of offense, with the Panthers’ line break assists spread relatively evenly across the team (Cleary himself accounts for just 2 of the Panthers’ 9; in contrast, at the Cowboys, Thurston accounts for 4 of his team’s 7).
So will the Panthers be worse? Probably, but it remains to be seen how much worse, and this is a theoretically good match-up for Penrith otherwise. The Cowboys very well may win (they can’t keep playing this poorly forever), but their over-whelming favouritism seems to be built more on reputation than anything they’ve actually done thus far.
Our tip: Panthers
Rabbitohs v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs 19.33% (4th), Bulldogs -5.41% (10th)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs -2.62% (9th), Bulldogs -10.80% (7th)
The last thing we would have thought a week ago is that this could be one of the games of the round, as both sides sat anchored to the bottom of the ladder. What a difference a week makes.
The Rabbitohs absolutely annihilated Manly, leaving the Sea Eagles battered and embarrassed, in a thrashing that few saw coming. Looking back, it wasn’t completely out of nowhere – they did put 8 line breaks and 4 tries past an ordinary Warriors defense in Week One. Now, after last week’s display, they’ve looked offensively electric in two of their three games, having only so far been stopped by the Panthers. It seems increasingly likely that the Rabbitohs may actually be one of the better attacking sides, while Adam Douehi is looking like the best attacking weapon the Rabbitohs have had since they decided they were better off without Luke Keary (SPOILER ALERT: they weren’t).
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have unearthed a superstar of their own, in the re-birth of Moses Mbye as a fullback. Among all fullbacks, Mbye leads the league in line breaks (6), and is second in tackle breaks (21), giving the Bulldogs an attacking weapon that they’ve always had, but apparently didn’t know to appropriately use.
These two sides present so statistically similar that they’re damn near impossible to separate. If the Rabbitohs might have an upper hand, it could be in the forwards, where the Bulldogs had struggled over the opening fortnight, before an improved effort against the Panthers. The Rabbitohs rank 1st in RMVOA, while the Bulldogs rank last in RMCVOA – an awful match-up for the Bulldogs, that you’d typically expect to result in the Rabbitohs putting 1500m+ on Canterbury, and the Bulldogs subsequently being starved of field position. However, even that is questionable, due to the small sample size, and the Rabbitohs’ numbers being upwardly skewed by a big day out against a flaccid Sea Eagles defense.
So, we’re leaning to the Rabbitohs, but there’s not a lot between them.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Sharks v Storm
Offense VOA: Sharks -33.64% (15th), Storm 36.26% (1st)
Defense VOA: Sharks -28.19% (3rd), Storm -34.45% (1st)
If there’s any team in the competition that’s disappointed us so far this year, it’s Cronulla.
We’re not giving up on them; far from it – their defense still looks like the brick wall that has made them one of the league’s best teams over the past couple of years. However, their offense has really sputtered out of the gate, and has perhaps never looked worse than their limp effort in beating the Eels.
Perhaps forgotten in the celebrations of their first win of the season was just how harmless their offense looked. Here they were, presented with a struggling opponent who’d conceded an average of 10 line breaks per game over the opening fortnight and were coming off a 54-point hiding, and the Sharks could manage just a single try? Cronulla aren’t a team built on their offense (thank goodness for that), but even by their standards, that’s not good enough. They’ll hope that the return of Matt Moylan gives them a bit of spark, and there may not be another team in the competition as dependent on one player as the Sharks are likely to be. With Moylan either struggling or absent through the opening three weeks, none of his teammates have stepped up to fill the void, leaving them hopelessly dependent on their five-star defense to keep them competitive. That defense may be good enough to win their fair share of games, but probably won’t be against the top sides, like the one they’re facing this week.
The 2018 Storm aren’t as good as the 2017 Storm, or at least they haven’t been so far. That said, they’re still the best team in the competition, and that’s nothing to be sneezed at. After a hiccup the week prior against the Tigers, the Storm resumed business as usual against the Cowboys, punishing North Queensland from siren to siren (they could easily have won by far more, if they didn’t bomb almost as many tries as they scored). It should be interesting to see how the Storm fare against a legitimately elite defense, given the relative strength of their opponents so far. The Sharks will be the first top 5 defense in VOA they’ve faced this year, and should give a good indication of how good the Storm attack really is.
The Sharks will take some hope from their good record against the Storm (they’ve won 3 of their last 5 meetings, which is about as good as it gets against Melbourne), but with both sides bringing an elite defense to the table, the difference will likely be the strengths of their respective offenses. And by that measure, it’s a no-contest.
Our tip: Storm
Roosters v Warriors
Offense VOA: Roosters 17.74% (6th), Warriors 10.85% (7th)
Defense VOA: Roosters -29.23% (2nd), Warriors 22.65% (13th)
We’re all enjoying watching the Roosters improve each week into the premiership force they were expected to be, there’s no doubt about it. But let’s all just pause for a moment and appreciate the fact that the Warriors – yes, the Warriors – just hung around in a rugby league match for long enough to profit from their opposition throwing the game away. The Warriors. You could almost a hear a collective chorus from across the Tasman of “Oh, so THIS is what it feels like!”, as the Warriors came from the death to actually win.
And what a win. Sure, they were mainly profiting from the Raiders spectacular brain farts, but Shaun Johnson still had to nail two long-range field goals (albeit under absolutely no defensive pressure) to get the chocolates. The Warriors still aren’t a particularly good team (after all, their defense appears to be made of tissue paper), but at least they’re not beating themselves, which has been their biggest problem for years. Here’s a fun fact: the Warriors have actually made the least errors in the competition over three weeks (26). The Warriors. It’s just madness.
As pleasant a surprise as they’ve been though, a trip to Sydney is likely to be their undoing. Not because of a sudden drop in playing level, but rather due to the incredibly high likelihood of their brittle defense being exposed by Luke Keary and his mates. Since their Week One teething problems, the Roosters have scored 12 tries over the past two weeks, as James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk settle into their new surroundings, and Keary establishes himself as one of the game’s premier attacking halves.
As good as the Warriors offense has been, the Roosters should easily have the firepower to match it, and the difference in defensive capability is night and day (the Roosters have conceded almost half the line breaks as the Warriors so far this year, and literally half the tries). It may be time to admit that tipping the Warriors is becoming a realistic option – just not this week.
Our tip: Roosters
Sea Eagles v Raiders
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 18.53% (5th), Raiders 23.53% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles -8.33% (8th), Raiders 6.60% (11th)
What the hell happened to these teams last week?
Manly, fresh off obliterating the Eels in Week Two, turned in an absolute stinker of an effort against the Rabbitohs; while the Raiders looked like cruising to victory for 75 minutes, before falling into another dimension without a trace.
In Manly’s case, their main problem could be summed up in one word: effort (or more specifically, the lack thereof).
Despite featuring a defense that typically features decent line speed, the Sea Eagles were clearly failing to get off their line at all last weekend, instead sitting on their heels and allowing the Rabbitohs to eat up easy metres at their leisure (a strategy that’s typically fraught with danger against anyone, but is borderline suicide against the Bunnies). By the end of the match, the Sea Eagles had conceded an unbelievable 1770m as a result – the most conceded by any team in a game this year, by over 100m. In short, they never stood a chance.
We don’t know why they looked so flat; we can hypothesize that they were just worn out from all the try-scoring they did the weekend before in the blistering heat, but it’s just guess work. The main takeaway is that they stunk, but at least they stunk in an uncharacteristic manner, so there’s hope that it was just an aberration.
In contrast, the Raiders stunk in the same way they always stink – in the last quarter of the match. It’s becoming nauseating to watch the Raiders find new and exciting ways to lose football games in which they’ve been the clearly superior team on the ground. If we could create some sort of Frankenstein’s monster that starts games like the Raiders and finishes them like the Panthers, they’d run through the season undefeated (if, however, we stuffed it up and built a team that started like the Panthers and finished like the Raiders, we’d have accidentally built the Titans). Our inclination is that the Raiders just need to win a close game against somebody to get their mojo back, since they’re actually not playing bad football otherwise (remember, there was a time not that long ago that Mitchell Pearce was considered to be the anti-clutch as well, but since slotting the match-winner against the Melbourne B Team in Round 16 last year, he’s gone from strength to strength).
That said, we’re doubtful that comes this week. If confidence is what the Raiders need, a trip to Brookvale Oval isn’t likely to solve it; whereas a return home and a cool evening is likely to be exactly what the Sea Eagles need to give them a little bit of enthusiasm.
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Dragons v Knights
Offense VOA: Dragons 20.81% (3rd), Knights -16.22% (11th)
Defense VOA: Dragons -15.86% (5th), Knights 21.52% (12th)
We’ve been warning you for three weeks that the Knights’ piss weak forward pack is going to leave them badly susceptible to any team with a powerful engine room, and the monstrous Roosters forwards didn’t disappoint, outgaining the Knights by over 300m, on their way to a lop-sided 38-8 victory.
We actually quite like a lot about the Knights, and their attack in particular looks really dangerous when they get into opposition territory. The problem for Newcastle though, is that they’re never there.
Through three matches, the Knights have now been outgained by almost 800m combined, leaving their improved (but still generally weak) defense over-exposed, and limiting the scoring opportunities of their offense (which is clearly developing into a real strength). And then to make matters worse, they’ve also conceded the most penalties in the league to go with it (31). So, they help opposition teams into their own end, where they don’t have the muscle to work their way out again. They were extremely fortunate against Manly that the Sea Eagles helped them out with 11 penalties of their own, while Canberra accommodated them with their obligatory final quarter implosion. But against the Roosters, that luck finally ran out.
And the story doesn’t get any better this week, with the Knights heading down to WIN Stadium to face Jack de Belin and his burly band of muscly men. The Dragons not only feature one of the most imposing forward packs in the game, they’ve also been among the most disciplined, being one of just four teams to have not conceded double-digit penalties in a game so far (the Bulldogs, Storm and Roosters being the other three).
Put it all together, and this bodes really, really poorly for Newcastle.
Our tip: Dragons
Broncos v Titans
Offense VOA: Broncos 3.69% (9th), Titans -39.72% (16th)
Defense VOA: Broncos -24.16% (4th), Titans 56.97% (16th)
The Broncos were lucky to get away with it against the Tigers, and after three rounds, it’s hard to get a good read on them.
Broadly speaking, their attack is looking rather pedestrian in its current form, and not showing many signs of getting better. Against the Tigers, they were executing their attacking plays far too deep to engage the Tigers’ edge defenders, and looked to just be going through their patterns with little purpose or thought to who specifically they were attacking; much like a training run. As a result, the Tigers were able to sit back, wait and see who got the ball, and then shut the plays down effectively. The Broncos really look to be lacking a dominant half in attacking zones, and we can’t help wondering how long they’ll persist with the combination of Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima if they don’t start getting better results. That said, both Milford and Nikorima are excellent ball runners, and the Broncos are stacked with players who can beat their opposite man one-on-one – something they’re required to do, since their attacking plays have so far misfired. Enter the Titans.
The only team the Broncos have been able to run up a score against so far is the Cowboys, who just so happen to have missed the fifth most missed tackles in the league. The Titans, however, are drastically worse again, having missed the most so far this year, and more than the Cowboys by a third (121 v 91). As uninspired as Brisbane’s offense has so far been, you’d expect a team like the Titans to present the perfect matchup for Brisbane to run riot.
As for the Titans, we genuinely feel for their head coach Garth Brennan. While Ivan Cleary is being heaped with plaudits at the Tigers for guiding a similarly weak roster to two surprising wins, the Titans are looking every bit like the wooden spooners many expected them to be. Brennan is a good coach, who’s had a stack of success in the lower grades at Penrith. However, it’s worth remembering that the majority of that success came with rosters that were clearly superior to the rest of the league (the Panthers’ junior nursery is hardly a secret), and while Cleary has had experience building game plans for sub-standard footy sides (again, at Penrith), Brennan is likely learning as he goes.
The point is, Brennan needs to be given time and patience while he figures out how on earth to win football games with this shabby roster. He’s brought in a bunch of changes this weekend, including dropping Bryce Cartwright to the bench (which is exactly where a defensively limited attacking spark-plug should be), and starting his best trio of middle forwards together (Jai Arrow, Jarrod Wallace and Ryan James). This should help (at least for the first half hour), but we can’t help but worry what will happen to them when they all come off together.
Perhaps the Titans might surprise us, but we’re not holding our breath.
Our tip: Broncos
Tigers v Eels
Offense VOA: Tigers -21.54% (13th), Eels -24.87% (14th)
Defense VOA: Tigers -13.52% (6th), Eels 31.60% (15th)
First things first, our hearts go out to Tigers fans everywhere. Yes, we give them a hard time here on account of their general lack of footballing prowess, but that was no way to end a football game. As neutrals, we haven’t left a game feeling so empty since the Greg Inglis “try” in State of Origin 2012.
That said, it doesn’t make the Tigers any better at football. We have to give them credit where it’s due – they play their little hearts out. But sadly, that will only get them so far. At some point, they do have to actually score a try (just ask Des Hasler).
Offensively, both sides certainly have their struggles. So far in 2018, the Eels have yet to score more than 3 tries in a week; the Tigers have yet to score over 2 tries in a fortnight. In fact, together the Tigers and Eels have combined for just 7 tries between them – only the Broncos and Sharks haven’t hit that mark on their own. So, don’t be expecting much in the way of enterprising football on Monday afternoon; it’s likely to be a borderline unwatchable slug-fest, only to be viewed by the true diehards.
The problem for the Tigers is exactly what you’d expect from watching them – basically, they just aren’t very good (for the full Wests Tigers experience, try syncing up a Tigers attacking set with the Benny Hill theme – it’s mind-blowing). We’ve long suggested that while defense is a reflection of coaching and effort, offense is limited by the personnel you’ve got, and in this instance, they have an offense led by Luke Brooks, and they’re playing accordingly.
The Eels, on the other hand, have been just as ineffective as the Tigers (arguably moreso), but have had far fewer opportunities. While the Tigers had a wealth of possession in their two opening matches (54% and 53% respectively) and failed to do anything with it, the Eels’ total failure in their last two matches has come from just 41% and 46% of the ball (in their opening match they had an equal share of possession, and they scored 3 tries – a mark it took the Tigers 3 weeks to hit). Granted, a lot of the Eels’ problems are self-inflicted, but our point is that at least the Eels have demonstrated the ability to make a line break at some point; however long ago that might have been.
In addition to the Eels’ possession problems, popular opinion is that the Eels are light a forward or two, and the lack of go-forward has cost the Eels offensively. We agree – they’ve been monstered in every match they’ve played by at least 200m a game. However, the Tigers shouldn’t present that problem. Their forward pack isn’t particularly impressive, and they actually rank 4th last in RMCVOA. If the Eels’ forward pack is indeed the problem, this should theoretically be the ideal game to right the ship.
Finally, it’s worth asking the question: can the Eels get any worse? In all seriousness, we doubt it. Despite the drastic difference in results so far, these two sides have served up reasonably similar numbers. However, most would agree that the Tigers have been playing to the absolute best of their ability; the Eels, meanwhile, have surely hit rock bottom. This might sound like a strange argument for picking the Eels, but we’re making it. Simply put, the Eels have a lot of room to get better, while the Tigers are only likely to get worse. If the two sides play to form, this is probably a coin flip. If, however, either side regresses toward what you’d expect to be their average by the time it’s all said and done, then it likely tilts in favour of Parramatta.
Our tip: Eels