2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 18/32 (56%)
Line Betting: 7/14 (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 5 Tips and Previews
Raiders v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Raiders 23.26% (3rd), Bulldogs 0.42% (9th)
Defense VOA: Raiders 12.75% (11th), Bulldogs -10.37% (6th)
This surely has to be it.
For three weeks, the Raiders were the better team on the field, only to somehow find a way to lose. They outplayed the Titans, then the Knights, and finally the Warriors; but ultimately were left with nothing to show for it. Subsequently, their weak effort against a rebounding Sea Eagles team was almost to be expected. However, this week – finally – they get a team almost as unfamiliar with winning as they are. The Bulldogs enter this match with just a single win to their name, and even in that win, they likely would have blown it had the match gone 5 minutes longer. Last weekend, they dominated the Rabbitohs from the opening whistle, only to have the match stolen from in the final moments, in a performance that was eerily Raider-esque. So surely this has to be the match-up the Raiders have been waiting for, right?
Hopefully, but we’re not as confident as we’d like to be.
The main reason for that comes in two parts. Firstly, after a weak opening fortnight, the Bulldogs’ big men have put in two good efforts over their last two games, and unsurprisingly, their results have improved in turn. The Raiders, meanwhile, could barely advance the ball at all against Manly, struggling away for just 1033m, just a week after the Sea Eagles conceded a whopping 1770m against Souths.
And secondly, they’ll now have to try and get over the top of the Bulldogs without Test forward Josh Papalii, who was sensationally dropped to reserve grade by coach Ricky Stuart.
We can understand Stuart wanting to shore up the Raiders’ defensive edges – they rank fourth last in LBCVOA, and the overwhelming majority of those breaks have come on the Raiders’ edges. However, we’re not convinced Papalii is the problem – he’s directly conceded just 2 line breaks all season, drastically less than fellow edge defenders Jordan Rapana (5), Jarrod Croker (4), and Sam Williams (4), and importantly, the same as opposite second-rower Elliot Whitehead. And even if we did consider Papalii’s defense to be the cause of the Raiders’ woes (we don’t), it’s worth noting that pulling him out suddenly creates a massive hole in offensive workload that needs to be replaced. Of all the Raiders forwards, Papalii ranks first in total runs (52), run metres (432), and second in tackle breaks (8). In short, winning matches is obviously difficult for Canberra at the moment as it is, they didn’t need to go and make it harder for themselves by dropping one of their best players.
So with the two sides so evenly matched, how do we separate them? It’s not on the Raiders’ well-known right edge, where Rapana and Joey Leilua are likely to find it hard slogging against the Morris twins (we don’t care what anyone says, Josh Morris remains one of the best defensive centres in football). No, where the Raiders have the clear upper hand is on their left edge, where Croker and Nic Cotric have combined for a whopping 8 line breaks between them in just four matches, and manage to draw the defensively-challenged pairing of Marcel Montoya and Will Hopoate, who have leaked an incredible 8 line breaks in four matches between them (on the other side of that coin, the Raiders pair have conceded just 5, while the Bulldogs duo have yet to make one).
We don’t feel confident (how can you, at this point?), but surely the Raiders have to win this. And when they do, it won’t be because they dropped Papalii.
Our tip: Raiders
Sharks v Roosters
Offense VOA: Sharks -45.97% (16th), Roosters 8.57% (7th)
Defense VOA: Sharks -42.99% (1st), Roosters -27.57% (3rd)
Once again, the Sharks find themselves in a battle of elite defenses, having hung on to win ‘Penalty-fest 2018’ against the Storm last week.
It’s doubtful that we learnt anything about either side from that shit-show, with a combined 57 errors and penalties ensuring that absolutely no football was played, and that a miserable time was had by all. Thankfully, it’s widely believed that whatever the heck that was is now finished, and we can go back to watching actual football. That probably doesn’t suit the Sharks, but there’s definitely reason for optimism.
With Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan back on deck, the Sharks will be rolling out their best attacking lineup since their narrow Week 2 defeat to the Dragons. The Sharks have admittedly struggled their way through the opening rounds, but they’ve only really been struggling to score points (averaging just 1.5 tries per game); their defense has been every bit as good as we’re used to seeing from Cronulla, and should keep them competitive against pretty much anybody.
Over at the Roosters, they’re beginning to make us feel nervous again. Their offense has veered wildly between looking unstoppable and seeming reserve grade-quality, and it’s hard to feel confident in what Roosters team will turn up on any given week. They can’t seem to stop dropping the ball (they’ve made the most errors in the league through four rounds), and as a result, are leaving plenty of points on the field. Conveniently though, the Sharks aren’t much better, having made the fourth most errors in 2018.
This is critical. In the Roosters’ two garbage performances, they gave away exactly 10 extra sets per game via errors and penalties, and were consequently crushed for field position as a result (against the Warriors, in particular, they were outgained by over 500m). When that differential gets a little lower, and the possession gets a little closer, the Roosters’ fortunes dramatically swing upward, with Sydney averaging 6 tries per game in their two outings with 48% of possession or more.
And that could easily be the difference. So far, possession has made very little difference to Cronulla’s fortunes. Plenty of football, no football… they still struggle to score. Dugan and Moylan should make them better, but this looks like a game that’ll be decided by the Roosters. If they can keep a hold of the football, they’ll win. If they play like last week, they’ll lose. Simples.
Our tip: Roosters
Dragons v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Dragons 34.55% (1st), Rabbitohs 25.45% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Dragons -20.93% (4th), Rabbitohs 2.46% (9th)
The Dragons just keep on keeping on, with the Knights the latest victims of the St George juggernaut.
In theory, the Rabbitohs should actually present a tougher match-up for the Dragons. St George are at their best when they’re bulldozing straight over the top of opposition teams, averaging over 6 tries per game in matches where they’ve outgained their opponents by 400m or more. And the Rabbitohs’ pack has been vastly improved in 2018, not being outgained by more than 100m by any opponent this year, including against packs like the Panthers and Warriors. So, we can reasonably expect the Rabbitohs to meet the Dragons in the middle and slow down their scoring, right?
Well, we would, if not for Sam Burgess getting slapped with the weakest suspension we’ve seen in years (frankly, he shouldn’t have even been penalised, let alone suspended). Burgess has been easily the Rabbitohs’ best forward so far, leading the entire team in run metres (513), and leaving a gaping hole to be replaced. And that replacement isn’t going to be anywhere near Burgess’ standard, with the only middle forward on their reserve list being the solid-but-unspectacular Jason Clark. If they go in a different direction (say, adding Kyle Turner to the bench), they’ll be leaving themselves under-sized against the monstrous Dragons forward pack. This really looks like a notable handicap, and one that the Rabbitohs really didn’t deserve.
But let’s be honest – they probably weren’t going to win anyway. While we believe that a full strength Rabbitohs pack could give as good they get against the Dragons’ big men, their offense still looks patchy at times. Between Adam Reynolds, Adam Doueihi and Cody Walker, it remains to be seen what their ideal halves combination is; and John Sutton showed with his beautiful last pass for the match-winner against the Bulldogs that he’s being totally wasted in his current role (Sutton still has a silky passing game, but is being used primarily as a battering ram, and as a result just looks slow and fat).
We’d be really curious how the Rabbitohs might go against St George at full-strength and in good form, and we’ve circled Round 10 as a potential ball-tearer. But sadly, this week’s encounter might be a bit of a fizzer.
Our tip: Dragons
Tigers v Storm
Offense VOA: Tigers -11.45% (11th), Storm 15.69% (5th)
Defense VOA: Tigers -6.73% (8th), Storm -34.32% (2nd)
There was good news for the Tigers on Easter Monday, as they finally broke through the one-try ceiling in emphatic fashion, punishing the Eels with 30 points. And, in classic Tigers fashion, we’ve somehow come away from that victory feeling worse about them.
The reason for that was their weak second half showing. Sure, they’d pretty well already won the match, but to watch the Tigers bleed 14 second half points to a team who had scored just 10 in their previous six halves of football was disturbing for a team who to date had only been competing through their defense. Garbage time or not, that was poor. (And let’s keep some perspective on the Tigers’ apparent offensive improvement as well; though they may look better on the scorecard, it’s worth noting that their 7 line breaks against Parra were actually worse than what both the Panthers and Sea Eagles put on the Eels, and are better only than the last-placed offense of the Sharks.)
And while the Tigers were able to spoil the Storm three weeks ago via a ridiculous 18 penalties conceded, the expectation for this round is that a change in the referees’ approach will put a swift end to that. Artificially creating stoppages is increasingly looking like the secret to beating the Storm, but the Tigers will have to find another way of doing it. In the Storm’s two losses this year, their opposition has averaged 16 penalties conceded; disrupting the Storm’s rhythm, spiking their error counts (they average 15.5 errors in those outings), and limiting them to just 1 try combined. In their two wins, the Storm’s opponents have averaged just 7 penalties conceded; and the Storm have then looked a lot more fluid, averaging 5 tries per game. It’s been speculated that there will be a) less penalties; and b) more sin bins for teams who repeatedly infringe from now on. If the referees had of taken that approach the last time these sides met, the Tigers would have finished the match with six players.
Of course, conceding penalties isn’t the only way of disrupting an opponents’ rhythm. Older fans will recall the Brian Smith-coached Eels conquering the golden era Broncos many years ago by repeatedly kicking the ball into touch over and over and over again, to achieve a similar effect. If it proves true that the referees will punish repeat offenders with a stint on the sidelines, this may prove to be the best tactic for the Tigers to win, but we’re still not particularly convinced they would. And if they wind up getting themselves binned, they’ll almost certainly get flogged.
Our tip: Storm
Warriors v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Warriors 13.94% (6th), Cowboys -14.84% (13th)
Defense VOA: Warriors 19.43% (13th), Cowboys 32.41% (14th)
We’d love to pick the Cowboys here, we really would. We’re not really buying into the Warriors yet, and could actually make an argument that – at least offensively – they’re gradually getting worse (bear with us here).
In Week One, the Warriors tore the Rabbitohs to shreds, scoring 6 tries from 7 line breaks in a dominant performance against a mediocre defense. Then in Week Two, they produced less tries from similar numbers against a worse defense: the Titans – a performance that when you consider the opponent, was objectively worse. The following week they scored less tries again (3) from less line breaks (4) in a match they arguably should have lost against Canberra (who are also a worse defense than the Rabbitohs); before finally managing a season-low 3 line breaks against the admittedly elite Roosters defense. However, that came despite an overwhelming 62-38 possession advantage. With that much football (and a wealth of field position), to struggle away to just 3 line breaks against Sydney (a number that’s been matched or exceeded by both the Tigers and Bulldogs) is actually pretty ordinary, despite how much the mainstream media wants to hail Blake Green as the second coming of Stacey Jones (and while we’re on the subject, Green wasn’t the star here; Mason Lino was; scoring a try, and adding a try assist, line break assist and 3 tackle breaks on the day, compared to Green’s zero, zero, zero and zero).
Over at the Cowboys, though, things aren’t looking a whole lot better. The loss of Jordan McLean is huge, particularly considering the disappointing performances so far from the rest of their forward pack. We’ve been holding out hope for some time that the return of Lachlan Coote will bring an uptick in their offense (after all, since he joined the team in 2015, the Cowboys have won just 3 of 12 matches without Coote in the side), however their failures against Penrith leave us wondering if the problem really is a lack of personnel, or if the problem is simply an unhealthy attachment to their predictable and one-dimensional 2017 attacking gameplan.
Despite Paul Green surely being aware of the Panthers’ long-term struggles defending their edges, the Cowboys stubbornly refused to attack them there until the game was out of hand, instead sticking to their five-hitups-and-a-kick philosophy in the red zone. When they finally started hitting the Panthers’ edges, they found success, ripping through for 4 line breaks via the Panthers’ edges. The problem then, wasn’t that they’re incapable of running an effective offense (of course they’re not, they’ve got Johnathan Thurston, after all), it’s that they keep on doing what they always do, and frankly, it isn’t working.
And so, we’re forced to take the Warriors. Not because we think they’re better than the Cowboys could be. They’re not. But rather because the Warriors have shown us the ability to use their players effectively and construct tries, something the Cowboys have struggled with for four weeks. We seriously hope that the return of Lachlan Coote (which hopefully arrives sooner rather than later) cures the Cowboys’ ills, but we can’t pick the Cowboys until they prove it.
Our tip: Warriors
Knights v Broncos
Offense VOA: Knights -14.74% (12th), Broncos -7.57% (10th)
Defense VOA: Knights 14.93% (12th), Broncos -20.08% (5th)
After a promising opening fortnight, the Knights have come back to earth with a thud, copping consecutive hidings from the Roosters and Dragons. The sudden downturn in their offensive output admittedly coincides with the loss of five-eighth Connor Watson (who failed to last 20 minutes against the Roosters), but we don’t see any reason why their offense should grind to such an immediate halt in his absence; after all, this is an offense that runs primarily through Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga, not whoever’s wearing the number 6 (which is a good thing, since the guy who’s wearing it at the moment is Brock Lamb).
Rather, their problems stem from a lack of possession (a problem of their own making, with the side averaging over 12 errors per game over the last two weeks), and a lack of field position (the combination of the aforementioned lack of possession, coupled with the league’s weakest forward pack). If they can cure those ills, we remain optimistic that the Knights can put points on just about anybody. When they’re in the red zone, they always look like scoring, and Ponga in particular has been a revelation. The problem is that they just don’t spend any time there (and when they eventually do, they’re unable to build any sustained pressure, having not forced a dropout since Week 1).
Brisbane, meanwhile, are dealing with a sputtering offense of their own. We’re now four weeks into the competition, and the Broncos are yet to demonstrate any ability whatsoever to construct a try from their set plays. Instead, they’re left hanging in point-scoring purgatory, relying on moments of individual brilliance each game to muster any points whatsoever, and leaving them averaging just 2 tries per match.
With both sides struggling to find points (albeit for very different reasons), it makes this match hard to predict. The Knights tend to aim up at home, and there’s a decent argument that in winnable matches like this one, the home team will lift. However, we just find it hard to put much faith in that Knights forward pack. The Knights have been badly outgained in every match this year, leaving their defense over-exposed and resulting in them averaging over 28 points conceded per game. We actually think that all things being equal, their defense is much better than those numbers make them appear (in the one game they actually won the possession, they conceded just[!] 3 tries), but we just can’t see them ever over-powering teams, so they’ll need a major correction in discipline to give themselves a fair shot.
That might come this week, but at this point, it seems like the higher percentage play is to just assume that it won’t.
Our tip: Broncos
Titans v Sea Eagles
Offense VOA: Titans -33.79% (15th), Sea Eagles 17.78% (4th)
Defense VOA: Titans 45.86% (16th), Sea Eagles -9.17% (7th)
Let’s not get carried away with the Titans’ upset win over the Broncos last weekend – the Broncos were plain awful.
Brisbane threw absolutely nothing at the Titans, which allowed them to finally keep an opponent to under 4 tries in a match. Leaving Bryce Cartwright watching on from the sidelines for the majority of the game certainly helped as well, but it’s something the Titans can ill afford to do if they don’t have the luxury of a healthy lead – something they’ve failed to get at any other point this year. The Titans were fortunate to run in a few fluky tries from kicks (or, multiple kicks in one particular case), but they only serve to mask the Titans’ struggle to generate line breaks. Through four weeks, the Titans are yet to make more than 3 line breaks in a match, and as a result rank 2nd last in LBVOA on the year (the only team worse is the Sharks, though the Sharks can still compete through their elite defense – something the Titans most definitely don’t have).
That said, if they’re ever going to beat the Sea Eagles, this would be the week to do it. The Sea Eagles have been decimated by injuries, and while the obvious absence is superstar fullback Tom Trbojevic, the hole they might struggle to fill the most could be that of Curtis Sironen. Last year, Sironen missed nine matches late in the season, a stretch in which Manly were only able to win 4 games. The reason for that is a glaring lack of depth in the squad – especially in the forwards – and that depth will only be further tested by the additional absence of Kelepi Tanginoa.
The Sea Eagles are so much better than the Titans that we couldn’t possibly tip against them. But we also wouldn’t be surprised if the match wound up being competitive, at least for a while. The Sea Eagles will want to get on top early, and force the Titans to “pull the goalie”, so to speak. Once Cartwright’s on and the Sea Eagles are on a roll, that’ll be all she wrote.
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Eels v Panthers
Offense VOA: Eels -15.83% (14th), Panthers 4.53% (8th)
Defense VOA: Eels 41.20% (15th), Panthers 3.12% (10th)
Us: “The Eels can’t possibly get any worse.”
Parramatta: “Hold my beer.”
Look – with Jarryd Hayne and Bevan French watching on from the sidelines, we could have forgiven the Eels for struggling to score points (after all, even with those guys, they’d mustered just 18 points in the opening three weeks – total). What we can’t forgive the Eels for though, is the embarrassing defensive performance they served up, in which they conceded 5 tries to a Tigers side who had scored just 1 per game up until that point.
Despite looking generally decent for all of ten minutes, the Eels’ defensive effort quickly became evident when Robbie Rochow strolled through untouched for the Tigers’ opening try (for those of you not familiar with Rochow, he has the speed and mobility of a WW2 Matilda tank). From there, fans were treated to about half an hour of some of the worst defensive efforts you’re ever likely to see; highlighted by the Eels’ inability to stop Kevin Naiqama from three metres out – when he was log-rolling.
If there’s a positive for the under-strength Eels, it’s that the Panthers are suffering though a few injury problems of their own. The difference between the two though, is that the Panthers didn’t use a few injuries as an excuse to embarrass themselves. The Panthers tightened up their offense, making season lows in errors (7) and offloads (4), and proceeded to grind out the sort of tough win they’ll have to get used to until Nathan Cleary returns.
Broadly speaking, the Eels should be a team that present a problem for Penrith. They’re built to attack on the edges, where the Panthers are known to struggle. However the absence of Hayne and French leaves us doubtful of whether or not they can threaten Penrith in the first place, and with the Panthers’ pack noticeably lifting in Cleary’s absence, the Eels are likely to find opportunities limited. Remember, this is the same Penrith team that outgained the Eels by over 200m just four weeks ago, and that was while turning the ball over 11 times. If they can continue to keep their discipline tight, you’d have to think they’re a good chance to choke the Eels out of the contest.
This has the potential to be more competitive than you’d think at first blush, but you can’t possibly give the edge to an Eels team that are somehow still getting worse.
Our tip: Panthers