2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 23/40 (58%)
Line Betting: 8/17 (47%)
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 6 Tips and Previews
Roosters v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Roosters 10.47% (6th), Rabbitohs 32.38% (1st)
Defense VOA: Roosters -17.48% (5th), Rabbitohs -6.87% (7th)
The Rabbitohs did us proud last week, muscling up for a strong performance in narrowly going down to the Dragons. Unfortunately for them though, it doesn’t get any easier, with a date with the dangerous Roosters next on the menu.
The Bunnies are something of an enigma so far in 2018, putting together some unbelievable attacking numbers in what have generally been just short spurts of good footy. Once again last week, they meandered through much of the game, never looking so much as vaguely threatening, until a late burst came very close to snatching the unlikeliest of victories (we hope that Ben Hunt gave Cody Walker a big hug, after the latter spectacularly dropped the match; not once, but twice). On one hand, you can’t help but admire the ability of the Rabbitohs when they’re in full flight – they actually rank 1st in LBVOA, RMVOA, and TBVOA (though those numbers are all somewhat inflated by their Round 3 soul-crushing of the Sea Eagles). They’ve only been held to under 4 line breaks in a match once this year (the only other teams that can say that are Canterbury and New Zealand), and their forwards are playing like it’s 2014, running for at least 1350m in every game this season (the only team to match that is again, the Warriors). Put it altogether, and they should be killing it, right?
Well, you’d think so, except that for great slabs of matches they seem to slip back into “2017 Rabbitohs”, and just trudge forward mindlessly towards a fifth tackle kick, with very little creativity. Though they looked great in the last 10 minutes last week, in the 70 minutes before that, they scored just 2 points. They came home strong against the Bulldogs, but at the half, they were actually losing 14-6. Against the Panthers, the problem was the opposite – leading 14-0 at the break, then going AWOL for the second 40. In a way, they’re like a poor man’s Penrith – playing good for about half an hour a game, only without the wins to show for it.
And the Roosters aren’t a team against whom you can afford to play for less than 80 minutes. Despite struggling for consistency themselves, the Roosters have still managed to score 28 or more on 3 occasions this year – a mark the Rabbitohs have hit just once. While we actually do believe that the Rabbitohs have the attacking strikepower to keep pace with the Roosters if they wanted to, it’s hard to confidently tip that they will when they’ve only played one complete game to their potential this year (we’re referring, of course, to the Manly game).
We really like how the Bunnies are building, but the Roosters are too good a side to beat without turning up for the full 80 minutes.
Our tip: Roosters
Storm v Knights
Offense VOA: Storm 2.67% (8th), Knights -10.82% (12th)
Defense VOA: Storm -34.96% (2nd), Knights 18.24% (13th)
It’s time to talk about Melbourne.
After being the undisputed benchmark of rugby league for as long as we can remember (we’ve had a lot of concussions, we can’t remember before 2015), the Storm are beginning to look decidedly mortal. Their defense is still lights-out, and as long as they have that, they should remain a legitimate contender for the foreseeable future. However, they’re no longer the unstoppable force that we’re accustomed to seeing, and the reason for that is their struggle on the offensive side of the ball.
Through five games, the Storm have now registered two matches in which they’ve wailed on below average defenses, and three matches in which they’ve barely troubled the scorers at all. Granted, those games have come against the elite Sharks defense and the much-improved Tigers; however, what concerns us is as much the way with which they’re failing, as it is the results themselves.
In all their performances – and particularly in their last two defeats – the Storm have looked rudderless in the red zone for extended stretches, often finding themselves shifting the ball aimlessly side-to-side, to players standing flat-footed with no idea what they should actually be doing. This is so totally un-Melbournelike that it stands out every time you see it. For years, the Storm’s red zone attacking structure has been a well-oiled machine, that every person in the stadium understands – both players and fans alike (namely: hit-ups towards the posts, then attack towards the right edge, via a run-around with Jesse Bromwich, followed by a 2nd-man play with the edge forward as the lead runner. If that fails, swing back towards the left, then kick to the posts.). To see them look so directionless is unusual, and falls onto the shoulders of the halfback – specifically, Brodie Croft. This is obviously not lost on Craig Bellamy, who’s taken action by dropping Croft, and replacing him with Ryley Jacks. That’s fine, but we’re doubtful that that will make the Storm any better.
Not because Croft has been great – as we’ve made clear, he hasn’t. But rather because it’s hard to believe that Jacks is significantly better. Let’s think about this for a moment – after Cooper Cronk chose to move to Sydney and the Storm halfback spot went up for grabs, the Storm had an entire off-season to assess their options for the job. By the end of the pre-season, they’d made their decision, and Croft was their man. Now, after just five weeks, he’s not. Are we seriously to believe that after several months of what was surely a vigorous and thorough assessment, the Storm mistakenly failed to notice a better halfback right under their noses? Unlikely. Rather, they most likely rolled with the better of two mediocre options, and with the first having failed, they’re rolling the dice on the other (there’s a saying in American football that “if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one”, and it could be applied directly to rugby league halfbacks). If Jacks wasn’t noticeably better than Croft five weeks ago, there’s little reason to believe he’d be noticeably better now. What’s changed? If the Storm weren’t firmly in a premiership window, they’d probably give Croft the time in first grade he needs to develop; but they are, and so they’re forced to throw something else at the wall and see what sticks (and if Jacks fails, don’t be surprised if they go to market to bring in a halfback ASAP).
Interestingly, their opponents this week, the Knights, present a perfect juxtaposition. While the Storm are struggling for traction in the red zone, the Knights are possibly the best in the league, with Kalyn Ponga looking like a serious threat of laying on a try every time he touches the ball down there (never mind whether or not he’s as good as Billy Slater at this stage of his career; there’s a valid argument that Ponga may already be the best fullback in the game right now). Conversely, while the Storm are able to hang around in matches through their elite defense, the Knights are forced into shoot-outs due to their own crummy defense (they average 24.8 points conceded per game, and that includes conceding just 10 points last week to the hapless Broncos offense).
Put together, it creates an intriguing match-up, though one that you’d have to expect the Storm to manage. Remember, in their two earlier outings against weak defenses the Storm were able to find points on sheer talent alone, and this should be no exception. However, what we really want to see is the team moving in a clear offensive direction, and a halfback who takes control of the match. If they can manage that, the kids will be alright.
Our tip: Storm
Dragons v Sharks
Offense VOA: Dragons 24.23% (2nd), Sharks -37.90% (16th)
Defense VOA: Dragons -33.72% (3rd), Sharks -41.66% (1st)
Before we say anything else let’s get one thing out of the way: the Dragons are the form team of the competition after five rounds, and we’ll be backing them here accordingly.
Great. Now let’s follow that up with something else: it actually wouldn’t surprise us one bit if the Sharks managed to cause a boilover.
As odd as it may seem to say of a team coming off an 18-point hiding a week ago, we actually think the Sharks may be rounding into a little bit of form. Though we prefer a 1-6-7 of Josh Dugan, Matt Moylan and Chad Townsend; the combination of Moylan, Trent Hodkinson and Townsend looked as dangerous as the Sharks have managed through the opening five weeks. Sure, they only scored 2 tries, but they did manage to crack the Roosters for a whopping 6 line breaks. Now, line breaks evidently don’t necessarily lead to tries, but they do at least create more opportunities to score them, and those are opportunities that have been few and far between during the competition’s opening month (in fact, the Sharks had only made 6 line breaks in their opening four matches combined). So, while the offensive result was no different (another game, another 2 tries scored), it at least showed signs of promise.
And critically, the Sharks are defensively as good as ever. They haven’t conceded more than 1 line break in a game for four weeks, and after a pair of weak efforts from their forwards to open the season, they’ve now outgained their opponents in the last three matches in a row. Which should eventually translate to better field position for their offense, and more scoring opportunities.
Put an improving offense together with an all-World defense, and the Sharks should be warming up to something. Whether that win comes this week, we don’t know (but given the fact we’re tipping the Dragons, we certainly hope not). The Dragons themselves feature an excellent defense, but back it up with an offense that’s already running on premium fuel. The point though, is that this looks like a real ball game. In Round 2, the Sharks led 14-4 at halftime, only to get run down by the Dragons’ offense in the second stanza. And that was back when the Sharks weren’t even playing well.
Right at this minute, you can’t tip against St George. But if you think the Sharks are just going to roll over and take it, you might be in for a surprise.
Our tip: Dragons
Warriors v Broncos
Offense VOA: Warriors 16.21% (5th), Broncos -3.26% (9th)
Defense VOA: Warriors 15.95% (12th), Broncos -21.03% (4th)
Last week, we brought to your attention the gradual descent of the Warriors’ offense, that’s been gradually getting worse week-by-week since Round 1. Nobody’s noticed it (winning has a way of obscuring flaws), but it remains true – in their latest effort, the Warriors’ 3 tries against a Cowboys team averaging 3.5 tries conceded is again slightly below average, but worse, came with a 50% possession share (the Cows’ opponents up to that point were averaging just 45% of the football). If the Warriors’ offense continues this trajectory, it’s only a matter of time before they’re scoring less points than their defense is capable of keeping out.
So the question then becomes: can the Broncos take advantage, and score enough points themselves to win the game? On this matter, the jury is well and truly out, but we think there’s an argument that they potentially can.
For a start, while the scoreboard-watchers will only see the relatively low points conceded per game of the Warriors (13), we’ll point you to the fact that the Warriors actually rank 2nd last in LBCVOA. It’s not good management that the Warriors give up so many line breaks while conceding so few tries (to date, the ratio of those numbers is 23:11) – it’s simply an anomaly caused by a small sample size. If they continue to bleed line breaks at the rate that they are, it’s inevitable that that ratio will correct, and the tries will eventually come flowing in.
Secondly, that huge number of line breaks they’ve conceded has somehow come while winning the possession count in all but one game this year. The longer the Warriors spend with the ball, it naturally follows that their opponents have less time with which to create scoring opporunities; so, if the Warriors were ever to find themselves on the wrong end of the possession count, there’s a very real possibility that they might actually get flogged. And funnily enough, the Broncos are one of the few teams capable of matching it with the Warriors for discipline, ranking 2nd in penalties conceded for the season, and having actually made 1 fewer error than New Zealand over the past four weeks. Add in the Broncos’ ability to force repeat sets (they lead the league in forced dropouts, in large part thanks to an incredible 6 forced last week) and there’s a very real chance that the Broncos could starve the Warriors of attacking opportunities altogether, while giving themselves enough time against the Warriors’ porous line to eventually crack it.
Which is time that the Broncos will almost definitely need, given their own offensive issues. They haven’t really looked dangerous at all in the opening month, just sort of existing until the ball finds its way into the hands of either Anthony Milford, Kodi Nikorima or James Roberts, to slice through the line from virtually nothing (that trio have combined for 11 line breaks; while the entire rest of the team have combined for just 5 between them).
The questions over the Broncos’ offense make us admittedly nervous, but in general, this is theoretically a good matchup for Brisbane. Whether or not they’re up to the challenge, we’ll have to wait and see, but we’re holding our noses and taking the plunge.
Our tip: Broncos
Cowboys v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Cowboys -19.03% (13th), Bulldogs 4.28% (7th)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 33.63% (14th), Bulldogs 2.43% (9th)
There’s a lot wrong with the Cowboys – their defense continues to bleed points due to poor missed tackles, their forwards aren’t dominating in the manner we’re accustomed to seeing, and their attacking structures are painfully stale. Note, though, that Johnathan Thurston is not on that list, and any ‘experts’ suggesting otherwise are wide of the mark.
When an offense struggles, the buck typically stops with the halfback, and rightly so (take Croft at the Storm, for example). He’s the player responsible for organising the team’s shapes, in addition to typically being the player handling the ball the most, so it’s more likely than not that offensive struggles can be traced back to that player. Not here, however.
When it comes to the Cowboys’ structure, the issue isn’t that the team doesn’t know what’s going on – they roll through their offensive sets with tedious monotony. The problem is that for whatever reason, Paul Green appears intent on persisting with the same simplistic game plan that saw them through to the Grand Final last year. This is understandable, but ultimately, a mistake.
Last year’s team was so devoid of talent due to an historically bad run of injuries, that they necessarily needed to find a gameplan with which they could compete, and which played to their strengths (their dominant forwards). Their defense was generally poor, and so they needed to hoard possession in order to in turn protect their defense, and any sort of expansive football was likely to lead to errors, and no great uptick in points. In 2018 though, their forwards aren’t the dominant force they were a year ago, and they do possess the attacking talent to shred defenses – they just need to use it.
Thurston hasn’t woken up and forgotten how to play, he’s simply being under-utilized within a severely limiting structure. Under the circumstances, Thurston is actually executing incredibly well, ranking 3rd in the league in try assists, and 7th in line break assists.
We’re remaining hopeful that the return of Lachlan Coote will lead Green to open up the playbook a little bit (with last week’s loss, the Cowboys are now up to just 3 wins from 13 games without Coote since 2015), but we can’t back them until they actually do it. The Bulldogs, as it happens, might be struggling for wins themselves, but they do have the cattle to trouble the Cowboys’ defense. The Cows’ lazy middle defenders will need to be on high alert for Michael Lichaa getting out of dummy-half, while Moses Mbye has made a habit of torching sloppy attempted tackles (he ranks 2nd in the league in tackle breaks, and consequently, 1st in line breaks). Last week, against a similarly sketchy defense, the Bulldogs created a mountain of opportunities, and were simply unable to convert them. Should they turn just a few of those missed chances into tries, they have the potential to put up a decent score, and one the Cowboys mightn’t be able to match.
We won’t ever feel good about tipping against a team as good as the Cowboys are on paper, but sadly, this is what it’s come to. Canterbury in a nail-biter.
Our tip: Bulldogs
Raiders v Eels
Offense VOA: Raiders 22.47% (3rd), Eels -22.57% (14th)
Defense VOA: Raiders 15.34% (11th), Eels 35.81% (15th)
The story of the week has been that the desperate Eels are pumped up for a massive outing in a must-win clash against the Raiders. Good for them.
Though the emergence of the Eels is a lovely storyline, we take a few issues with it. For a start, the Raiders themselves have only won one match – they should be every bit as desperate as Parramatta. If the Raiders can get to July within hitting distance of the Top 8 when Josh Hodgson returns, they’re a serious threat of making a deep run. Are we seriously to believe that after finally notching a single win, Ricky Stuart’s message will be “Mission accomplished, boys. That’ll do for now.”? Please. In front of their home crowd, against a team whose confidence must surely be at an all-time low, this is every bit a must-win game for Canberra.
Not to mention that there’s a distinct difference between the Raiders’ situation a week ago, and the Eels now. Last week, the Raiders came into the round having played three decent performances and one stinker, while somehow failing to get a result. It wasn’t far-fetched to expect another good performance, and against another serial loser, to finally notch a win. In contrast, the Eels come in on the back of at best three disappointing efforts, and two that were just plain shithouse. Why on earth should we expect them to suddenly put it all together this week?
Perhaps it’s the return of Clint Gutherson and Bevan French from injury? While we agree that the return of two of the team’s best attacking players (if not, the best) will surely improve their offense somewhat, they need an enormous amount of improvement to even be in the same postcode as the Raiders. Through five weeks, the Eels rank 5th last in LBVOA, and 3rd last in TBVOA (the Raiders are 2nd and 2nd respectively). Last week, the Eels spent almost the entire half down Penrith’s end needing only a single try to take the lead, and the Panthers barely broke a sweat. And we’re supposed to think that a winger and a fullback playing his first game back from an ACL injury are going to transform them into something decent? Let’s cool our jets for a minute.
The Eels will surely be better, and the Raiders have demonstrated an ability to lose games from anywhere, so of course, you have to give the Eels some chance of snatching a win. However, footy tipping isn’t a game of trying to guess freak performances; it’s a game of probability. The secret to doing well is asking yourself ‘what’s most likely’ to happen each week; and by the end of the season, you’ve hopefully been right more than you’ve been wrong. In this instance, you have to ask yourself ‘what’s most likely’: that a team who’ve played consistently well continue to, or that a team who’ve consistently sucked, suck one more time?
We think you’ll make the right decision.
Our tip: Raiders
Panthers v Titans
Offense VOA: Panthers -5.82% (10th), Titans -22.87% (15th)
Defense VOA: Panthers 1.63% (8th), Titans 40.42% (16th)
You can imagine our shock when we glanced at the NRL ladder at the end of Round 5 to find the Titans sitting firmly in the Top 8, where they look about as out of place as Matt Lodge at a White Ribbon fundraiser. Does this mean we’re wrong about the Titans? Are the Titans actually good?
In a word: no. In more words: nope, no way, absolutely no chance, please – stop being silly.
The Titans scratched and scrapped their way to a win against a Manly side struggling badly for forward depth and missing their best player (Tom Trbojevic). Hats off to the Titans for that – we thought they’d still lose regardless. However, a few streaky wins within a small sample size should do nothing to alter your perception of the team, and certainly shouldn’t paper over their very obvious weaknesses.
Like their defense, for example, that averages an appalling 27.2 points per game conceded. Heck, even in their wins they’re letting in over 20 points per game, which should give an indication of how much pressure is being heaped onto their offense to even make them competitive.
And speaking of that offense, it’s not too crash hot either. They rank in the bottom 4 of the league in LBVOA, RMVOA and TBVOA – essentially telling us that they struggle to make line breaks, they struggle to make metres, and they struggle to break tackles (you know, rugby league stuff). So, if they can’t do any of those things effectively, how on earth have they scored any points? Well, tries from kicks, basically. Long-time readers won’t need reminding that kick try assists are the least reliable method of generating tries, and aberrations like the Titans’ early season form inevitably regress toward the mean over a larger sample size. (Take, for example, Exhibit A: The 2017 Titans. Last year, the Titans also opened the season scoring an obscenely large number of tries from kicks, and as a result, averaged 24.8 points per game over the opening ten rounds. Eventually, their inability to generate any other form of offense caught up with them, and they regressed to average just 14.3 points per game over the remainder of the season.) So, while Titans fans will no doubt be thrilled have seen their team run in back-to-back wins; we’re not falling into the trap of erroneously backing the Titans.
All of that being said, it’s actually not inconceivable that the Titans could make it three on the trot here. Not because of anything brilliant the Titans are likely to do (that much should be clear by this point), but rather because of the conservative gameplan the Panthers have been leaning on without Nathan Cleary, and the resulting close game that that could give us.
Through the opening three rounds, the Panthers averaged over 9 offloads and 27 tackle breaks per match, as they established themselves as the comeback kids of 2018. Without Cleary though, those numbers have dropped to see them manage just 6.5 offloads and 20 tackle breaks per game. Sure they put 33 points on the Cowboys two weeks ago, but as we pointed out with the Titans, that number was boosted by two tries scored from kicks (and their only try against the Eels likewise came from a pinpoint James Maloney kick). We can’t help feeling at least a little bit concerned that this Penrith team who didn’t make less than 3 line breaks in a match through the opening three rounds, has now made just 3 in their last two matches combined.
We’d feel a lot better about the Panthers if they’d just come out and torch a weak defense like the Titans, but their team selection tells us that they seem content to keep grinding their way to victory, this week naming second-rower Isiaah Yeo in the centres, in addition to utility Tyrone Peachey at five-eighth. If they actually roll this team out, it’s about as offensively conservative as you could possibly imagine, and likely destines us to a lower scoring game – a situation that arguably brings the Titans back into the match.
We still think the Panthers should have too much for the Titans, but if Penrith manage to get themselves beat here, they’ll only have themselves to blame.
Our tip: Panthers
Sea Eagles v Tigers
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 18.67% (4th), Tigers -9.10% (11th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles 6.48% (10th), Tigers -14.22% (6th)
After five weeks – and an embarrassing Manly loss to the Titans last week – you may have thought that this would be the week we finally crack to popular pressure and back in the Tigers. It was close – real close – but nope, not this week.
We were as disappointed with the Sea Eagles’ effort against the Titans as the next person, though their defensive issues were hardly a surprise. Their salary cap issues have led to a lack of depth in their squad, and a swag of injuries left them with holes right across the board, and not a lot to plug them with. This week, they get their best player back (that’s Tom Trbojevic, not Daly Cherry-Evans, in case you’re wondering), as well as the reliable Brad Parker. Their engine room still looks a bit weak, but in fairness, so too does the Tigers’ without their best middle, Russell Packer. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine the Tigers – who’ve only scored more than 11 points in a match once this year – punishing the Sea Eagles’ defense too bad.
While on the other side of the ball, it could be another story. The Tigers’ defense has been extremely good so far, but they’ve yet to run into an offense like Manly’s. They’ve so far seen off two ordinary attacking sides (Brisbane and Parramatta), and two misfiring offenses having particularly bad days (the Roosters made 12 errors when they played the Tigers, the Storm made 16 in both their outings). We still expect the Tigers to give the Sea Eagles a hard time, but it’s worth pointing out that a “bad day” for the Sea Eagles is still typically significantly more than 11 points (they’ve so far been held to less than 18 just once – in their self-destruction against the Rabbitohs; a performance they’d rather forget).
And of course, that’s assuming the Sea Eagles have a bad day at all. Although the sample size is small, it’s at least worth mentioning that they’ve won their two home matches this year by a combined score of 86-16 – they’ve certainly had days that have been better than others, but they don’t appear to have any trouble getting up for a big game at Brookvale.
We’re ready to give the Tigers credit – their defense does indeed look like it’s the real deal. However, this is a Manly team that’s extremely difficult to contain; and with Trbojevic back, you’d have to think that the Sea Eagles just have too many points in them for the Tigers to keep pace.
Our tip: Sea Eagles