2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 29/48 (60%)
Line Betting: 11/21 (52%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 7 Tips and Previews
Bulldogs v Roosters
Offense VOA: Bulldogs 4.98% (7th), Roosters 5.74% (6th)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs 6.57% (10th), Roosters -18.53% (5th)
Tonight’s clash between the Bulldogs and Roosters is one of the more intriguing games of the week, based as much on the Bulldogs’ consistency as the Roosters lack thereof.
Though the Bulldogs aren’t a sexy team in 2018 (and we’d agree that at this stage they’re probably not a genuine premiership threat), they’ve actually been impressively steady from week to week. They’ve scored between 2-4 tries in every game so far, made between 3-5 line breaks in every outing, and run for between 1270-1370m in 4 of their 6 games. Say what you like about Canterbury, but you know what you’re going to get when they turn up, and that’s 80 minutes of reasonably solid football. Unfortunately, “reasonably solid” is typically only going to be good enough to beat bad teams (like the Cowboys last week), or good teams having a bad day (like the Panthers in Week 3). If teams aim up against the Bulldogs, Canterbury lack the strikepower out wide to keep pace (FUN FACT: Among all NRL teams, the Bulldogs centre pairing of Josh Morris and Will Hopoate rank dead last for combined line breaks – with just 2 all season).
Which makes the Roosters a particularly interesting opponent, primarily because they’re the most inconsistent team through the competition’s opening six weeks. So far this season, the Roosters have scored 5 or more tries in half their games, while being held to 2 or less in their other half. Their performances bounce around like a yo-yo, leaving us wondering each week which Roosters team we’re going to get – Dr. Jekyll, or Mr. Hyde?
For this reason, we don’t hate the Bulldogs at their current price ($2.52 at time of writing). The Roosters’ performance looks like a coin flip, and if they don’t show up, the Bulldogs CAN beat them.
However, we still have to back the Roosters. To borrow from tennis terminology: the match will be decided on their racquet. As unreliable as Sydney have been, we want the team who’d win if both teams play to their potential. And in this case, that team is the Roosters.
Our tip: Roosters
Warriors v Dragons
Offense VOA: Warriors 11.87% (4th), Dragons 42.70% (1st)
Defense VOA: Warriors 19.94% (13th), Dragons -19.34% (4th)
The Warriors’ upset loss to the Broncos last weekend may have come as a surprise to many, but not to our readers, who we’ve been reminding each week of the Warriors’ downward slide in offensive production.
They stretched that worrying trend out to five weeks against the Broncos, who held New Zealand to season-lows in line breaks (2), tries (3), run metres (1250) and – most importantly – points (18). This sort of performance had been on the cards for a while. Besides their gradual decline in offensive output, there should have already been question marks over their attacking ability, if only due to the quality of the defenses that they’ve actually faced. Through their five-week unbeaten stretch to open the season, they only faced 2 sides with defenses ranked in the Top 8 of our VOAs, the Rabbitohs and Roosters. Their opening effort against the Bunnies was admittedly superb, but from there, they’ve just been collecting points against sub-par defensive sides (and doing so with decreasing conviction), with the sole exception of running up the score against the Roosters – though critically, they did that with the help of a lop-sided 62-38 possession count (if you want to see what even the most inept offenses can do with that amount of ball, see: Tigers, Wests).
So, we’ve suspected for some time that when the Warriors finally hit an elite defense, we’d discover exactly what we all saw on the weekend – that the emperor had no clothes. This should be concerning for the Warriors for two major reasons. Firstly, because their defense isn’t good enough to win them games on its own, if their offense isn’t piling up points. They rank 2nd last in LBCVOA and 4th last in RMCVOA – a dangerous combination, that is likely to lead to teams getting down the Warriors end, and then busting through their line once they’ve arrived. They’ve so far been fortunate to shut down a healthy number of line breaks, but that was never going to be consistently doable, and it was only a matter of time before somebody punished them for their inability to hold their line, and it just so happened that the Broncos were that somebody.
The other major concern with the Warriors inability to get going against above average defenses, is that that’s all they’ve got for the foreseeable future. Having been well handled by the Broncos’ 2nd ranked defense, the next four weeks will see the Warriors face the Dragons (4th), Storm (3rd), Tigers (6th), and Roosters (5th). After going five weeks without a loss to open the season, it’s not completely ridiculous to think that they might follow that straight up with five weeks without a win.
Which brings us to their immediate problem – beating the Dragons. The Dragons remain the form team in the competition, and anyone who suggests otherwise at this point is just being contrarian. The Dragons defend well, attack well, and have arguably the best pack of forwards in the competition. So, how could the Warriors possibly compete?
Well, it surely helps that they’re into their third straight week back home in New Zealand, where they’ve historically held a strong homeground advantage. Also, while the Dragons engine room is arguably the benchmark, the Warriors have been excellent themselves, gaining over 1400m in every game this year prior to Round 6. Another big performance from their pack will be required here, because as good as the Dragons have been all season, they’re almost unbeatable when their pack is able to get on the front foot. While the Dragons offense boasts a terrifying 32 points per game average so far on the season, that number spikes to 39.5 in matches where the Dragons outgain their opponents by 300m or more. It should go without saying that they’re not likely to lose from there.
So, the match is certainly interesting, but not one that we see the Warriors winning, unless the Dragons’ level drops noticeably. That said, we’d just be happy to see New Zealand put a few tries past St George. If they can do that – regardless of whether they ultimately win this game or not – they’ll at least have something to build on for a difficult road trip to Melbourne next week.
Our tip: Dragons
Broncos v Storm
Offense VOA: Broncos -5.94% (11th), Storm -1.72% (9th)
Defense VOA: Broncos -35.18% (2nd), Storm -21.87% (3rd)
If on Friday night you feel like you’re watching the Broncos take on a clone of themselves it’s understandable (though it warrants the question – are the Storm the Broncos’ clone, or are the Broncos a clone of the Storm?). The teams have produced nearly identical numbers through six weeks of football, and they’ve done it through nearly identical strengths and weaknesses.
Both sides enter the round with 3 wins from 6 matches, and both sides come armed with elite defenses. On the other hand, they both feature patchy offenses, and have only had success when playing against below average defenses (the only win either side has against a top 8 defense was the Broncos’ Round 3 win over the Tigers – in which they only scored 9 points, anyway). Compared to the attack-friendly “defenses” of the Knights and Warriors, both sides will find each other a lot less accommodating this week; so, despite entering the round after lighting up their respective scoreboards last weekend, don’t go expecting this to be a smorgasbord of tries. Rather, we’re expecting a grueling, low-scoring, battle of attrition.
In that event, it becomes incredibly difficult to separate these two teams. Low-scoring games are typically the least predictable, giving both sides a huge chance of taking the win. The Broncos have the advantage of home ground support, though the Storm’s Queensland contingent aren’t particularly unpopular north of the border anyway. Forced to make a choice, we like the set plays of the Storm marginally better than those of the Broncos, though it’s admittedly close. For the most part, the Storm’s problems have stemmed from poor ball control (they lead the league in errors) rather than ineffectiveness, which has been the bane of the Broncos. If they could just stop dropping it, we’re more confident that the Storm can get something going than Brisbane, who depend almost entirely on individual tackle busts to generate any points at all (and the Storm should be able to handle that, ranking 3rd in TBCVOA).
We also have some reservations about the Broncos’ edge defense in the absence of Matt Gillett. The last time the Broncos were forced to go an extended period without Gillett in their lineup was in 2016, when he missed 5 games of the campaign. Of those, the Broncos won just 1, conceding over 30 points on 3 separate outings. While the Warriors weren’t good enough to take advantage of the Broncos’ potential weakness on the edge, you can be sure that the Storm will be looking to test whoever it is that ultimately lines up in Gillett’s spot on the right side (particularly because they’ll be next to the defensively suspect James Roberts) – most likely Jaydn Su’a.
It’s really close, and we’re not especially confident at all, but we’re taking Melbourne. To be quite honest, we’re just looking forward to the contest; it should be a bottler.
Our tip: Storm
Rabbitohs v Raiders
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs 30.19% (2nd), Raiders 8.52% (5th)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs -9.59% (7th), Raiders 4.32% (9th)
At what point do you believe that the Rabbitohs are good?
It wasn’t in Round 3, when they thumped the Sea Eagles 34-6; nor was is it when they backed that up with a late comeback against the Bulldogs (in fairness, Canterbury were the clearly better team for much of that day). Many didn’t believe in them after their brave loss to the Dragons, either. But after their comprehensive 26-14 defeat of the Roosters, we can’t ignore the Rabbitohs any longer. We’re in (actually we wrapped them as a potential top 8 side two weeks ago in our Month In Review, but in light of their big game last Thursday, i’ll probably get a better reception now).
We warned you last week that the Rabbits have been racking up some big numbers in relatively short patches of good footy, and that if they ever put it all together they could really do some damage. And, right on cue, they did exactly that, delivering a clinical 80 minutes, made all the more impressive by the absence of their best forward, Sam Burgess.
We mention Burgess because this was a victory built in the forwards, so the fact they dominated the Roosters without their forward leader makes the effort all the more remarkable. The Rabbitohs have now outgained their opponents in 3 matches this year, and as it so happens, these are the matches that South Sydney have won (and scored over 26 points per game). This should come as no surprise – it’s no secret that the Rabbitohs’ offense is built to operate off the platform built by a rolling forward pack (loosely similar to that of the Panthers and Dragons). When the Rabbitohs aren’t rolling forward, their offense comes to a grinding halt, unable to generate much of anything. So, without Burgess, you could be forgiven for assuming that they were destined to get their arses handed to them. That hasn’t been the case though, and what’s most impressive is the way that they’ve replaced Burgess.
On the season, Burgess’ 128+ metres per game leads the team’s forwards, leaving a huge amount of production to replace, and at a level that can’t be reasonably expected from his replacement, Jason Clark. Critically, he hasn’t needed to. Rather, the entire group have upped their workload, with 5 of the Rabbitohs’ starting pack running for over 100m against the Roosters, plus interchange forward Tevita Tatola joining in as well, for good measure. By comparison, just 3 Roosters forwards hit that mark, with none getting close to the staggering 179 metres gained by Tom Burgess alone (it’s quite incredible what he can do when he isn’t dropping the ball). And now, they get to add Sam Burgess back into that group? That doesn’t bode well for the Raiders.
Not that the Raiders have been bad; we’ve been among their biggest supporters through their difficult early season stretch, and have been thrilled to see them prove us right over the last two weeks. The issue here though, is that as good as we think the Raiders are, the Rabbitohs have probably been better.
While Canberra have been attacking consistently well through the opening six rounds, their defense has only stopped leaking points over the past two weeks, and to be fair, neither Canterbury nor Parramatta offer an offense anywhere near the quality they’ll be facing in South Sydney (indeed, it feels wrong to even mention the Eels offense in the same sentence as the Rabbitohs’). In fact, they’ve played just two offenses with a VOA ranked in the top 5 (the Warriors and Sea Eagles), and in those matches conceded 20 and 32 points respectively (and both rank lower than the Rabbitohs).
But worse than that, is the small issue (or, more accurately, very large issue) of the aforementioned Rabbitohs pack. While the Raiders’ forwards have a big reputation themselves, they haven’t produced anywhere near the output of South Sydney through the opening six rounds. In the Rabbitohs’ worst performance of the year, they gained 1368m (in Round 1, against the Warriors). How many times have the Raiders hit that mark? Just twice.
Which leaves us feeling a bit queasy about the Raiders’ chances. It’s not impossible – the Raiders certainly have the cattle to plug the middle against South Sydney. Our problem is that we haven’t really seen them do it yet, and if you can’t stop the Rabbitohs’ forwards, you can’t stop the Rabbitohs.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Tigers v Knights
Offense VOA: Tigers -5.99% (12th), Knights 2.99% (8th)
Defense VOA: Tigers -15.64% (6th), Knights 22.73% (15th)
WE HAVE AN ANNOUNCEMENT: Tigers fans, you can cancel your aggressive letter-writing campaign – we’re finally giving in and tipping Wests to win a game (but we still think your team’s shit).
As much as we’re sure that you don’t enjoy hearing it, it’s once again true – this was yet another match in which the Tigers’ opponents killed themselves, this time with the Sea Eagles making a disgraceful 15 errors, on their way to handing the Tigers a lop-sided 60-40 possession advantage. From there, the Tigers winning wasn’t surprising – it was a formality. No team this year has lost a game with 57% or more of the possession, and that’s a list that includes other scrub teams like the Titans – frankly, you’re entitled to be pleased with how your side’s going (the Tigers’ defense, in particular, is superb), but wins like this don’t prove diddly-squat.
That said, we were still pleased to see improvement in the Tigers’ offense – regardless of the possession count, it was just a relief to see the Tigers score more than two tries in a game of footy (something they’d done just once in their opening five games). Benji Marshall looked 10 years younger stepping through Manly’s fatigued defensive line, and his form is no accident – he was arguably the best half in Brisbane last year, before they surprisingly let him walk.
But the story of the Tigers’ season isn’t their offense, anyway – it’s their defense, and it should get a better test this week from the Knights (yes, we realise that we said the same thing of the Sea Eagles, but we weren’t to know that the Sea Eagles were going to keep putting the ball down like an old dog). The Knights’ offense has found at least some success against every team they’ve faced, including putting 6 line breaks past the Storm last week (the most any team has put on Melbourne this year, and they did it with just 42% of the ball).
So why aren’t we picking the Knights? It’s close (and we’d dearly love to take Newcastle), but it’s hard to believe that they’ll get enough footy to compete. The Knights are consistently hammered by referees, conceding double-digit penalties in half their matches this year (a mark the Tigers have hit just once), and are also typically more prone to errors than Wests, having made 9 or more errors in 5 of 6 games this season (a mark the Tigers have hit just twice). Further compounding that problem is the Knights’ inability to force repeat sets, having forced just 3 dropouts so far in 2018 (the Tigers, meanwhile, have forced 3 or more in four individual matches this season). Put it together, and it’s easy to see the Knights gifting possession to the Tigers, then never getting the ball back.
Which forces our hands into backing the Tigers. We hope you enjoy our support this week, and we look forward to next week when we try and find a reason to tip Parramatta.
Our tip: Tigers
Cowboys v Titans
Offense VOA: Cowboys -17.38% (13th), Titans -28.19% (14th)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 17.85% (12th), Titans 48.93% (16th)
This is it.
Don’t buy into the media hype that the Cowboys are finished, that their season’s done – remember it was only a fortnight ago they were writing the same stories about the Raiders. However, at some point, the Cowboys do need to start winning, and they won’t get a better opportunity than in front of their home crowd, against an injury-hit Titans team, still reeling from the 35-12 spanking they were given a week ago by the Panthers.
As disappointing as the Cowboys have been (and we’re not arguing that point – we had them as our pre-season favourites, too), they’ve been showing signs of life in recent weeks. Although their defense continues to bleed points – and worryingly, straight through the middle of the ruck, where 3 of their 4 line breaks were conceded against the Bulldogs – their offense is starting to create opportunities, and as we pointed out (correctly) with the Sharks a week ago, when an offense starts creating opportunities, tries will typically follow.
In this instance, we’re referring to the 13 line breaks the Cowboys have generated over their last three outings, but which have returned just 7 tries (including an impressive 5 breaks in their loss to the Dogs). In a team armed with attacking kicking options like Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan, and now, Lachlan Coote (not to mention kick chasers like Kyle Feldt), it’s difficult to imagine that they won’t start adding a few tries from kicks, in addition to an uptick in scores from line breaks.
And speaking of teams who can’t crack their opponents’ line, welcome to the Gold Coast Titans. After a one week aberration in which they made a surprising 5 line breaks, regular transmission resumed against the Panthers, as they were once again limited to 3 or less line breaks (as they have in 5 of 6 outings this year), but this time, the streaky kick tries weren’t flowing, and they found themselves out of offensive ideas (that is, when they weren’t being run into the ground by a vastly superior forward pack).
Though we haven’t been at all impressed with the Cowboys’ defense, the Titans have been indisputably worse, ranking below the Cowboys in LBCVOA, RMCVOA and TBCVOA, and resulting in a shameful 28.5 points conceded per match (somehow 3.5 points worse per game than the supposedly washed-up Cowboys). The run metres in particular are a major issue here, with the Titans getting obliterated to the tune of 109-28 in the three matches in which they’ve been outgained this year, and facing a monster pack led by the rampaging Jason Taumalolo (as disappointing as the Cowboys pack as been so far, Taumalolo has not been the problem, ranking 2nd in the league among forwards for run metres with 935, and getting them at over 10 yards per clip).
Add in a host of injuries to the already bog average Titans (they’ve now lost their hooker Nathan Peats and centre Dale Copley from the team that got hammered last week) and it looks like the perfect opportunity for the Cowboys to right the ship. North Queensland by plenty.
Our tip: Cowboys
Eels v Sea Eagles
Offense VOA: Eels -42.29% (16th), Sea Eagles 29.51% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Eels 21.22% (14th), Sea Eagles 17.60% (11th)
Sunday afternoon’s clash between these two long-time rivals should be even more tense than usual, with both sides struggling for form.
It’s no secret that the Eels have lurched from loss to loss offering very little for their fans to get excited about, and have just been held try-less for the 2nd time this year (equaling the number of try-less outings for the other 15 teams in the competition combined). The Sea Eagles, meanwhile, are coming off back-to-back losses to the Titans and Tigers, which included getting pounded for 38 points by Wests (which is more than half the 68 points the Tigers had scored in the opening five rounds put together). So, with both teams looking particularly ordinary, what can they do to get going? Maybe, they turn to their wingers.
Jarryd Hayne returns from injury this week, and the Eels dropped something of a bombshell by slotting him onto the wing. And, to be honest, we don’t hate the idea. While it may seem surprising for them to drop their superstar onto the flank, it actually might be his best fit. Prior to doing his ACL last year, Clint Gutherson was easily the Eels’ best player, and rightfully deserves a spot in Parramatta’s spine, while Hayne is reportedly too unfit to play fullback anyway. He’s not a five-eighth (at least not of the calibre of Mitch Moses and Corey Norman), and in the centres, he’s prone to completely ignoring his winger, and effectively leaving an offense one man short (and besides, they already have Michael Jennings – they can’t afford to ignore both their wingers). On the wing however, that’s not a problem; while he also happens to be big, fast, good under a high ball, and excellent at kick returns. He potentially could be the best winger in the NRL (and the last time he consistently played there – in 2007 – he was exactly that, and won Dally M Winger of the Year). Finally, playing Hayne on the wing gives the Eels another position where they have a clear advantage. Just looking at the team lists for a moment, where exactly can the Eels legitimately claim to have the upper hand in talent? Probably five-eighth (Norman v Jarrod Croker) and the back row – that’s about it. Outside of those guys, Manly have the upper hand, and if you put Hayne opposite Tom Trbojevic, they’d be giving away talent at fullback, too. But on the wing – regardless of whether he slots directly onto the right wing for Bevan French or swaps over to the left – Hayne is immediately better than the man on the other side of the field, and that’s an important thing to have.
And that advantage could be over Akuila Uate, who’s inexplicably been selected to line up on one of Manly’s wings. While it’d be unfair to blame Uate for his side’s loss to the Tigers (the whole team had butterfingers last Sunday, not just Uate), he has become a liability through the opening six rounds, and is costing the Sea Eagles critical possessions (which in turn, is costing them games). So far this season, Uate’s 9 errors ranks 2nd on the team, only to captain Daly Cherry-Evans (10). However, that’s not apples to apples – Cherry (being the team’s halfback) has made those errors on 227 possessions of the football. Uate, meanwhile, has had just 78. Yes, you’ve read that right – Uate is dropping the footy more than 11% of the time that he touches it. That’s appalling. And worse, we’ve seen this play out before, and it resulted in Uate rotting in reserve grade for the Knights, before they eventually shipped him off to Manly while still eating his contract, effectively paying Uate for the chance to play against him (where he ironically “scored” the winning try last year… on a ball he actually dropped). As sad as it is for a guy who’s a lot of fun to watch when he’s at his best, the Eagles need to bench him for somebody, anybody (Matt Wright would do fine), before he keeps putting his side into unwinnable situations.
But is there such a thing as an unwinnable situation against the Eels? At this point, you’d have to think there’s probably not. If you ignore the booing they got from their home fans last week, there was still some good news for the Manly offense – despite having just a 40% share of possession, they actually made 7 line breaks against the Tigers, the team currently ranked 3rd in LBCVOA (the Eels, by the way, rank 3rd last). Even if the Sea Eagles’ possession gets limited by concrete-hands Uate, they should still create enough opportunities to score 30+, and if they could get over 50%, it’d be a cake-walk (they did exactly that in Round 2, and put an unbelievable 12 line breaks past the Eels – the most by any team this year – on their way to a 54-0 beatdown).
If Parramatta are to make a game of it, they’ll need to score early, and often. We don’t think they will, but bombing to Uate would be a good start.
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Sharks v Panthers
Offense VOA: Sharks -33.15% (15th), Panthers -1.85% (10th)
Defense VOA: Sharks -37.03% (1st), Panthers -1.97% (8th)
The sudden rash of injuries that the Sharks suffered during their loss to the Dragons couldn’t have possibly come at a worse time.
We’ve been feeling increasingly positive about the Sharks over their past few games, and feel like they’re right on the verge of breaking out. They already feature the best defense in the NRL, and have just been struggling to generate much offense. That’s started to turn around recently though, with the return of Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan from injury, and they’ll be further offensively bolstered this week with the return of centre Jesse Ramien (who ranks 3rd on the team in line breaks and 7th in tackle breaks – despite having played just 3 games). After threatening to put it together for the past fortnight, the Sharks finally got going against the Dragons, scoring a season-high 20 points against the league’s #4 defense. Sadly, it was all for nought, as their depleted squad ran out of gas and got steamrolled by the competition leaders.
And now, having finally put it altogether, the Sharks have to deal with the loss of at least 2 (and possibly 4) key forwards. Which is a shame, because this is a game that the Sharks would otherwise comfortably win.
As good as the Panthers are traveling, their ineffective structured offense and lapse-prone defense leaves them susceptible to a particular type of team – specifically, teams that feature an above average forward pack (to nullify the Panthers’ biggest strength – attacking through the middle of the ruck against retreating defenses) and a solid red zone defense (to keep Penrith’s clunky red zone offense at bay). It should come as no surprise then that almost all the teams the Panthers failed to beat in 2017 fit this description – the Dragons, the Storm, the Eels (whose 2017 forward pack was as badly under-rated as their 2018 pack is bad), the Roosters, the Broncos and – most importantly – the Sharks (the notable exceptions to this were the Rabbitohs, who did feature a monster pack, but they were inconsistent, and their goal line defense was generally poor).
So, putting this altogether, you can see why the timing of the Sharks’ injury problems are so bad. The losses of Paul Gallen and Wade Graham will obviously hurt their go-forward (they rank 3rd and 4th respectively in the team for run metres), while Andrew Fifita and Luke Lewis are both under injury clouds and appear likely to join them on the sidelines. Compounding the injuries are the off-season losses of depth forwards Jeremy Latimore and Sam Tagataese, meaning that rather than replacing an injured middle like Gallen with another high-quality big, they’re instead forced to call up Joseph Paulo to fill in at lock (make of that what you will).
And if you can’t stop the Panthers’ forwards, good luck. In their two outings this year where the Panthers have outgained their opponents by over 200m, they’ve made an astounding 18 combined line breaks, on their way to scoring 59 points. With their stars on the sidelines for pretty much half the game last week, the Dragons made over 300 more metres than Cronulla, and in turn shred their typically outstanding defense for 40 points.
In the unlikely event that Fifita and Lewis do both make miracle recoveries and wind up taking the field, we could probably get on board with the Sharks at their current price (at time of writing, they’re out to $2.65). However, we’re not expecting them both to play, and they’ll be hard-pressed to win without Gallen and Graham regardless.
Expect the Sharks to heat up really soon (probably as soon as next week against the Titans), but this week might be a week too early.
Our tip: Panthers