2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 33/56 (59%)
Line Betting: 12/24 (50%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 8 Tips and Previews
Dragons v Roosters
Offense VOA: Dragons 29.17% (2nd), Roosters -3.13% (10th)
Defense VOA: Dragons -34.82% (3rd), Roosters -36.33% (2nd)
Round 8 opens up with the traditional ANZAC Day clash between the Dragons and the Roosters. These matches are typically physical, tightly fought affairs (the last 3 have been decided by 2 points or less), and we don’t see any reason why this game should be any different.
The Roosters played their role in a dour (some would say ‘boring’, but not us) game with the Bulldogs last Thursday, in a match that only added to our increasing concerns over the Roosters’ offense. Despite having the most loaded roster in the NRL, the Roosters were held to 2 tries or less for the 4th time this year (equal-2nd last equal with the hapless Eels, among others), and 3 line breaks or less for the 5th time (again, equal-2nd last, behind the Titans). At some point, you have to start asking yourself if you can really trust the Roosters to put points up, and if so, when? (As it happens, all their wins coincide with the games in which they’ve run for over 1400m, though that includes last week’s dreary 6-0 victory, so we can’t even rely on them to score when their forwards are laying a platform.)
If we had to point a finger at the Roosters’ biggest issue, it would surely be waggled squarely in the direction of their ball-handling, with their league-worst 96 errors consistently costing them possession (they’ve won the possession count just once in 7 weeks), and denying them opportunities to score points (last week’s game being a perfect case in point – the Roosters dropping the footy a whopping 17 times, on their way to a paltry 42% share of possession). The glass half full is that their defense has so far been good enough to see them win a few games, but if there’s one team against whom you probably can’t afford to give a lion’s share of the possession to, it’s the Dragons (unless, of course, you’re the Warriors, though we’ll get to them soon).
The Dragons shape as a polar opposite of the Roosters in terms of discipline, having made the 4th least errors this year (and having made 29 less than Sydney over just 7 games), and unsurprisingly, they’ve dominated possession in all but 1 game this year as a result (their narrow win over the Rabbitohs). With the bulk of possession, the Dragons then run straight over the top of their opponents (they’ve outgained their opposition in every game this year), and then attack off that, ranking 4th in LBVOA. In short, the story of 2018 so far has been teams cheaply handing over the ball to St George, and then being mercilessly punished for it.
So of course, against the most reliably unreliable team in rugby league, we have to tip the Dragons. That said, we’re not without some nerves over the game. With both teams coming into the match on short turnarounds – and the Dragons, in particular, being just 5 days removed from their brutal battle in New Zealand – we expect fatigue to be a factor for both teams. Consequently, we’d then expect handling errors to be up – which would reduce the time in which the ball is actually in play – and for defensive mistakes to creep in; both of which would serve to equalise the two teams somewhat. However, ‘fatigue’ is something that’s difficult to project, and there’s no real way of knowing how each team is feeling until after the game has kicked off.
If the Dragons play as well as they did in last week’s loss, they should easily account for Sydney; but it remains to be seen how much they’ve got left in the tank.
Our tip: Dragons
Storm v Warriors
Offense VOA: Storm 9.82% (6th), Warriors 15.38% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Storm -27.48% (4th), Warriors 10.65% (10th)
Last week’s Warriors-Dragon clash was both the best game of footy the Warriors have played so far, and the best game of footy we’ve seen this year, period.
If any other team played the Dragons last Friday night, they’d have been lapped by 30+. The fact that the Warriors kept turning up over, and over, and over again is a huge credit to them as a team, and exactly what we’ve been waiting to see from them all year. While their offense continues to tick along capably enough, their defense has been torn up for 6 or more line breaks in 3 games this year (equal-2nd worst behind the dreadful Titans), and has rarely shown any resistance to being broken (they rank 2nd last in LBCVOA). So, we can’t help but tip our hats to what was a phenomenal defensive effort against the season’s offensive heavyweights, and in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Holding the Dragons to just 2 tries and 3 line breaks, despite having just a 42% share of possession, will go down as one of the most unexpectedly impressive defensive feats we see all year; and while we don’t necessarily believe that is their new standard (after all, just a week earlier they were torched for 4 tries and 6 line breaks by the Broncos), we now at least have to consider the fact that they’re capable of playing to this level, a level which could beat any team on any given day.
The other major takeaway from the War in Warriorland is the effect that Mason Lino has on their offense. We wrote about his unheralded performance following their Week Four win over the Roosters, and after another strong game against the Dragons, we can’t help but wonder if Lino is – if not the best half at the Warriors – at least the best fit for the team. Stylistically, Lino’s more direct style of attack appears to suit the gritty, forwards-dominated identity that the Warriors seem to be trying to cultivate in 2018. Lino naturally straightens up the Warriors attack (he plays a bit like a young Brett Kimmorley), in direct contrast to the typically sideways-drifting style of Shaun Johnson. With the team’s best asset being their forward pack, getting them rolling over the advantage line certainly plays to their strength (and it’s worth noting than in his outing against the Roosters, the Warriors outgained Sydney by over 500 metres; and though they were outgained themselves by the Dragons, their 1292m was the 2nd most conceded by St George this year). We’re not necessarily saying that Lino should be picked ahead of Shaun Johnson (we’d probably try swapping in Johnson for Green at five-eighth, first), but in his two outings so far, he has noticeably lifted the level of the Warriors’ offense, which should at least make him a serious consideration at full strength.
All that said – and despite Lino’s returning presence this week – we still have to take the Storm here. Because as good as the Warriors’ defense was last week, they were still just hitting the bar that the Storm have been setting for a long, long time. Even if we assume that the Warriors defend to that level again this week (which would be an enormous leap of faith; with last week’s effort being a clear outlier compared to their performances so far, the most reasonable expectation would be that they regress at least somewhat back towards their season average), they’re not better than the Storm; so then we have to consider both teams’ attack. While the Warriors had been slowly dropping off offensively until Lino stepped in, the Storm have actually been heating up over the last two weeks, scoring 13 tries over their last two games combined (including 6 last week against the 5th ranked Broncos defense).
Take their recent uptick in production, add a useful home ground advantage, plus a sprinkle of “drop-kick” tries, and the Storm should have a narrow edge over the Warriors. And if the Warriors’ defense does have a bit of a comedown from last week’s high-watermark, the Storm could even go on with it.
Our tip: Storm
Rabbitohs v Broncos
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs 45.83% (1st), Broncos -8.74% (11th)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs -3.26% (7th), Broncos -22.67% (5th)
Well, the Rabbitohs aren’t a secret any more.
They’d been quietly going about their business through the opening two months, but after totally blowing the Raiders off the park, they’ve pretty well announced themselves to the league, and are no longer under anyone’s radar.
We’ve had the Rabbitohs in our Top 5 offenses since Round 4, but after back-to-back torchings of the Roosters and Raiders, they’re now our #1, and the talk of the rugby league town. That said, they’re not unstoppable, and in some ways, the Broncos should present a tough matchup for South Sydney.
The Rabbitohs’ offense fires directly off the back of their forwards; at this point, that’s common knowledge. So let’s take a look at the three games in which they’ve hammered the opposition’s defense: against the Sea Eagles, Roosters and Raiders. In all three games, the Rabbitohs outgained their opponent by 200m or more – fair enough. It should be unsurprising, then, that 2 of those teams – the Sea Eagles and Raiders – rank in the bottom 8 for both RMVOA and RMCVOA (meaning that they typically make less metres than average, and concede more metres than average – explaining their demolitions at the hands of South Sydney). So far, the only exception has been the Roosters, though the Roosters were accommodating in a different way – they gave the Rabbitohs enough of a possession advantage that the Bunnies’ forwards could then make up the difference (in that game Souths won the possession battle 52-48). Which brings us to Brisbane – a team with typically excellent discipline (they’ve conceded the least penalties all year, and made the 6th least errors), and a pack that’s good enough to place in the top 8 for both RMVOA and RMCVOA. Put that altogether (along with another absence for Sam Burgess) and we think it’s at least doubtful that the Rabbitohs are going to be pouring points on the Broncos like they’ve been in recent weeks.
So, with the Broncos looking like a good chance of slowing down the Rabbitohs’ try-scoring machine, they just need to score a few of their own – and that’s where we start to go off them. The Broncos’ offense has patchy been at best through the opening two months, relying entirely on moments of individual brilliance to score tries, due to an inability to generate line breaks (they rank 5th last in LBVOA with -12.80%). And quite frankly, their offensive fluidity isn’t likely to get any better with lock forward Josh McGuire at hooker (though we acknowledge that he’s played the position 4 times in the past, those teams earned just in just 1 win, and never scored more than 18 points). Seeing McGuire in the 9 is giving us PTSD flashbacks to Round One, when Sam Thaiday was trotted out at dummy-half, and the Broncos were annihilated 34-12 by St George. We could perhaps cop it if it were just for one week, but with Andrew McCullough likely to be gone for at least four games, they’d surely be better served blooding a genuine hooker for the next month, or biting the bullet and moving Kodi Nikorima there full time.
Regardless, it’s hard to get to believe that the Broncos offense will be generating a whole lot of anything, which will put all the pressure on their defense to win this game. Their defense is excellent, and should do an above average job of stopping the Rabbitohs. But can they do enough to win? We’re not so sure.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Sea Eagles v Knights
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 11.42% (5th), Knights 12.96% (4th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles 34.72% (15th), Knights 19.16% (14th)
This match has the potential to be the last time we pick the Sea Eagles this year.
The common narrative in the press is that their back-to-back hidings ‘post-Gladstone’ point to turmoil in the playing group, and evidence that the team is collectively imploding. Now, we’re not saying that the fall-out from Gladstonegate hasn’t been a factor in some way, but we are saying that it’s more likely to be correlation than causation.
Let’s start from the beginning – the losing didn’t start after the incident at Gladstone; it started immediately before it, with an embarrassing 32-20 loss to the competition doormats, the Titans. Next, let’s ask ourselves what else do we know about Manly? Well, we know that they have a shocking lack of depth – particularly in the forwards – due to a (self-inflicted) salary cap squeeze. Next, we also know that that they’re currently without a handful of regular first grade starters. Back-rowers Curtis Sironen and Kelepi Tanganoa are both gone for the year, and they’re also without Jorge Taufua until Week 12 (Taufua has something of a halo effect on the forwards, by starting the sets off well – despite having played just 3 games in 2018, he still sits 2nd among the team’s wingers in hit-ups, tackle breaks, and runs of 8+ metres). And when did Manly first start playing without all three players? Three weeks ago, in the loss to the Titans.
So, the good news is that the suggestion that the entire team hates each other is likely to be – at least in part – a media beat-up. The bad news though, is that if their problem is just a lack of depth, none of those guys are likely to be back any time soon, meaning that their recent drop-off in performance is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
That drop-off is most glaring in two obvious areas – their defense (which has imploded to the point where they’ve featured a LBCVOA of 57.29% over the last three games, worse than any other team in the competition) and their forwards, who’ve collapsed to produce a RMVOA of -6.15% over their past three outings, good enough for 3rd worst in the league.
And yet, we find ourselves tipping Manly once more. Not because we think they’re likely to get substantially better – we don’t. But rather because those two major holes – in their line defense and their forwards – happen to coincide with the Knights’ biggest weaknesses as well, and in addition to those, the Knights now have a whole new problem of their own.
Specifically, the loss of halfback Mitchell Pearce for potentially the rest of the season. Now, before you start – we’re not particularly big fans of Pearce, either. But, you must at least acknowledge that he’s an above average NRL halfback, and he’s been in undeniably good form for the Knights. Even more significantly, though, is the drop-off to the next man up. Connor Watson (who’s probably not a natural five-eighth to start with) will return, and the remaining halfback options are Jack Cogger (okay…) and Brock Lamb (oh Lord, no). They’re rolling out Cogger this week (we probably would, too), but the biggest question is: does it matter? Through seven games, Pearce has contributed 7 try assists and 8 line breaks assists, as the Knights established themselves as one of the most potent offense in the competition. And they’ll now have to replace that production with Cogger or Lamb, who between them have played seven matches as well, and combined for (wait for it) 0 try assists and 1 line break assist. That’s a problem.
And it’s why we have to back Manly, if only for one more week. As bad as they’ve been (and they’ve really sucked a big bag of skinless wieners), we remain optimistic that if nothing else, Manly can at least score – which might be more than could be said of the Knights, sans Pearce. If the match is to be decided by team spirit, then sure, the Knights would win in a cakewalk. But unfortunately for them, it’ll be probably be decided by points.
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Panthers v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Panthers 7.16% (8th), Bulldogs -2.85% (9th)
Defense VOA: Panthers 6.08% (9th), Bulldogs -1.35% (8th)
Despite the loss, we weren’t too disappointed in what the Panthers turned in last Sunday.
As we’ll go into later, we think the Sharks are the real deal, and there’s no shame in losing to them (particularly if you manage to put 4 line breaks past them – the 2nd most of any team this year).
The Panthers fell apart last week by trying to shift the ball early, without first establishing their sets through the forwards. Yes, this is something of a trend across the league in 2018, but it goes directly away from the Panthers strength (their pack), and saw them butcher a wealth of opportunities and field possession. That said, we don’t necessarily hate it, or at least we don’t hate the attitude. Remember, this is a team who just a fortnight ago were excruciatingly conservative against the Eels, preferring to tuck the ball under their jerseys and hang on to a slender lead, rather than try anything resembling attacking footy. Off the back of the previous week’s hiding of the Titans, we didn’t mind seeing the Panthers continue to try and play expansive football, even if it didn’t generally come off. Against the much weaker Bulldogs defense, they should find a bit more success.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, come into this game getting hammered with criticism of their offense, after getting bageled by the Roosters. Their attack has drawn plenty of criticism so far in 2018 for it’s ineptitude (a lot of which has been undeserved), but even we can’t defend last week’s effort. If the Tigers have taught us anything, it’s that even the most inept offense can win football games through sheer weight of possession, and the fact that the Bulldogs were somehow able to win 58% of the ball and outgain their opponents by over 300m, yet not register a point is, frankly, simply amazing. There’s no way the Bulldogs can be that ineffective again, but it’s certainly concerning – outside of the gifted Moses Mbye – how little attack they’ve got (FUN FACT: Despite being dropped for Jeremy Marshall-King after just two games, Matt Frawley has as many line break assists and try assists as Marshall-King this season , and more line breaks, tries and try involvements – despite having played 5 less games).
Which all shapes up pretty badly for Canterbury. Though they held on to beat the Panthers back in Round 3, this time they’re playing at Panthers Stadium (where the Panthers are undefeated so far this year), and the Panthers have seemingly done away with the slow starts that plagued them (and that the Bulldogs capitalised on) early in the season, while apparently maintaining their strong finishes. We like what Penrith are doing, and let’s face it – they probably don’t need to score a lot of points to put the game out of reach of the Bulldogs.
Our tip: Panthers
Titans v Sharks
Offense VOA: Titans -40.30% (16th), Sharks -21.40% (14th)
Defense VOA: Titans 59.63% (16th), Sharks -39.11% (1st)
We were telling everyone who’d listen last week – both in our weekly preview and on social media – that the Sharks are on the rise, and about to go on a tear. And they didn’t let us down (in fact, they exceeded our expectations – we thought they’d get narrowly beaten, and instead they hung on for an impressive win over the Panthers). Their 26 point effort had been coming for some time, and with their spine finally sorted, and their offense clicking into gear, they’re a team with no obvious weaknesses, injuries notwithstanding. At $1.90, they’re unbelievable value for the Top 8, and at $3.75, we’d have a piece of them for the Top 4, too. The Titans… not so much.
After consecutive thumpings, we can’t blame Garth Brennan for changing things up, but we can’t help but shake our heads at the decision to name defensive pot plant Bryce Cartwright at five-eighth this week. It’s obviously a move intended to spark their sputtering offense (and we can’t knock that, they rank dead last in offense, after all), however we’re enormously skeptical that it will benefit their offense at all, and it will almost certainly make their defense worse.
To clarify, we do believe that Cartwright is a fantastic offensive weapon. However, he’s exclusively a ball-playing lock, or a useful sparkplug off the bench – not a five-eighth. Yes, he’s (briefly) filled the role capably enough for Penrith, but the construction of their team was clearly different. At Penrith, they had a dominant half (Nathan Cleary), and a ball-playing fullback who effectively played five-eighth on offense (Matt Moylan). Cartwright was cast solely as the third playmaking option – a role he excels at. At the Titans, however, they don’t have a Moylan at fullback – they have a run-first fullback in Michael Gordon. This leaves Cartwright to be the #2 playmaking option, a role that he simply doesn’t have the playmaking chops for.
And that’s before we even touch on his problems defending on the edge. His miscasting as an edge defender nearly killed his career at Penrith, where he eventually spent time rotting in reserve grade, with his confidence completely shot. In 6 games with Cartwright starting on an edge in 2017, the Panthers conceded over 23 points per game on average, and that includes the outing against the Tigers in which he got injured early, and the Panthers let in just 2 points without him (the Panthers would concede over 23 points in just 4 other games all year). We’re sure he hasn’t always struggled as badly as he does now, and over the course of a five-year career, he’s probably put together some sort of Bryce Cartwright defensive highlights; however at this point, it feels almost cruel to subject the poor guy to a role that he’s clearly uncomfortable (and probably incapable) of fulfilling.
But, this is what Garth Brennan has decided on, so you can bet that regardless of whether Wade Graham slots straight in for Luke Lewis on the right edge, or reverts back to the left with Scott Sorensen flipping over, somebody will be licking their lips, and you can be sure that the suddenly sharp Sharks offense will be testing him out early and often.
Of course, whenever the Titans play, you have to at least acknowledge the possibly that they could pull out a fluky 5 tries from kicks at any time. But you should never assume that they will. We like Cronulla anyway, and in this particular matchup, we love them.
Our tip: Sharks
Cowboys v Raiders
Offense VOA: Cowboys -18.24% (13th), Raiders 9.55% (7th)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 14.54% (13th), Raiders 14.09% (12th)
Did we really learn anything new about either of these sides last week?
It was great to see the Cowboys back in the winners’ circle, but how much can you really take away from a thumping of the Titans? It was great to see North Queensland finally put over 20 points on somebody, but let’s be real here – the league average against the Titans is more than 28. Running up the scoreboard wasn’t so much impressive, as it was a nice thing to finally get a turn at.
And over at Canberra, we’d probably make the same point. Yep, they copped a flogging from Souths. But did anyone not expect that? The Rabbitohs were the 4th Top 5 Offense that the Raiders have run into, and in those games they’ve conceded an average of 31 points. Getting smoked here wasn’t a surprise, it was a formality – they simply aren’t anywhere near good enough to slow down the best offenses.
And that being said, neither are the Cowboys. Through seven weeks, the Cowboys are conceding over 23 points per game. However, they’ve also been fortunate enough to have faced just one Top 5 offense; and two in the Bottom 5 (their only two wins). If you were to discount their two outings against the league’s offensive mouth-breathers, their defense drops to averaging more than 27 points per game. And importantly, for all their weaknesses, the Raiders are not a bottom tier offense (indeed, even in getting thrashed last week, they scored 22 points).
So, we’re sticking with what we know, and tipping the Raiders to have too much firepower in a game that isn’t likely to feature much in the way of defense. We’re admittedly not super confident – if nothing else, the Cowboys will have taken a lot of confidence away from that outing, and their simplistic barge-over red zone plan will likely have more success against Canberra’s sloppy defense than most. But at the end of the day, if neither team can tackle, we want the team who can best take advantage of that; and so far in 2018, that’s been Canberra.
Our tip: Raiders
Eels v Tigers
Offense VOA: Eels -37.33% (15th), Tigers -9.30% (12th)
Defense VOA: Eels 12.62% (11th), Tigers -6.48% (6th)
So, after resisting the allure of the Tigers for six weeks, we were finally suckered into backing them last week, and of course, they let us down (isn’t it always the way?). Nevertheless, we’re going in again.
Not so much because we’re particularly enamoured with the Tigers – we’re most definitely not. However, regardless of what we may think of the Tigers, it’s impossible to make a rational argument that the Eels have so far been better, in any way whatsoever.
The media circle-jerk over the Eels this week has been getting out of hand (no pun intended), especially when you consider how bad they were for the six weeks prior. Yes, they comprehensively thrashed the Sea Eagles, but at this point, who hasn’t? As we mentioned above, the Eels are just the third in a line of poor offenses who’ve had their way with the Sea Eagles. Over the last week, Manly have conceded 32, 38 and 44 points in consecutive games, to the teams whose offenses rank last, 5th last and 2nd last, respectively (and it’s worth noting that the other two teams didn’t use the Sea Eagles as a launching point – the Titans backed it up by copping a hiding from the Panthers, while the Tigers got rolled by the Knights). At this point, thrashing the Sea Eagles can’t be considered an impressive return to form; rather, it’s more likely to just be an opportunistic crushing of a team that’s both mentally and physically broken. And – perhaps most critically – the Tigers themselves have done it, so it’s difficult to even use it as an argument that the Eels offense is in any better than Wests’.
And their defense has been distinctly worse. Though we’ve admittedly been expecting the Tigers’ defense to be exposed by a top offense (and that’s exactly what we consider the Knights to be; or we did, before they lost Pearce), you can’t completely disregard everything they’ve done over the season so far. The wheels have been starting to fall off for the Tigers defensively over the past fortnight, conceding a whopping 13 line breaks over their past two games, but we should remember that the Sea Eagles and Knights rank 2nd and 3rd respectively in LBVOA; the Eels rank 2nd last. Even if the Tigers come back to the field a bit, they should still be able to contain Parramatta pretty comfortably.
That said, the Tigers might be coming back to the field a lot, in which case the Eels could indeed roll them. However, that’s not an assumption we’re ready to make just yet. We’re giving the Tigers the benefit of the doubt… if only for one more week.
Our tip: Tigers