2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 38/64 (59%)
Line Betting: 13/26 (50%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 9 Tips and Previews
Broncos v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Broncos 0.11% (9th), Bulldogs -11.45% (10th)
Defense VOA: Broncos -25.55% (5th), Bulldogs 4.61% (8th)
Round 9 opens with the Broncos hosting the Bulldogs, and in many ways, it looks like one of the least interesting games of the week.
Neither side runs a particularly effective structured offense, and there’s a real possibility that this game could devolve into another dour arm wrestle like the Bulldogs-Roosters encounter two weeks ago (though we expect we’ll be saved by the Broncos’ ability to pull a few tries per game out of their posteriors).
You may have thought during the first half of the Bulldogs’ clash with the Panthers last week that Canterbury were traveling well, but to be honest, it was an illusion. Though they looked sharp running through the Panthers’ defensive line for a brace of tries, both those line breaks were the direct result of the Bulldogs abusing a coaching blunder from Anthony Griffin – specifically, moving the enormous (but slow-moving) Viliame Kikau to centre when Dallin Watene-Zelezniak shifted to fullback, rather than the smaller (and more agile) Isiaah Yeo.* Once Griffin adjusted and moved Yeo to the centres (as he should have done in the first place), regular transmission resumed for the Bulldogs offense – that is, they didn’t produce another line break for the remainder of the match.
And if they can’t crack the Panthers, they’ve got little chance of troubling the Broncos. As unimpressed as we are with the Broncos’ offense, their defense is typically watertight, and should comfortably be able to handle whatever the Bulldogs throw at them. It’s expected that Matt Frawley will be recalled to the Bulldogs halves (which would be an immediate upgrade over Jeremy Marshall-King, with Frawley still 2nd in the team for try assists, despite not having played since Week 2), however that’s accompanied by reports that Michael Lichaa is set to be dropped; which is making us wonder if Dean Pay is beginning to resort to throwing darts and hoping for the best (Marshall-King might be good at hooker, but he’s definitely a worse defender, with a tackle efficiency of just 87% v 92% compared to Lichaa, and that’s despite having made over 100 fewer tackles).
In short, we don’t have much faith that this game will lift to any great heights, and we don’t think that the Bulldogs have the attacking chops to put many points past Brisbane. The only way they win this game is by rolling up their sleeves and tackling themselves to a standstill, and like against the Roosters, even then, it probably wouldn’t be enough.
Oh, and Payne Haas is a specimen. That’s all.
Our tip: Broncos
Knights v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Knights 10.11% (5th), Rabbitohs 50.68%(1st)
Defense VOA: Knights 9.04% (12th), Rabbitohs 7.47% (10th)
The Knights gave us a surprise with their upset win over the Sea Eagles last Friday night, but the realities of life after Mitch Pearce are likely to kick in here.
In fairness, this is a match they’d be likely to lose regardless. As we pointed out last week, the Rabbitohs have only struggled this year when playing against top tier forward packs – the Warriors, the Panthers, the Dragons, and now, the Broncos (while underrated, the Broncos remain the only team in the Top 5 of both RMVOA and RMCVOA). So far in 2018, when the Rabbitohs have won the run metres battle, they’ve won the game. When they’ve been outgained, they’ve lost. It’s really been that simple. And critically, the Knights don’t have a good forward pack.
In fact, the Knights’ pack is so bad, they haven’t outgained anyone all year; and they only outgained their opposition twice last year as well. So, if the secret to beating the Rabbitohs is somehow finding a way win between the 20s, they’re on a hiding to nothing.
And that’s before we even worry about their own offense. Though they battled hard and ultimately won the game, their 18 points against Manly wasn’t especially promising. Remember, this is the same Manly team who’d bled 32 or more points in their previous 3 games on the trot, and that was against such offensive lightweights as the Titans, Tigers and Eels (all bottom 8 offenses). The Knights will inevitably get better as they develop new combinations, but they’re coming from a long way back (indeed, despite having a league 2nd best LBVOA of 16.10% for the season, without Pearce that plummeted all the way down to -23.58% last week – which would be the 2nd worst this year).
Which is concerning, since the Rabbitohs have a stack of points in them. They’ve scored 20 or more points in all but 2 games this year, and when they outgain their opponents (which they almost certainly will), they average over 30 points per game.
The Knights are kicking along well under the circumstances (we had them in our True Ladder Top 8 in the Month In Review), but this week just looks like a really, really bad matchup for the Novocastrians.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Panthers v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Panthers 3.88% (8th), Cowboys -22.83% (13th)
Defense VOA: Panthers 2.23% (7th), Cowboys 8.91% (11th)
The following is the complete list of things the Panthers require to keep putting points on opposition sides:
- A big, kick-ass forward pack; and
- James Maloney.
That’s what we learnt last week, as the Panthers hosted the Bulldogs without three-quarters of their first-choice spine, and rolled along as though nothing ever happened. This week, they’ll have hooker Peter Wallace back on deck, but are now without fullback Dylan Edwards for the remainder of the year. At this stage, we’re not too fussed.
As good a player as Edwards is (and he’s fantastic), Edwards is a running fullback, rather than a ball-player – making him easier to replace with a like-for-like ball-runner (albeit a bigger, angrier, holier ball-runner) than it would have been otherwise. In previous years (2015/16) when Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was required to fill in at the back, he was replacing the ball-player Matt Moylan – and as a result, Penrith’s offense sputtered, as they were then short a genuine playmaker in the squad (the Panthers won just 2 of those 6 games, averaging less than 12 points per game). However, that doesn’t mean DWZ isn’t a capable fullback (he actually came through the grades there); rather, it demonstrates that within that offensive structure, he wasn’t a good fit. Replacing another running fullback in Edwards, the Panthers offense kept humming along with barely so much as a blink.
In Round 4, we pointed out that the Panthers present a bad match-up for the Cowboys, and five weeks later, nothing has changed. The Cowboys continue to get cut up straight through the middle of the ruck (all 3 of the Cowboys’ conceded line breaks against Canberra came directly through the centre of the field), an area where the Panthers have an artillery of firepower. Conversely, the Cowboys prefer to attack their opposition’s line via the forwards – which only plays into the Panthers’ strength.
The last time they met, the Cowboys’ did eventually seem to figure out that there were holes on the Panthers’ edges, however that revelation came too late to make a difference. If they enter this match with a more expansive mindset, they could certainly be competitive (indeed, they could conceivably win), however after eight straight weeks (plus most of last season) of ‘five hit-ups and a kick’, it seems doubtful that they’ll go too far away from that gameplan now (and if the rumours are true that they’re planning to drop Lachlan Coote, they may actually get worse).
Our tip: Panthers
Raiders v Titans
Offense VOA: Raiders 4.68% (7th), Titans -36.70% (16th)
Defense VOA: Raiders 6.81% (9th), Titans 52.77% (16th)
If it’s possible, the scoreline of 18-8 actually flattered the Cowboys last week, with the Raiders in control virtually from the start, and never looking particularly phased by anything the Cowboys’ offense threw at them (which was, admittedly, very little). Were it not for the one-sided 55-45 possession count in the Cowboys’ favour, the Raiders likely would have put on 30+, and they should have a decent chance to do just that against the Titans this week.
Although the Titans lost, we’d argue that their game against Cronulla was possibly their best outing of the season. Despite scoring just 9 points, we don’t think their offense was any worse than usual (their 2 line breaks were right on pace with their pathetic season average of 2.63, and they made over 1300 run metres for just the 4th time this year). And on the other side of the ball, they were excellent, albeit against a somewhat sputtering Cronulla outfit. We really liked what we saw from the Titans defensively, and if they continue to play like that, they’ll continue to lose by significantly smaller margins than usual. However, one sandwich doesn’t make a picnic, and we’ll need to see more than one strong defensive outing before we’re ready to place any sort of faith in the Gold Coast.
And can you blame us? Heading into last week’s outing, they’d conceded 10 tries and 17 line breaks in the last fortnight alone. They rank last in LBCVOA and 2nd last in TBCVOA, meaning that they miss a lot of tackles, and those missed tackles typically lead to line breaks (and those line breaks typically lead to tries, judging by their league worst 207 points conceded this year). And who ranks 2nd in the league in TBVOA? The Raiders.
So, we’re not feeling great about the Titans’ defense, and if they trot out Bryce Cartwright on the left edge again (although he actually held up surprisingly well last week), Garth Brennan could get charged with manslaughter; with the poor guy likely to get murdered by Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana (oh, boy).
The Raiders were comfortably too good for the Cowboys, and there’s absolutely nothing that the Titans do better than North Queensland. So, we’re happy to back the Raiders here, and wouldn’t be surprised if it gets ugly.
Our tip: Raiders
Warriors v Tigers
Offense VOA: Warriors 18.21% (4th), Tigers -4.39% (10th)
Defense VOA: Warriors 26.83% (14th), Tigers -4.03% (6th)
Both these sides were the toast of the rugby league town as recently as a month ago, but by the end of these weekend, one of them will have won just 1 of their last 4 games, and their previously solid place in the 8 will be beginning to look increasingly shaky. But which one will that be?
At least the Tigers were competitive last week, going toe-to-toe with the Eels in an engaging, see-sawing affair. The Warriors, meanwhile, were lit up by the Storm, who could have put on 80 points, had they not put their cue in the rack at halftime (as it is, the relatively fortunate scoreline of 50-10 hardly looks good for the Warriors, anyway).
That said, there’s more to analysis than looking at the scoreboard, and digging into their recent performances, we’re quickly losing patience with the Tigers. Through the opening month, we felt that their results were an over-achievement, accommodated by their various opponents turning in stinkers when they happened to be playing the Tigers (and in their best defensive efforts – against the Roosters, and twice against the Storm – that was clearly true, with their opponents making 12, 16 and 16 errors is those encounters). Over the past fortnight, they’ve been less fortunate, with their opponents averaging just 9.5 errors per game; and consequently they’ve conceded 9 tries over that two week span – as many as they’d conceded over the opening 6 weeks combined. This is ringing alarm bells, and turning into a pattern: in the 4 matches this year in which the Tigers’ opponent has made 10 errors or less, the Tigers LBCVOA jumps to 17.70% – which would be the 3rd worst in the competition. So, if you’re wondering why we suggested that the Tigers’ hot start looked to be solely the result of their opponents wetting the bed, well… it’s because it’s true.
And in the Warriors, we have a team who (we can’t believe we’re writing this) don’t typically beat themselves (anymore). Unbelievably, last week’s loss to the Storm was actually the first game all year in which the Warriors have made over 10 errors, so while the Tigers’ loss looked like the continuation of a downward defensive trend, the Warriors’ looked like an aberration, most likely caused by the realisation 15 minutes into the game that they were clearly in the middle of a royal spanking.
Back home in New Zealand, against a Tigers offense that’s improved, but nowhere near Melbourne-quality; we expect that the Warriors should feel a lot more comfortable, and can get back to winning games.
Our tip: Warriors
Sharks v Eels
Offense VOA: Sharks -24.87% (14th), Eels -32.96% (15th)
Defense VOA: Sharks -36.02% (2nd), Eels 17.36% (13th)
Good God, just stop already with the Eels love-fest.
We complained last week that the hype for a team who’d won just a single game was out of control, but the Parramatta fluff pieces this week have hit a whole new level. Get a grip guys – they’ve won 2 games, against the Sea Eagles and Tigers. You can’t possibly be serious.
To put it as bluntly as possible: the Eels are not a good football team, and their two-game winning streak is not impressive. Yes, they slaughtered Manly, but so too, did the Titans and Tigers – two other bottom 8 offenses. And though they ultimately defeated the Tigers, their woeful defense was still gashed for 6 line breaks by Wests – the Tigers’ equal 2nd-most for the season, and in their only other 2 outings in which they made more than 3, the Tigers had 54% or more of the possession (against the Eels, the Tigers had just 48%). The only other time the Tigers had so little ball, they were held to just 1.
So, forgive us if we’re not buying into the Eels hype. Yes, they’re probably getting better, but to even discuss the possibility of them climbing into finals contention at this point is ludicrous – it’s only two games, and frankly, they didn’t even play particularly well.
On the other hand, we love the Sharks (it feels like we’re saying that every week at the moment, but with Cronulla still at $1.70 to finish in the Top 8 – and almost $4 for the Top 4 – there are obviously still people out there who aren’t listening: THE SHARKS ARE GOOD). Last weekend was a bit of an offensive hiccup (in a match that looked more competitive than it should have been because Chad Townsend couldn’t kick a goal), probably due to a degree of indecision about how to attack the Titans. Watching the game, it felt like there was a bit of push-pull about where the Sharks should be attacking – either to the left, where their best attacking weapon (Matt Moylan) typically sits; or to the right, where the Titans’ biggest defensive weakness (Bryce Cartwright) was situated. As a result, they failed to really execute either, with Townsend and Moylan frequently switching sides on offense, but with very little effect (though we can understand trying to exploit the Titans’ left edge via Moylan, he looks so much better on the left himself, that it seemed like they were shooting themselves in the foot, at times).
Fortunately, they’ll need no such team-specific gameplan for the Eels, who are equally as shit in defense in all areas of the field. The Tigers found holes in the Eels’ line on both edges, as well as in the middle of the field, where Matt Eisenhuth scored the softest try you’ll see this year. If you felt you had to gameplan for the Eels, you’d attack Mitch Moses, whose 6 line breaks conceded is the 14th worst in the entire competition; and that would suit the Sharks just fine, since he defends on the right edge, where Moylan and a returning Wade Graham can rip him apart.
So, yes, we think the Sharks will be fine. And hopefully, this week will be the last time we have to hear about how the Eels have apparently turned it around.
Our tip: Sharks
Dragons v Storm
Offense VOA: Dragons 31.71% (2nd), Storm 20.65% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Dragons -37.46% (1st), Storm -31.03% (4th)
We don’t know.
Let’s just clear that up straight away. We’ll make a tip (because we have to), but really – we don’t know.
The marquee game of the week between the league’s two best teams shapes as an absolute pearler, but one in which it’s damn near impossible to pick a winner. So, we’ll just make the case for both.
In the red corner, we have the Dragons. They lead the league, having lost just 1 game all year, and are coming in off a dominant 24-8 win over the Roosters. They feature the best forward pack in the competition, and have outgained their opponents in every match this year. That’s nothing to be sneezed at. Their defense is extraordinary, and arguably better than the purple wall of the Storm (we have them ranked 1st vs the Storm’s 4th). They’ve held their opponents to just 2 line breaks or less in 5 of their 8 matches so far (tied best in the league with Cronulla), and have missed over 20 tackles in a game just once (far and away the best in the competition). They’ve been easily the best team so far in 2018, and should start deserved favourites.
But in the purple corner, we have the Storm. The Dragons might be the best team so far this year, but the Storm have been the best team this decade. Their season numbers are comparable to the Dragons (ranking in the Top 4 for both offense and defense), however if you just looked at their last three weeks, their offensive numbers in particular are in another stratosphere. Though they rank just 5th, 10th and 6th on the season for LBVOA, RMVOA and TBVOA; over their past 3 games, those numbers jump to 1st, 7th and 4th. And defensively they’re no slouches, having conceded more than 3 tries in a game just once all year (the only team in the league who can make that claim). The Storm are excellent, and they’re getting better.
So how can we pick? Let’s look at the games in which they’ve lost. In the case of the Storm, they’ve struggled against strong defenses, having lost 3 of the 4 games they’ve played against Top 6 defenses (and the Dragons are arguably defensively better than either of those sides). It also seems to help if the Storm implode – they made 15 errors or more in all three of their losses. In that respect, the Dragons should be well placed as well – they actually rank 1st in the NRL in opponent errors per game (12.5), just ahead of (wait for it) the Sharks (12.25) and the Tigers (12.13) – the Storm’s only two conquerers.
As for the Dragons, they were only stopped by a superb defensive by the Warriors, the sort of effort that can’t be reasonably expected of anyone (they really were fantastic that night). The Warriors were able to stand up to the Dragons in the middle of the field, which had the effect of limiting the Dragons’ red hot offense. And though the Storm’s middle defense is fantastic (their ability to slow down the play-the-ball has contributed to them ranking 1st in RMCVOA), you have to question how they’ll hold up without Jesse Bromwich, and now, Tim Glasby.
And with the Dragons still rolling out their first choice 17 (they currently have zero players out with injury), that’s enough for us to back the home team. But to be clear: we really don’t know, and have no conviction whatsoever. Can’t wait for the game, though.
Our tip: Dragons
Roosters v Sea Eagles
Offense VOA: Roosters -12.93% (12th), Sea Eagles 6.11% (6th)
Defense VOA: Roosters -32.60% (3rd), Sea Eagles 30.65% (15th)
There’s no shame in losing to the 2018 Knights (indeed, the previous week’s capitulation to the Eels, or any time you lose to the Titans should be considered far more shameful).
That’s our message to Sea Eagles fans, after Manly stretched their losing streak out to four games last weekend. That said, that game put the writing on the wall for the Sea Eagles, for three main reasons.
Firstly, while the Knights’ offense has been excellent so far this year (their smooth attacking style has turned the Knights into our football crush of 2018), last week they came into the game without Mitchell Pearce, who was, at the time, their team leader for both line break assists and try assists. Without him, the Knights’ offense is left almost entirely to Kalyn Ponga to run (neither Knights halves contributed an assist against Manly in either category), which should make it relatively easy to stop. Instead, they conceded two soft, unassisted tries from close range, which ultimately cost them the match. Both Luke Keary and Cooper Cronk have more creative talent in their little fingers than the Knights’ halves had last week combined; if the Sea Eagles let in one-out tries against the Roosters as they did against Newcastle, the game could quickly get away from them.
Secondly, as bad as the Sea Eagles’ defense has been this year, their offense has always remained relatively dangerous (when it isn’t dropping the ball). Even while getting pumped by the Titans and Tigers, the Sea Eagles still managed a combined 11 line breaks, despite having just 46 and 40 percent of the possession in each game, respectively. Having finally reduced their errors to single digits, Manly earned the lion’s share of possession for the first time in a month (54%) – and somehow only scored 12 points. We accept that Manly’s defense is dreadful, however their offense has typically been so good as to keep them competitive regardless. If mounting injuries are leading it to turn to shit, they collectively have very little going for them, particularly against elite defensive sides (such as the Roosters).
Finally, as if being poor on both sides of the ball isn’t enough, their run defense is beginning to cost them valuable field position, which is further compounding their problems. Last week, though the Sea Eagles outgained the Knights (which was unsurprising, given the lop-sided possession count), Newcastle still managed to gain 1354 metres – the most they’ve produced in any game this year, and despite having just 46% of the football. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for the Sea Eagles to get steamrolled by their opposition, it’s the norm – in addition to the Knights; the Eels, Tigers and Rabbitohs have all registered their season high for run metres against the lazy Sea Eagles defense. If they were to come up against a team capable of producing huge metres (like the Roosters, who rank 1st in RMVOA, with 7.63%, for example), they might concede 2000.
So, while there’s no shame in losing to the Knights, there were enough signs in last week’s loss to indicate to us that the Sea Eagles have some real problems – and problems that can all be badly abused by the Roosters.
Our tip: Roosters
*As an aside, if you ever wanted an example of what Andrew Johns was talking about last year when he called Mitchell Pearce’s effort in Origin 2 the “dumbest half of football ever”, this was it. With the immobile Kikau defending in the centres (creating an obvious mismatch, similar to what the Blues had with an injured Johnathan Thurston in the Maroons defensive line), the Bulldogs relentlessly went down the Panthers left edge, play after play after play, scoring 2 tries in under 15 minutes from the time Edwards was injured, and forcing the Panthers to move Kikau – exactly what New South Wales should have done to Queensland, in order to get Thurston off the field.