2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 45/72 (63%)
Line Betting: 15/30 (50%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 10 Tips and Previews
Tigers v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Tigers -14.73% (11th), Cowboys -13.78% (10th)
Defense VOA: Tigers 4.15% (8th), Cowboys 0.05% (7th)
How quickly things change.
It just feels like yesterday that the Tigers were standing astride the rugby league ladder like a colossus, dominating all and sundry with their seemingly impenetrable defense. The Cowboys meanwhile, were on a five-match losing streak, and facing the prospect of their season fizzling out, and taking Johnathan Thurston’s career with it. And then, the last three weeks happened.
Now, we’re not saying that the Tigers’ early season form was definitely a mirage, but if we were thirsty in the desert and saw the Tigers on the horizon, we wouldn’t be getting out our water bottles. The problem with the Tigers is that their offense is easily among the worst in the league (you don’t need our statistics to prove that; you need only watch them), leaving their successes built almost entirely on the strength of their defense (in 3 of their 5 wins, they actually scored less than 12 points; and in their other 2, they scored their points against the defenses ranked 14th and 15th). So, it should come as no surprise then, that when their defense deserts them (as it has in their last month of football), the whole thing falls down like a house of cards.
And unfortunately, their defensive regression isn’t just a one-week hiccup (as any team could potentially have), it’s a rapidly developing trend, that can be traced back to their win against Parramatta in Round 4. We mentioned our concern back then that they had bled “14 second half points to a team who had scored just 10 in their previous six halves of football“, and likewise after the win against Manly – in which they conceded 7 line breaks, despite having 60% of the ball. From that point on, the floodgates have opened – the Tigers have conceded 14 tries, 20 line breaks, and 72 points in their last 3 outings combined.
The Cowboys’ reversal of fortunes, meanwhile, have been seen almost in parallel. Their first signs of improvement arguably came in their Week 6 loss to Canterbury – where, despite scoring just 10 points, they actually made 5 line breaks, showing the first glimmer of offensive aptitude. Since then, they’ve slowly improved, before taking advantage of an injury-depleted Penrith side last weekend for a real coming out party. They’ve now made 17 line breaks in their past 3 games combined, while scoring 60 points from 9 tries. And unlike the Tigers, the new Cowboys are looking pretty good on the other side of the ball, too – their LBCVOA has surged to an impressive -31.50% over the same period – which would actually rank 1st in the season so far.
So the question here is: which team do you believe in? Do you believe that the Tigers are really the immovable object that they appeared to be over the opening month, or the competition patsies that they’ve been ever since? Similarly, do you believe that the Cowboys are the plodders that they appeared to be for six weeks, or the premiership contenders we all thought they were before a ball had been kicked?
It’s a tough call to be honest – three weeks isn’t a long enough time to just forget how good the Tigers looked just a short while ago. But with two similar teams on two very different trajectories, we’ll say “what have you done for me lately?” – and in the case of the Tigers, the answer is: “not much”.
Our tip: Cowboys
Knights v Panthers
Offense VOA: Knights 9.60% (6th), Panthers -2.00% (8th)
Defense VOA: Knights 7.87% (11th), Panthers 9.69% (12th)
Friday night at Newcastle will give us another intriguing clash, as a re-shuffled Knights side shapes up against whoever’s left at Penrith. Both sides will be looking to avoid making the same mistakes they did a week ago, but you could make an argument that each side is facing the same mismatches that led them to last weekend’s defeats.
As expected last week, the Knights were on the receiving end of a 36-18 beatdown, as the unstoppable Rabbitohs pack (eventually) stormed over the top of them, gaining 866m in the 2nd half alone, and stretching the Knights 2018 run to 9 games without ever winning the yardage. The news doesn’t get much better this weekend, with the monstrous Panthers pack lobbing into town. Yes, the Panthers are down on troops, but let’s be real for a moment – this is still a pack that’s so good, they’re able to name James Tamou on the bench. Despite having his finger surgically repaired on Saturday, Trent Merrin has been named to make the quickest return since Jesus of Nazareth; and even if he doesn’t play, the Panthers remain stacked with forward options, with backrowers Isiaah Yeo and Tyrone Peachey both named in the backline.
Understandably then, Nathan Brown has rung in the changes in the hope that his side puts up a bit more resistance this week, though it’d be subjective to say at this point whether or not the new-look side is actually any better. Gone are Jacob Lillyman, Jamie Buhrer and Jacob Saifiti (no arguments from us – all three are plodders; though of the front-rowers, we’d argue that Chris Heighington and his less than 8m per carry should probably be the first dropped), who are replaced by Josh King, Danny Levi and Luke Yates respectively. In the halves, Jack Cogger has been dropped after going 3 weeks without a single try assist, line break assist, line break or tackle break (fair enough); but we’re not sure if Brock Lamb is ever the answer (unless the question is: “Who am I? With the initials B.L, I’m perhaps best known for single-handedly losing my team the game against the Bulldogs at Belmore last year, but I’ve actually participated in 22 losses since my debut in 2016. With a career winning percentage of just 26.67%, and sharing a surname with a familiar barnyard animal, my name is Brock WHO?”). As it stands, there’s every reason to believe that their squad are going to get steamrolled again, and if they do, you can bet the Panthers will run up the score (the Panthers average over 24 points per game when they outgain their opponents, and have been held to less than 20 on just 3 occasions this year).
However, that doesn’t mean it looks any easier for Penrith. Yes, the Panthers seem to be capable of finding points every week regardless of opponent, but last week they faced an opposition who clearly had a gameplan in place to target the Panthers’ Achilles heel – their edge defense. Though it’s rarely been tested so far in 2018, we’ve repeatedly made the point that the Panthers’ edges are defensively straight trash (Dean Whare excepted), and the Cowboys made a point of emphatically proving it, running in a whopping 8 line breaks, almost entirely down the Panthers’ edge channels. Ironically, the key mismatch the Cowboys were exploiting (Yeo at left centre) was likely made specifically to boost the Panthers’ defense – Whare typically defends there, but had switched to the right, presumably to help protect the weaker defender Tyrone Phillips in defense. Whether they keep that combination or not remains to be seen, but regardless, you can bet that the Knights would have seen it, and the league’s most in-form fullback, Kalyn Ponga (edit: most in-form player, period?) will be licking his lips at the chance to attack those edges.
So, how can you pick a winner? For us, we’re looking at where the Knights’ offensive production typically comes from, and it’s almost exclusively Ponga. As a result, their line breaks come overwhelmingly on their left edge (last week being a notable exception) – which is actually the Panthers better defensive side (they’re likely to face a combination of Harawira-Naera/Peachey/Whare out there – a significantly tougher prospect than Kikau/Maloney/Yeo). So, the Panthers’ defensive prospects aren’t that bad against Newcastle; whereas the Knights’ best chance of slowing the Panthers hinges on Merrin being ruled out, and probably more forwards dropping during the game.
We think this is a lot closer than most people probably realise, and if the Panthers’ do cop a few late scratchings, we could easily back the Knights. But at time of writing, based on the the teams listed, we have to stick with Penrith.
Our tip: Panthers
Bulldogs v Eels
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -15.64% (13th), Eels -29.47% (15th)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs -3.75% (6th), Eels 17.14% (14th)
The second game on Friday night will feature two teams whose Round 9 scorelines made them look a lot more competitive than they really were.
Though the Bulldogs managed 22 points in their narrow loss to the Broncos, it would be erroneous to assume that they must have found the solution to their attacking woes. Though we believe they look more dangerous with Matt Frawley in the halves, Jeremy Marshall-King’s service from dummy-half isn’t up to standard yet (we think he’ll develop, but at this point in his career, he seems like a perfect bench utility), and for most of the game they suffered from the same lack of penetration that’s plagued them all year. Yes, they scored 3 tries, but all of them (yes, literally all of them) came via a defender falling over; if the Broncos weren’t rolling around on the ground, the Bulldogs would have been held to 2 points. The problem was once again an inability to create try-scoring opportunities – they made just 2 line breaks, bringing their total from their last three games to just 4.
But the Eels were arguably just as bad. Looking at the boxscore, you could be forgiven for guessing that the Eels had lost an arm wrestle, after going down 22-20 to Cronulla – but the reality was anything but. With 8 minutes remaining, the game was already over at 22-4, and had Valentine Holmes scampering away for another try that was (ridiculously) denied. Yes, they ran in 3 late tries to almost force golden point, but they all came in garbage time, when the Sharks seemed to think that the game was already won (the David Gower try in particular illustrated the complete lack of defensive interest by the Sharks at that point). We’ll tip our hats to the Eels for having a go right up until the final siren; but they were having a go all game, and when the Sharks were still playing, all it got them was into an 18-point hole.
So if we’re not buying into either side’s reversal of fortunes, how do you pick a winner? It’s tough (and we agree with the bookies – it looks like a coinflip), but for us, we have to look at what we do know about each team. We might not believe that the Bulldogs are suddenly a decent attacking side, but for the most part, we do think they can be relied on for a consistent effort in defense – they rank 6th in Defense VOA, and have only allowed more than 4 line breaks in 2 matches this year. On the other hand, while Parramatta might be getting better on offense, they’re definitely rubbish on defense, having conceded less than 4 line breaks in just 3 games this year, and ranking just 14th in Defense VOA.
The Eels may have put in a decent effort last weekend, but the Bulldogs put in a strong effort every weekend (they just lose, because they aren’t very good), and the same can’t be said of Parramatta. If both teams play to form, we have the Bulldogs marginally better (and the loss of Kaysa Pritchard in particular could sting for the Eels). It’s very close, and being a common home ground, should feature a big crowd and a decent atmosphere for a bottom-of-the-table clash. We’re actually really looking forward to it.
Our tip: Bulldogs
Warriors v Roosters
Offense VOA: Warriors 22.13% (4th), Roosters -15.43% (12th)
Defense VOA: Warriors 12.43% (13th), Roosters -30.21% (2nd)
In a horror week for tipsters, this might be the most difficult match of all.
Two teams who are almost polar opposites of each other, with the powerful international home ground advantage benefiting a Warriors team with injury clouds hanging over a couple of stars.
After a hot-and-cold last few weeks in which they’ve been crushed by Brisbane and Melbourne, but played the game of the year against St George, the Warriors completely dominated the Tigers last weekend. Their 10 line breaks and 1634 metres were both season highs, as they turned a wealth of possession (which was gained by a combination of New Zealand’s excellent ball handling and the Tigers’ lack thereof) into a clinical 26-4 hiding (and for that matter, they could have easily won by more).
As sharp as the Warriors’ offense was, it was actually their defense that most impressed us. After Warriors fans were forced to sit through Anthony Gelling getting repeatedly embarrassed a week earlier, the return of Solomone Kata brought an immediate improvement to their defense, with Kata’s left edge not conceding a single try, after being shredded for 4 a week prior. Granted, their opponents were hardly an attacking powerhouse, but the effort was nonetheless impressive, especially being two weeks removed from another great defensive display against the Dragons. We’ve been saying for a while that if the Warriors can find the defense to back up what they’re doing with the ball, they could be a real threat; last weekend they showed it.
Over at the Roosters, it’s really getting time to talk about Cooper Cronk. Though he’s now officially lasted longer than the previous time somebody signed a 33-year-old former Storm halfback (in 2011, the Raiders signed an aging Matt Orford, who played so badly that he retired after 9 rounds), he hasn’t really played much better. The following is the complete list of NRL teams whose halfbacks have made less line break assists through 9 weeks than Cooper Cronk: Melbourne (Ryley Jacks & Brodie Croft) and Newcastle (Jack Cogger & Brock Lamb). That’s it. You’ll also notice something else – in both instances, their halfbacks have already been dropped (and in the Knights’ case, the replacement has now been dropped, too). Which raises the question: if Cooper Cronk wasn’t named Cooper Cronk, would he even still be in first grade?
It may sound sacrilegious to even suggest it, but at some point you have to talk about the elephant in the room – the Roosters offense stinks, and it stinks specifically because they only look good when they the ball’s in Luke Keary’s hands. Keary’s an excellent footballer, but at some point, Cronk needs to start pulling his weight (as an aside, has there ever been a better example of a team paying top dollar for an import, that’s somehow made both teams involved worse? It’s all academic now, but the Storm and Roosters both seem to be worse off for their halfback movements, with the only real winner being Newcastle – though their star recruit is sitting on the sidelines for four months now, anyway).
And if the Roosters can’t score, the Warriors probably will. You can expect to see New Zealand wind up with the bulk of possession (they’ve made the least errors in 2018, while the Roosters have made the most), and with it, they should eventually be able to grind away to a few tries, even without Shaun Johnson. We’ve written previously about how much better the Warriors’ offense looks with Mason Lino in the team, so in that respect, we’re not too bothered. The question then will become how many tries the Roosters can add with limited possession; and though they’re only really threatening down their left side, that edge will be guarded by the enigmatic Peta Hiku, who just so happens to have conceded the most line breaks of any player in the competition. That makes it a lot closer than you might have otherwise first thought.
We’ll take the team we’re expecting to have the most ball, which is the Warriors – which is good, because even allowing for a struggling Cronk, they’re probably going to need it.
Our tip: Warriors
Storm v Titans
Offense VOA: Storm 25.13% (3rd), Titans -34.95% (16th)
Defense VOA: Storm -30.47% (1st), Titans 52.38% (16th)
Having tipped against the Storm last week before they ultimately got lapped 34-14, you have thought that this would be the point in the previews where we smugly pat ourselves on the back. It’s not.
It’s not, mainly for two reasons. Firstly, because (as we stated quite clearly in last week’s preview) we had very little idea, and as it turned out, guessed right (hey, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then). But secondly (and perhaps most importantly), because we can’t help feeling like we got away with one.
You may have looked at the scoreline and assumed “comfortable win for St George, not even a contest” – but look a little closer. Though they were smoked by 20 points, the Storm were actually only outscored 4 tries to 3, and you could argue it was really 4 tries-a-piece, when you add in the Josh Addo-Carr try that was bizarrely disallowed in order to go back and give Melbourne a penalty (we’re not necessarily arguing with the ruling itself; but the call came so late – and the “disadvantaged” team were already crossing the line for a try – it should have just been forgotten). And worse, this was with the Storm handing the Dragons a 55-45 possession advantage – courtesy of 12 errors and a further 11 penalties conceded – with which St George inflicted a whopping 301m yardage advantage. In short, the Storm gave the Dragons everything they needed to beat them, and relatively speaking, actually held up very well. So well, in fact, that if they were to meet again in Melbourne (as they will in Round 17), we’re inclined to think the Storm will probably win (which would be excellent, as it would set up a decider to their trilogy for Grand Final day).
So that’s what we took away from Melbourne’s loss – that they’re right there with the best team in the competition, and that’s while missing key forwards Jesse Bromwich and Tim Glasby. As for what got taken away from the Titans game? It was probably just their souls, as they got lit up for a ridiculous 11 line breaks conceded in a single game of football (that’s the 2nd worst total of any team this year, and they’re one of just 3 teams to have conceded double-digits in a game this season… oh, and they’ve now done it twice).
Searching for positives, the Titans did make more than 3 line breaks for just the 2nd time this season, so that’s promising; though it’s likely to be of little consequence, coming into a game against the Storm who’ve only missed that mark in 3 games so far. That offensive improvement is likely to continue with Brenko Lee coming into the side, and the debut of AJ Brimson holds promise for the Gold Coast, if for no other reason than that his name’s not ‘Bryce Cartwright’.
On the whole though, this shapes as one of those mismatches that has the potential to be grossly lopsided. It’s certainly not impossible that the Titans could win (you need only go back to last year to see that it’s possible; when the Titans upset the Storm with a barrage of fluky tries from kicks, before losing 11 of their next 14 games), but it’s sure as heck not likely.
Our tip: Storm
Sea Eagles v Broncos
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 4.93% (7th), Broncos -2.35% (9th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles 29.21% (15th), Broncos -28.21% (3rd)
Last week’s result will no doubt give the Sea Eagles some hope for this match. They were right in that game from start to finish, only to fall agonisingly short of victory. With the Broncos profiling similarly to the Roosters, that should mean the Sea Eagles will be right in this contest as well, yeah? Possibly, but probably not.
While we’d agree that on the surface Brisbane do look a lot like the Roosters (they’re both classic examples of teams with good forward packs, exceptional defenses, but inconsistent, and generally ineffective offenses), the Broncos are distinctly different to the Roosters in one vital way: discipline. While the Roosters routinely hand over possession to their opponents with monotonous regularity, the Broncos are among the most disciplined sides in the game (the Broncos average over 3 less errors, and 1 less penalty conceded per match than Sydney). And that difference is likely to be everything here.
The reason for that, is that as good as the Sea Eagles were last week, we have to remember two things: firstly, they had a whopping 56-44 possession advantage (and that’s a possession advantage that they’re significantly less likely to get against Brisbane, who’ve had 50% or more possession in all but 3 games this year). And secondly – they still lost.
They lost because as good as their offense is, their defense in absolutely abysmal, meaning that regardless of their opponents, they’ll typically need to score well north of 20 points in order to win a football game (indeed, outside of their Round 2 thrashing of Parramatta, the least points they’ve conceded this year is 16, with the team conceding 3 or more tries in every other game). That makes an elite defense like the Broncos (or, for that matter, the Roosters), not only not a good matchup; but probably a very bad matchup – since they’re more likely to keep the Sea Eagles’ own scoring down. And the proof is in the pudding, with both the Sea Eagles’ 2018 wins coming against bottom 8 defenses (against whom Manly scored a combined 86 points).
So while we’re not necessarily loving the Broncos at this minute, we don’t see Manly beating them; at least not without significant help from either the referee, or the Broncos’ own players.
Our tip: Broncos
Rabbitohs v Dragons
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs 53.41% (1st), Dragons 27.55% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs 7.53% (10th), Dragons -26.74% (5th)
This match shapes up as a really interesting game for the Rabbitohs, if only to see how they’re traveling.
Last week, the Knights joined a laundry list of teams with mediocre forward packs who’ve helplessly watched the Rabbitohs storm over the top of them, with the Rabbitohs gaining 284 more metres than the Knights, on their way to a comprehensive 36-18 victory. However, we’ve pointed out previously that the Rabbitohs’ fate has so far been tied directly to their go-forward, with the Rabbitohs unbeaten in all games in which they’ve outgained their opponents, and winless when they’re on the other side. This correlation was particularly evident against the Knights, where the Bunnies were actually trailing in metres at half time – and as a result, they also found themselves behind in both line breaks and tackle breaks at the half (though narrowly in front on the scoreboard, 16-12). In the 2nd half – where they enjoyed a dominant 308m yardage advantage – their offense took off, making 5 line breaks and 17 tackle breaks in a single half of football.
But here, they face the all-star Dragons pack who did them in by 97 metres (and 4 points) just five weeks ago – a very different beast to the meek middles that Newcastle keep trotting out. Fresh off a 301m victory over the Storm, St George come into this match having won the yardage battle in every game this season so far. That, of course, doesn’t mean that they can’t be beaten; but it’s certainly not what the Rabbitohs want to come up against.
Which is why we find this game so interesting. We fully expect the Dragons to win (at this point, we’re expecting them to win most weeks), but after being held to a season low 12 points the last time South Sydney faced St George, we’re fascinated to see how the Rabbitohs go this time. Remember, St George don’t like facing a big pack either – their 16 points against Souths was their 2nd worst outing of the year, as well. So, if the Rabbitohs can get over the top of the Dragons, they’re actually a decent shot at causing a boilover. We just don’t believe they’ll do it.
Our tip: Dragons
Raiders v Sharks
Offense VOA: Raiders 11.71% (5th), Sharks -26.12% (14th)
Defense VOA: Raiders 6.98% (9th), Sharks -28.04% (4th)
Game of the round? Definitely, at least for us.
Long-time readers will know that Canberra and Cronulla are two of The Obstruction Rule’s biggest sweethearts – teams we love because they’re curiously under-valued in public opinion.
We stuck by the Raiders through their difficult opening month and have been duly rewarded, as the Green Machine have won 4 of their last 5 games, stomping all over a procession of inferior opponents (several of whom were curiously preferred by punters). We love the Raiders’ offense (Jordan Rapana’s try last weekend was the sexiest thing we’ve seen on a football field since Andrew Ettingshausen), and the fact that they’ve been able to keep kicking along without their best player (Josh Hodgson) must surely be terrifying for the rest of the competition.
The Sharks, meanwhile, are our 2018 ride-or-die – the team we like to eventually rise up into the St George/Melbourne tier by the end of the season. They’re doing us proud with three-on-the-trot, and somehow seem once again oddly over-priced (though we love the Raiders as well, we’re surprised that this isn’t a lot closer to even money). At Cronulla, their identity is built entirely on defense, with their win over Parramatta the 6th time this year that they’ve held their opposition to 3 or less line breaks in a game (tied 1st with Brisbane and St George). Like the Raiders, they’ve been doing it without key troops (including Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Wade Graham, among others), making their recent run of wins all the more impressive.
We suspect the Raiders’ favouritism is based more on the manner of their wins than anything else – while the Sharks average winning margin through the last month is less than 3, the Raiders’ is 14 – giving at least the appearance of a team traveling significantly better. However, it’s worth pointing out the Raiders have only been running up the score against teams with positive Defensive VOA numbers (that is, defenses that are worse than average). Through 9 weeks, they’re yet to play an above average defense, so there’s in the very least a question mark about how their offense will go against a tougher opponent.
There’s less question marks over how their own defense holds up – and it’s typically pretty poorly. Outside of games against teams with bottom 4 offenses, the Raiders are conceding over 26 points per game (and even if you do count them, they let in 30 against the Titans as well). That’s the bad news. The good news is that on the season, the Sharks are a bottom 4 offense – for now, at least.
So, how you feel about this game should probably be decided more by how you feel about Cronulla, than how you feel about Canberra. The Sharks defense and the Raiders’ offense should virtually cancel each other out, and settle in at an average 2 or 3 tries. The key question is whether the Sharks offense is shit or not.
While popular opinion says that it is (indeed, social media seems to be constantly flooded with criticism of the Sharks’ attack, typically coming from their own fans), we’d argue that they’re actually not far off – especially of late. Here’s a fun fact – through the past 5 weeks, while the Raiders have been hammering teams, Canberra have only scored 4 more tries than Cronulla, and they actually have a worse LBVOA over the same period (8.18% compared to Cronulla’s 18.27%) which suggests that the Sharks are actually creating as many opportunities as Canberra (in fact, slightly more), they’ve just faced a couple of tougher opponents (St George and Sydney). Against a weaker defense, we think they’re a huge chance of scoring the tries they need to pull off the upset here, and expect their defense to do its part in keeping that target down.
Add in the loss of Junior Paulo for Canberra, and the additions of Gallen and Jason Bukuya for Cronulla (that’s the same Bukuya who leads the Sharks’ edge forwards for line breaks, despite having played just 4 games), and we’re going to keep rolling with Cronulla. They’re good, and they’re still getting better.
Our tip: Sharks