2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 49/80 (61%)
Line Betting: 16/32 (50%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 11 Tips and Previews
Panthers v Tigers
Offense VOA: Panthers -6.60% (9th), Tigers -7.51% (10th)
Defense VOA: Panthers 11.76% (12th), Tigers -2.52% (7th)
Yep, it’s confirmed – the Tigers sure can win games… that is, when their opponents roll out of bed and forget how to play football (but hey, they all count the same).
Through ten weeks, the Tigers have now amassed a surprising 6 wins. That’s impressive, and sees the Tigers sitting comfortably inside the Top 8. However, of those, how many games have the Tigers won when their opponents haven’t made double-digit errors? The answer (as you may have guessed) is zero.
Last Thursday, the Cowboys joined a growing list of teams to have suffered a melt-down against the Tigers, turning in error after what-the-heck-was-he-thinking error. To their credit, the Tigers took advantage, easing their way to a 20-12 victory. The issue though, is that we’ve learnt over the past month that if their opposition can just control the ball – as the Knights, Warriors and (to some extent) the Eels did – the Tigers are (very) beatable.
Which is bad news. It’s bad news, because it’s unrealistic to expect opposition teams to consistently gift wins to them all season (and particularly not in September). But it’s particularly bad news this week, where they’ll face the Panthers – the team who’ve made the least errors so far in 2018. If the Tigers’ wins are dependent on their opposition stinking it up, there may not be a worse team to face. So far this season, the Tigers have won just 1 of 5 matches in which their opponent has made less than 12 errors (and that team was the hapless Eels); the Panthers have only exceeded that mark once (also against the Eels, and anyway, the Panthers won).
And assuming the Panthers don’t gift a ton of possession to the Tigers, it’s difficult to see them getting beaten. The return of Nathan Cleary will see Tyrone Peachey slide out to the centres, which should improve the Panthers’ edge defense. It should also have a flow-on effect on Penrith’s pack, with Isiaah Yeo returning to the back row, and allowing the Panthers to unleash Viliame Kikau from the bench.
In general, we’d argue that if the Tigers have the upper hand somewhere, it’s on defense – but we’re not even sure of that any more. Prior to last week, the Tigers had conceded 14 tries in their previous 3 games; the Panthers haven’t let in that many in their last 4. Add in the return of Cleary and a vastly superior forward pack, and it’s hard to see the Panthers losing here – that is, assuming they can do what a lot of teams can’t, and just hold onto the ball.
Our tip: Panthers
Eels v Warriors
Offense VOA: Eels -24.89% (15th), Warriors 10.09% (6th)
Defense VOA: Eels 13.07% (13th), Warriors 22.49% (14th)
Let’s be clear: we don’t suddenly think the Eels are any good. Yes, they’ve slightly improved of late, but they’re not good – not by any stretch. Our issue here lies with the Warriors – quite simply, we don’t know if we can trust them any more.
Last week, they named Isaac Luke despite him suffering a dislocated shoulder a week prior, only to pull him on game day, and replace him with the enthusiastic (but inferior) Karl Lawton. Frustratingly, this isn’t the first time the Warriors have pulled the same stunt, having named an injured Shaun Johnson back in Week 6, only to make him a late withdrawal as well. Now Luke has again been named, in addition to Mason Lino, who suffered a suspected high ankle sprain during last week’s game. Both are expected to play, but at this point, it’s hard to feel confident in either, and if they do play, it’s doubtful what kind of shape they’re in.
But, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that they run out 1-17. At this point, are we really confident that they’re better than Parramatta? To be honest, we’re not really sure. Against the Roosters last week, the Warriors were torched for 8 line breaks, just two weeks after conceding 7 to the Storm. Now, the Eels defense isn’t particularly good either, but those are the sorts of terrible numbers that even Parramatta haven’t hit since Round 4.
Of particular concern to us in this matchup is the Warriors’ horrendous right edge. Peta Hiku is quickly becoming a defensive liability of Bryce Cartwright-esque proportions (he’s missed the 4th most tackles, and has conceded the most breaks of any player in the competition), and paired with David Fusitua (who himself has the lowest tackle efficiency in the entire league, successfully making just 64% of tackles he attempts), they present a glaring weakness to be taken advantage of. Enter Parramatta.
Sure, the Eels offense is inconsistent at best (and completely stagnant at worst), but if they do have a strength, it’s arguably attacking down towards their left (which is of course, their opponents’ right). Just last week the Eels put 3 line breaks down the Bulldogs’ right edge, and – with all due respect to Hiku and Fusitua – Will Hopoate and Marcelo Montoya are significantly better defenders (they’ve actually conceded a combined 14 line breaks, to the Warriors’ pair’s 21).
So, it’s doubtful that the Warriors’ spine actually plays; and even if they do, the Eels should still be able to put up a few points. In a surprisingly tight contest to choose, that’s good enough for us to take a roll on the Eels.
Our tip: Eels
Broncos v Roosters
Offense VOA: Broncos -2.91% (8th), Roosters -12.50% (11th)
Defense VOA: Broncos -19.15% (5th), Roosters -37.26% (1st)
Ordinarily, a match-up between Brisbane and Sydney would be likely to favour the Broncos. Both sides feature elite defenses, both have patchy, inconsistent offenses, and for the most part, both feature decent forward packs. Typically then, the difference between these sides would be discipline – an area in which the Broncos hold a considerable advantage (and playing at Suncorp Stadium surely plays into the Broncos’ hands, too).
The problem, though, is that the team that Brisbane are trotting out this week bears little resemblance to the team we’re used to seeing. From the Broncos’ preferred edges, they’ve lost both starting second-rowers (Alex Glenn and Matt Gillett), in addition to the long-term absence of Jordan Kahu, and occasional centre Jack Bird. This is a problem that shouldn’t be under-estimated. The Broncos have now been forced to play 6 matches while missing just one of their starting edge forwards, and in those matches, their LBCVOA has dropped from -33.32% to -14.76% (almost the equivalent of an extra line break per game). Without both, it’s fair to assume that their line is only going to become weaker, especially if they’re forced to line up middle forward Tevita Pangai Jr out wide.
Secondly, in addition to the weakening of their defense, their forward pack is similarly hurting. Josh McGuire remains out, and will now be joined on the sidelines by Payne Haas. The loss of McGuire has hurt the Broncos more than you may have realised – though the Broncos rank 9th in RMVOA, in their two outings without McGuire, that number drops to -12.13%, dead last in the competition. And a big chunk of that can be directly attributed to McGuire, who still ranks 4th on his team for run metres (and 1st among Brisbane’s forwards for runs of over 8m), despite having missed 2 games. The problem for Brisbane is a lack of forward depth – they have guys like Joe Ofahengaue and Pangai Jr who’ve provided excellent impact, but nobody capable of getting near McGuire’s production if they’re forced to replicate McGuire’s minutes (over the last fortnight, for example, Sam Thaiday has seen his minutes increase to 33 and 45 respectively, but had just 13 total runs, without surpassing 65m in a game). Pangai Jr did well last week, but he’ll now be tucked away on the edge (and likely to be relentlessly tested in defense by the Roosters).
And so, in a match-up that should be incredibly close, we have to swing over to the enigmatic Roosters. Yes, they’re unreliable, but they’re also at pretty much 100%, and are coming in hot after hammering the Warriors last weekend. Their defense is first-class, and if they’ve actually got their offense in order (and it sure was humming last week), they could put the competition on notice here.
Our tip: Roosters
Titans v Knights
Offense VOA: Titans -34.40% (16th), Knights 8.52% (7th)
Defense VOA: Titans 53.73% (16th), Knights 3.50% (9th)
Those of you tuning in for our weekly Titans bashing may be about to be disappointed – for the record, we actually think the Gold Coast’s game last week was their best of the season (though on reflection, if we’re calling a 28-14 loss their best game so far, that’s probably a bashing in itself).
For those of you who didn’t watch the game, let us fill you in: the Titans held their own for 40 minutes against the Melbourne Storm (they were actually winning at halftime), before eventually getting outclassed by their superior opponent. But, there’s a lot to build on from that performance. As expected, Brenko Lee provided an injection of attacking ability that the Titans were sorely lacking (adding a try, a line break, 4 tackle breaks, and an impressive 164m in his maiden outing), while holding up surprisingly well defensively, after being exposed for the game’s opening try. Also, the lack of self-inflicted wounds was obvious, with the Titans recording a season-low error count of just 7 (and just 2 in their near-flawless opening half). Eventually, the Storm were able to roll over the top of the sub-standard Titans forwards, but for the most part, the Titans were… not bad.
But is that enough to back them here? It’s close, but not quite. Because while the Titans were ‘not bad’, the Knights without Mitchell Pearce have been ‘surprisingly decent’, and as we all know, ‘surprisingly decent’ > ‘not bad’ (quick maths!). Like everyone else on the planet, we too thought that without Pearce the Knights were inevitably doomed (and back-to-back losses in the last two weeks admittedly haven’t helped dispel that notion), but though they’ve been losing, they actually haven’t been significantly worse.
If the loss of Pearce were going to adversely affect the Knights, you’d expect his absence would be primarily felt on offense – where Pearce was central to almost everything Newcastle were doing. However, the Knights have barely missed a beat, with the irrepressible Kalyn Ponga stepping up in his absence. Since Pearce went down, Ponga has increased his involvement from 34.9 receipts per game to 39, and the more he touches the ball, the better the Knights seem to get – they’ve actually improved from their already impressive LBVOA of 15.23% to 23.92% without Pearce. There’s only one other team in the competition who are able to cover the loss of their star half so effectively, and it was just bad fortune that the Knights happened to run into that team last weekend.
So, if their offense is holding up just fine, then why are the Knights losing? In short, for the same reason they usually lose – because their forward pack is hot garbage. The Knights feature just a single forward ranked in the league’s top 40 for run metres (Herman Ese’Ese), and their 2nd best forward ranks 94th in the league (for context, the Panthers team that stomped all over them last week featured 5 forwards ranked higher than that). So, it should come as no surprise that the teams who’ve knocked them over this year (the Roosters, Dragons, Storm, Rabbitohs and Panthers) are like a who’s who of monstrous forward packs – in those games, the Knights were outgained by an average of over 350m per outing, and never stood a chance. The good news for the Knights, though, is that the Titans’ pack is almost as bad as they are.
And so, we don’t mind the Knights here. We do think it’s likely to be a contest (and Jai Arrow is a huge in for the Titans), and admit that the Titans are actually showing some signs of improving. But in a game that isn’t likely to feature a particularly high standard of defense, the Knights’ offense could be the difference.
Our tip: Knights
Cowboys v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Cowboys -21.16% (13th), Rabbitohs 57.30% (1st)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 6.78% (10th), Rabbitohs -4.33% (6th)
We wrote in last week’s preview that the Rabbitohs-Dragons game would “tell us a lot about the Rabbitohs”. And it did. It told us that the Rabbitohs are very good; very good indeed.
The Rabbitohs came out last weekend and defeated the Dragons fairly comprehensively, 24-10. Now, this would be impressive on its own – to date, it’s just the 2nd time this year that someone’s beaten the Dragons, and by the biggest margin so far (14). However, what struck us about this victory isn’t the mere fact that the Rabbitohs won – it’s the fact that they won, while doing everything possible to lose.
Let’s step back for a moment – though few genuinely expected the Rabbitohs to win, those who did would have expected two things to be true. Firstly, that the Rabbitohs would outgain the Dragons (they did not, losing the yardage by over 200m), and secondly, that they’d win the majority of the possession (again, they did not, finding themselves on the losing end of a lop-sided 56-44 possession count; in large part due to their own errors). So, how on earth did the Rabbitohs win?
The answer to that can likewise be boiled down to two major victories: the Rabbitohs won at the advantage line, and their defense (particularly on their own goal-line) was near flawless. The second part of that was clear for all to see – the Rabbitohs spent what felt like an eternity defending deep in their own end, while continually turning away one of the league’s best attacking sides (and when they eventually did get the ball back, they’d turn it over and do it all again). This is no small victory, and should make every other team in the competition suddenly very nervous. The second part, however, is less obvious.
The fact that the Rabbitohs were actually winning in the middle of the field is somewhat obscured by the possession difference. When you see that the Dragons gained 241m more than the Rabbitohs, it would appear that they’re picking up huge chunks of yardage. However, when you account for the enormous amount of extra possession the Dragons had, it’s actually the Rabbitohs who were chewing up yards, and it was those big metres that laid the platform for them to continue to rack up points, while the Dragons were left running on the spot. Let’s just reflect on what an achievement the Rabbitohs’ 1439m actually was – so far this year, of all the times that a team has had 44% of the possession or less, only once have they even gotten within 100m of that mark. As it so happens, on that occasion – the Roosters against the Bulldogs – the Roosters actually exceeded it by 30m, but when you take into account the quality of the opposition (the Dragons rank 10th in RMCVOA; the Bulldogs are last), the Rabbitohs’ effort with very little ball is head-and-shoulders above anything else we’ve seen to date.
Whereas the Cowboys… well, they were bad. The term ‘false dawn’ springs immediately to mind, when reflecting on the Cowboys narrow win over Penrith, in light of the absolute stinker they dished up last Thursday night. Here was a team with everything to play for, against an opponent who’d just lost 3 games in a row, and they fumbled their way to 15 errors in a game of football (their most since Round 1), the majority of which were of the “inexplicably forcing a pass” and “dropped cold while playing the ball” brain-fart variety. The Tigers are a team who are yet to win a game in which they haven’t had the majority of the possession – all the Cowboys needed to do was turn up and not drop it, and they should have cruised to victory. Instead, they did drop the ball. 15 times.
Which brings us to this game, and it’s hard to make a case for the Cowboys at all. Ordinarily, you’d fancy with their big forward pack, that they’d be a tough match-up for South Sydney. However, after watching the Rabbitohs defend (and, for that matter, the Cowboys attack) last week, it’s hard to see North Queensland having much success with the ball, regardless of how much possession they might get. And if they turn it over again like they did last week, the Bunnies have the attacking talent to rip them a new one.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Storm v Sea Eagles
Offense VOA: Storm 16.02% (4th), Sea Eagles 21.61% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Storm -23.42% (4th), Sea Eagles 22.75% (15th)
First, the good news, Manly fans: the Sea Eagles are back to their former level. Now, the bad news: that level isn’t particularly high.
Sure, they were good enough to roll the Broncos last week, but in many ways, this was an effort that was ‘classic Manly’. Their high-octane offense was back in full throttle, but they still found a way to leak 4 tries and 5 line breaks to a pretty unspectacular Broncos offense (that was a season-high and second-high for Brisbane in those categories, respectively). Ultimately, the difference was a surprisingly impressive showing in the Sea Eagles’ ball-handling, as they made just 6 errors, and in turn won a 52-48 possession advantage that tipped them over the top. After a 5-game losing streak, they’ll take whatever win they can get (particularly against an opponent like Brisbane), but it shouldn’t paper over the obvious cracks – their defense remains among the worst in the competition, and as a result, they’re likely going to need to score a lot of points to win football games.
Which is fine in certain matchups – when the Eagles get a weaker defense (like against Canberra next week, or the Warriors in Round 14), they’ve every reason to believe that they could score the 20+ points they’ll require to win. The problem though, is that the Storm are not a bad defense, and it’s unlikely that the Sea Eagles can keep their errors down sufficiently to keep Melbourne’s own score from getting out of control.
Let’s just be realistic here – the Sea Eagles have conceded 18 or more points in all but 2 outings this year, and will be facing a Storm outfit who’ve scored 30+ in half their games this year. It bodes seriously poorly for the Sea Eagles defense if the Storm get anything close to an even possession count. The loss of Cameron Smith will certainly hurt the Melbourne, but against a defense this bad, will it even matter? (It’s also probably worth mentioning that in their 4 outings without Smith last season, the Storm still averaged over 23 points per game, including dropping a 40-burger against the Knights.)
The Storm were hardly at their best last week (not detracting from the Titans, who were actually pretty good), but they still managed to bring their stretch to 5 weeks in a row that they’ve made 5 or more line breaks in a game (equal 1st with Souths). Their offense is thriving, their defense is awesome (and, this week, it’ll need to be), and they’re back at home in Melbourne. All signs point to a Storm victory here.
Our tip: Storm
Dragons v Raiders
Offense VOA: Dragons 21.25% (3rd), Raiders 14.07% (5th)
Defense VOA: Dragons -24.19% (3rd), Raiders 6.80% (11th)
The Dragons shouldn’t be too upset by their loss to the Rabbitohs last week. For the most part, they were able to do what they wanted to do, they were just turned away by an exceptional defensive effort. So be it. If that’s the standard required to beat the Dragons, it’s a level very few teams are likely to reach.
That said, it’s interesting to note that of the Dragons’ 2 losses, neither were the result of the Dragons being starved of possession, as you’d typically expect to be required in order to beat the top teams (using the Storm as an example, in their 4 losses, they were allowed just 47, 49, 46 and 45 percent of the football in each of those outings). In fact, the Dragons dominated time in possession, earning 56% of the ball against the Rabbitohs, and a whopping 58% in their loss to the Warriors. We’re not suggesting that’s any reason for alarm, only that’s it’s unusual for anyone to lose with that much footy, let alone a team who are broadly considered to be the best in the competition (for comparison, the next 4 teams on the ladder – the Panthers, Warriors, Storm and Rabbitohs – are a combined 3/3 in outings with 56% of the ball or more; and the only teams to have lost this year with that much ball are Manly, Canterbury and North Queensland – the teams ranked 12th, 13th and 14th).
Which leads us to our point – perhaps if a team can successfully limit the Dragons’ time in possession, they might find it easier to beat them (that is, without having to turn in an inhuman level of defensive aptitude). It does seem as though it may be the case – although their high-flying offense averages 4.5 line breaks per game, that drops to just 2 in games where they’ve had 51% of possession or less. The main reason that none of those matches led to losses is that two of the teams involved feature below average offenses (Cronulla and Sydney), and the third (Souths) were held at bay by the Dragons’ forward pack. The Raiders, however, do have the offense to put a few points on the Dragons, if they can just get the lion’s share of possession.
But will they? Well, probably not. Through 10 games, the Raiders have won the possession count in just 3, which will likely leave this a fruitless exercise in wishful thinking. Canberra are notoriously ill-disciplined, conceding the 3rd most penalties this year (and typically at the most inopportune times, like late in the tackle count), and haven’t forced a repeat set in 4 weeks (the Dragons, meanwhile, rank equal 3rd in forced dropouts).
In summary, we completely expect the Dragons to get back on the winning track this weekend against Canberra. But just know that we do believe the Raiders have what it takes to win – they just need to tighten up their discipline
Our tip: Dragons
Sharks v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Sharks -23.08% (14th), Bulldogs -15.82% (12th)
Defense VOA: Sharks -28.26% (2nd), Bulldogs -1.75% (8th)
Say what you like about the Bulldogs, but they haven’t quit on Dean Pay.
Their season is slowly circling the toilet, and their salary cap situation has left them in a tight spot, with a squad filled to the brim with over-paid, under-talented players. But, each week those players turn up, and squeak out the most they can from what little ability they have, and some weeks – like last weekend, against Parramatta – that’s enough to earn a win. And it’s for that reason that we don’t see the Bulldogs winding up with the wooden spoon – they just put in too consistently to finish last. However, it’s likely to take more than a good effort to beat Cronulla. Mainly, because there’s not really any aspect of rugby league that the Bulldogs are actually better at than Cronulla.
Without meaning to be disparaging of the Bulldogs, but they’re a team who are essentially just a poor man’s Sharks. Their identity is clearly forged by their defense (but the Sharks are better at that, ranking 2nd vs 8th); their offense is limited but slowly improving (but the Sharks’ is already getting there, having scored 22 or more in 3 of their last 4 games – a mark the Bulldogs have hit just once all season); and they’ve both brought in a star half who’s so far failed to meet fans’ expectations (though expectations are clearly relative – Matt Moylan has almost triple as many line break assists as Keiran Foran, with 8 v 3).
We don’t want to rule the Bulldogs out (we did that when they played against the Broncos, and they very nearly pulled our pants down), but it’s just difficult to see exactly how the Bulldogs will win this game. They have very little attacking strike power, and what little they do have should be easily contained by a Sharks defense who’ve held their opponents to 3 or less line breaks in 7 of 10 matches this year (the Dogs will be doing well if they get more than 2). Realistically, their best hope is to tackle the Sharks into submission – something the Bulldogs can do (they have at least held their opponents to 12 points or less in 3 outings this year), but is probably not likely, against a Sharks offense that’s slowly gathering steam (after scoring just 8 tries in their opening 5 games, the Sharks have scored 18 in their next 5). And even then, they’d likely have to resort to an offense of kick-and-hope.
In short, we like the Bulldogs generally (in large part because we think they’re better than most pundits are giving them credit for), but do we like them this week? No. No, we do not.
Our tip: Sharks