2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 59/96 (61%)
Line Betting: 19/40 (48%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 13 Tips and Previews
Sea Eagles v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 10.93% (4th), Cowboys -22.02% (14th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles 5.93% (12th), Cowboys 3.37% (11th)
We hate Origin rounds.
Ordinarily, this match would be a relatively straightforward one to tip, with the Cowboys unlikely to be able to keep pace with the Eagles’ scoring. This week, though? Things get a little bit complicated.
Thanks to Origin, the Sea Eagles will come into this match without their two best players, Tom and Jake Trbojevic. Tom will be replaced at fullback by Matthew Wright, while Frank Winterstein joins the starting side in the second row, with Shaun Lane replacing Jake. Needless to say, those are both significant downgrades for the Sea Eagles, who are a side who were already struggling badly with a lack of depth. The loss of Tom Trbojevic in paticular terrifies us, as he’s been central to everything the Sea Eagles have done this year on offense. Incredibly, Trbojevic doesn’t just lead his team in try assists and line break assists, he has almost double the tally of try assists (11) as the next best on his team (Daly Cherry-Evans, with 6) and more than triple the next best in line break assists (14, compared to Cherry-Evans’ 4). Add in the fact that he leads Manly in virtually every significant offensive statistic (line breaks, tackle breaks, try involvements), and we’re painting the picture of a player who’s absolutely invaluable to his side. Advantage Cowboys.
But on the other hand, North Queensland haven’t gotten off lightly, either. They lose Michael Morgan, Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess to Origin duty, as well as Matt Scott to suspension. Morgan will be replaced at the back by the superior Lachlan Coote (to be clear, we’re not saying that Cootey is a better footballer than Morgan, but rather that he’s a better fullback, and a better fit for the side there), while the new-look pack features the additions of Shaun Fensom and… Ben Hampton at prop (Ben HAMPTON?!? Yes, Ben Hampton). Add in the fact that Scott Bolton hasn’t trained all week with a rib issue, and it’s at least possible that the Cowboys could be trotting out a team with only two specialist props (Sam Hoare and Francis Molo), and at best five middles (adding lock forwards Jason Taumalolo, Corey Jensen, and the under-sized Shaun Fensom). We don’t particularly rate the Sea Eagles’ forward pack (in fact, we often go into great detail about how crap they are), but taking away the one aspect of the game in which the Cowboys should have the advantage (the forward battle) doesn’t fill us with confidence. Advantage Sea Eagles.
So, what are the heck are we to do? Neither team bears much similarity to it’s usual make-up, and for that matter, neither side has typically been particularly good, either. Manly come in in slightly better form (though neither side is excellent defensively; on offense at least, the Sea Eagles’ 13 tries over their past 3 games is significantly better than the Cowboys’ 5), but the question hinges on how badly each team will be affected. We mentioned how important Tom Trbojevic has been to the Sea Eagles this year; however it’s worth noting that historically, Manly have done surprisingly well at covering for him in the matches he’s missed so far in his career. Without him in Round 5 this year, they lost to the Titans, but were still able to put up 20 points in his absence. In two games without him in 2017, they won both, scoring 30 and 21 (against the Titans again, and the Raiders). Admittedly, none of those teams had particularly strong defenses, but then again, neither do the 2018 Cowboys (they rank just 11th in Defense VOA).
We say it without much conviction, but if you consider the Sea Eagles better in the first place (as we do), then there’s probably insufficient evidence to suggest that the team changes benefit the Cowboys enough to back them here.
Did we mention we hate Origin weeks?
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Rabbitohs v Sharks
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs 53.99% (1st), Sharks -10.64% (12th)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs -12.76% (5th), Sharks -19.35% (3rd)
Here we have another potential bottler of a game being ruined by Origin unavailabilities. In this instance though, it seems reasonably clear which team will be most affected by forced team changes.
While the Sharks have lost just the one player to Origin (Valentine Holmes – a winger, no less), the Rabbitohs squad has been pillaged by State of Origin, losing both their first choice centres, Greg Inglis (who’s been filling at fullback for the also unavailable Alex Johnston) and Dane Gagai, plus hooker Damien Cook, and edge forward Angus Crichton. Utility Adam Douehi shifts to fullback, with Braidon Burns and Hymel Hunt the new centre pairing (though Burns and Hunt aren’t bad footballers, that’s a significant downgrade). Sam Burgess shifts to edge forward, with the capable Cameron Murray starting at lock, and Cook will be replaced by the universally-adored Robbie Farah (he is universally adored, right?).
In general, we’d argue that the Rabbitohs are as well placed as any team in the competition to “do a Penrith” – that is, lose half their squad, yet somehow find a way to keep winning football games. However, it’s tough to back them here for two main reasons.
Firstly, of all the players to lose, replacing Damien Cook will be particularly difficult. In general, we’d rather see spine players be replaced with players who are ‘like-for-like’ – that is, players who are stylistically similar to the regular starter. Cook is a run-first hooker, whose 62 dummy-half runs in 2018 lead all hookers in the NRL. Farah is more of a ball-player, similar to Cameron Smith (if Smith had less talent, and only played on losing teams). Though Farah is certainly an NRL-standard hooker (or was; we haven’t seen him since last year, and he’s now 34 years old), it’s unlikely that he’ll slot straight in without altering the red-hot offense that the Rabbitohs have developed this year.
Secondly (and perhaps most importantly), the Rabbitohs are playing the Sharks – a team who have been building nicely over the last two months, and have the luxury of trotting out a side this week that’s arguably the strongest they’ve named in weeks (despite the loss of Holmes, the Sharks are able to replace him with premiership-winning winger Sosaia Feki, while adding Andrew Fifita to last week’s side). Yes, Holmes is a stud, but changing wingers is a lot smoother than changing hookers, and if the Rabbitohs’ offense sputters at all, they might struggle to keep pace with the suddenly effective Sharks offense.
This would be a barn-burner without State of Origin ruining it, and considering the good efforts the Rabbitohs have put in of late, we’re still expecting them to put in a good show here. But with a squad decimated by representative footy, we just can’t back the Rabbitohs.
Our tip: Sharks
Eels v Knights
Offense VOA: Eels -25.16% (15th), Knights 13.71% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Eels 9.11% (13th), Knights 21.59% (14th)
We’ll give the NRL credit – they got something right with the scheduling, slotting in two teams unaffected by Origin for the prime-time, Saturday night time-slot. That said, their best players then took it upon themselves to miss this clash, with Corey Norman getting dropped for Parramatta due to disciplinary issues, and the Knights have lost Herman Ese’Ese (aka Newcastle’s only decent forward) due to suspension, and White Lightning to a groin injury.
Neither team comes into this clash in good form, with both sides mired in four-game losing streaks. Parramatta have had their moments, getting into winnable positions in all of those matches, with the possible exception of last week’s loss to Brisbane (though they were never out of touch there, either). They missed a conversion to send the Sharks game into extra time, scored the same number of tries as the Bulldogs, and were beating the Warriors with 15 to go. They seem incapable of actually winning a game, but they have at least been competitive. The same can’t necessarily be said of the Knights, whose own losing streak is mainly compiled of comprehensive losses, with their 48-10 drubbing at the hands of Cronulla last week providing an exclamation point on the end of a disappointing month. The most competitive of those losses was undoubtedly their tussle with the Titans – a 7-point loss, and a match that may provide the blueprint for how this week’s game is likely to pan out.
The Eels present similarly to the Titans – a team who are generally bad at most things, with a fruitless offense, and a soft defense. In contrast, the Knights are good at something – attacking football, particularly in the red zone. It’s for that reason that two weeks ago we (mistakenly) backed Newcastle. However, what transpired that afternoon is stopping us from latching onto the Knights a second time.
That day, the Kalyn Ponga-inspired Knights were able to shred the Gold Coast defense for an impressive 7 line breaks; however, they had so little field position, that despite that attacking superiority, they were only able to convert those opportunities into 4 tries. Meanwhile, the Titans were able to camp down the Knights end, and eventually turn possession and field position into points. The main difference that day (and what we suspect we’ll see on Saturday night) was that the Knights’ pack was so comprehensively out-muscled that the Knights were barely able to get out of their own end. They were outgained by over 200m, in large part because Herman Ese’Ese and Daniel Saifiti were the only Newcastle forwards to gain over 70m (in contrast, 4 of the Titans’ starting forwards hit that mark, with Jai Arrow and Jarrod Wallace both exceeding 130). Remember – that was against a Titans pack who rank last in RMVOA, and who’ve been outgained in 8 of their 12 matches so far. The Eels’ pack is much closer to the league average, and may get forward Nathan Brown back for this clash.
And that’s why we’re taking Parramatta. We don’t think they’re particularly good, and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if Ponga is able to rip apart the Eels’ line, as he does most teams. But line breaks are more valuable the closer you are to your opponent’s tryline, and we’re not even confident the Knights will see the other side of halfway.
Our tip: Eels
Roosters v Tigers
Offense VOA: Roosters -0.03% (8th), Tigers -9.45% (11th)
Defense VOA: Roosters -32.87% (1st), Tigers -1.34% (8th)
Finally, we get to the Sunday afternoon battle between the under-strength Roosters, and a Tigers team who just refuse to drop out of the 8.
We should preface this preview by declaring one thing – at full-strength, we have the Roosters as about 10-12 points better than the Tigers. Yes, Wests were able to sneak home to a 2-point win back in Round 1, but as we’ve pointed out many times since then, that came largely courtesy of 12 Roosters errors, 9 penalties conceded (the Tigers made 6 and 6, respectively), and a resulting 54-46 possession advantage to Wests. Oh, and the Roosters’ offense was terrible for the competition’s opening two months.
All of that said, the Roosters aren’t at full strength here; in fact, they’re nowhere near it. They’ve lost their fullback, James Tedesco, centre Latrell Mitchell, and forwards Dylan Napa and Boyd Cordner to Origin duty. In their places, we get Blake Ferguson to fullback, Joseph Manu to centre, with our man-crush Victor Radley, and Ryan Matterson coming into the starting pack. That’s a lot of changes, but we’re not sure if we’re ready to call them as “12 points worth of changes”.
As we mentioned in the Rabbitohs’ preview, we like spine players to be replaced ‘like-for-like’, and in that respect, replacing a running fullback like Tedesco with a runner like Ferguson, should actually be a relatively smooth transition (yes, we acknowledge that Ferguson is a walking handling error, but his 15 errors on the season are actually less than Tedesco’s 21, despite having only 9 more touches of the football). Indeed, this re-shuffle borrows directly from the successful Penrith model, that moved powerful winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to fullback to cover for Tedesco-clone Dylan Edwards – a move that’s been a minor revelation for Penrith (we’re not suggesting that Ferguson is necessarily a good fullback – his teams have won just 4 of 11 matches with him playing there; rather what we’re after is a minimal disruption to the team’s attacking style, and we do believe he can deliver that).
Moving through the team, Mitchell is replaced by Manu in the centres, with Manu’s wing spot to be filled by the returning Daniel Tupou. Again, they lose a bit, but it’s probably no more than a try’s worth of production (Mitchell has 10 try involvements on the year, but is also a known defensive liability, so you’re not likely losing anything at all on that side of the ball). Finally, we get to the forwards, where the Roosters should have ample cover for Napa and Cordner. The Roosters’ middle forward rotation remains world-class with or without Napa (all three of their starting middles have represented New Zealand, while Zane Tetevano and Frank-Paul Nuuausala are hiding on the bench), and Radley is an absolute weapon that we’d pick in any forward pack, at any position, on any day of the week (and not just because when he hits people, it makes us feel things).
So, adding that all up, we admit that it’s very close, but we’re not sure that all of those losses make up the 12 points that they need to for us to jump ship to the Tigers. As it is, this looks really line-ball to us, and we’re desperately searching for something to tip us one way or the other. As it turns out, the Tigers have done that for us, with Jacob Liddle being left out for Elijah Taylor. We’d rather either Josh Reynolds or Peta Godinet at hooker than Taylor (and with three days until kick-off, they very well might use one or both there), but regardless, the loss of Liddle is a significant blow to the Tigers. Besides giving infinitely better service than Taylor, Liddle provides a running game that they simply don’t get from any of their other dummy-half options. Though Liddle has featured in just 8 matches (and only started in 3), he has more dummy-half runs than every other Tigers hooker combined (27), and he does it productively, making over 10m per carry, with 6 tackle busts and 3 offloads. Losing Liddle will reduce the Tigers’ threat in the middle of the field, and in turn, make it easier for the Roosters to cover the edges, where the change in personnel has the potential to lead to some defensive lapses.
So, despite them losing a handful of representative stars, we’re sticking with the experience of Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary to guide the Roosters home in a close one.
Our tip: Roosters