2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 60/100 (60%)
Line Betting: 20/42 (48%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 14 Tips and Previews
Raiders v Panthers
Offense VOA: Raiders 17.44% (2nd), Panthers -1.50% (8th)
Defense VOA: Raiders 2.57% (11th), Panthers -6.97% (7th)
We were somewhat surprised this week to find that the Raiders have been installed as the bookmakers’ favourites for this clash. Not that we don’t rate Canberra – we’ve been among their most ardent supporters throughout their difficult first half of the season. However, even allowing for the fact that the Raiders have been playing better football than their ladder position indicates, it’s difficult to make a strong argument that they’ve been better than the ladder-leading Panthers. So, we can only assume that the support for the Raiders is due to the sizeable Panthers Origin contingent. On the surface, that makes perfect sense. However, we’re not sure that argument holds up in the face of closer scrutiny.
Starting with the obvious, Tyrone Peachey only played 7 minutes on Wednesday night, so should be feeling fresh as a daisy (in fact, he probably would’ve had to work harder if he were back on Mulgoa Road at the captain’s run). Then, we have the Panthers’ halves, James Maloney and Nathan Cleary. Given their position, we’re not especially concerned with fatigue – neither player is typically expected to make 30+ tackles or double-digit runs anyway (though neither player minds taking the line on). Our main concern here would be either player missing the game entirely. For piece of mind there we can look at a couple things – history, and the team list. In the past two years, from 5 possible opportunities to back up from Origin, Maloney backed up in 4 of them, so in the very least, we shouldn’t assume he’ll sit out (and for what it’s worth, the Panthers are claiming he’ll play). Secondly, looking at the cuts Penrith have made from their squad, it’s noteworthy that they’ve axed reserve half Jarome Luai from the squad – suggesting that at least one of the duo is certain to play (they’ve kept utility half Tyrone May – who you may remember as the guy who filled in for Matt Moylan as the Panthers ran into the 2nd week of last year’s finals).
Finally, the player most likely to suffer the effects of post-Origin fatigue is key middle Reagan Campbell-Gillard. We’d agree that it’s unlikely they get the same minutes they’re used to from the big guy (or the same quality, for that matter), however it’s worth mentioning that the Raiders will also have forward Josh Papalii looking to back up; and Papalii’s combined 38 runs and tackles are identical to Campbell-Gillard’s number. If we assume that fatigue affects both forwards equally, and that Peachey is virtually unaffected, it appears that the real question here should be: who would you rather – a fresh Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer, or a tired James Maloney and Nathan Cleary? Yeah, that’s what we thought, too.
Now that we’ve addressed the team situation, it’s hard to argue too strongly in favour of Canberra. The Raiders’ offense is certainly better than the Panthers’, however their defense has been consistently poor, while the Panthers’ has been typically decent, and lately, impenetrable (the Panthers haven’t conceded a try in their past 2 games combined).
We do think it’ll be competitive, and a vocal home crowd at GIO will surely benefit the Raiders (Penrith have conceded the 2nd most penalties this year). However, try as we might, we just can’t find the evidence to say that the Raiders are better than Penrith. We think they’re very good, yes. But better? It’s tight, but we’re not prepared to say that.
Our tip: Panthers
Titans v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Titans -32.71% (16th), Rabbitohs 56.30% (1st)
Defense VOA: Titans 61.28% (16th), Rabbitohs -14.27% (5th)
Wow. Just wow.
What the Rabbitohs did last week without a host of their best players – against a resurgent Sharks outfit, no less – was among the most impressive performances by any team this year. When we reflect on the first half of the season, a handful of gems spring immediately to mind: the Warriors’ phenomenal defensive effort with just 42% possession against the Dragons in Round 7; the Storm’s offensive annihilation of the Warriors a week later; and of course, the Panthers’ total domination of St George-Illawarra in Round 12. However, compared to games like these, what the Rabbitohs did last week particularly stands out, for not only the players they were missing, but the quality of their opponent.
Cronulla came into that match having won their last six in a row, and had gradually returned their forward pack to pretty well full strength. South Sydney, meanwhile, were missing all four of their primary attacking weapons (Greg Inglis, Damien Cook, Alex Johnston and Dane Gagai), in addition to back-rower Angus Crichton. And the Rabbitohs completely blew the Sharkies off the park.
The win, like most of the Rabbitohs’ successes in recent years, was built on the back of a superb display from their engine room. Together, the pigs laid the platform for the win, with the side gaining 1498m, the 3rd most any team has put on Cronulla this year. Almost half of those yards came from their starting forwards alone, with every single one of them gaining over 100m (by comparison, only Andrew Fifita and Paul Gallen hit that mark from the opposite pack). And if they can do that to Cronulla, we should probably start praying for the Titans.
The Titans have outgained their opponents in just 4 matches this year, and only once with less than 54% possession (a narrow, 48m victory in their Round 4 win over Brisbane). This is mainly thanks to a pathetically shallow forward pack – the Titans have at best three decent middle forwards (Jai Arrow, Jarrod Wallace, and – depending on what you think of him – Ryan James), and absolutely nothing behind them. While the only Rabbitohs’ forward averaging less than 9m per carry is edge forward Crichton, Jai Arrow is literally the only Titans forward to exceed that mark. Add in the egregious misuse of Kevin Proctor (how on earth does a player who was the main focus of the Storm’s attacking sets for so long, have just 2 line breaks in 11 matches, while averaging less than 1 tackle break per game?), and we have the makings of a forward pack that rarely goes anywhere, and then when they do, they’re guided by a half with no idea how to do anything besides kick it.
It remains to be seen how many Rabbitohs players back up from Origin, but after what their replacements did to Cronulla, we don’t particularly care one way or another. If South Sydney get in the mood, the Titans won’t even be in the contest.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Sea Eagles v Warriors
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 10.91% (4th), Warriors 2.98% (7th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles 7.87% (12th), Warriors 23.93% (15th)
Look, we were as disappointed as anyone in the Sea Eagles’ meek loss to North Queensland last weekend. They’d been looking noticeably better of late, and we expected them to be (a lot) more competitive. On reflection though, the loss is at least somewhat understandable, and we’re not quite ready to abandon all hope in Manly just yet.
On the surface, the loss looks like just another day with Manly conceding 20+ points in a game (their 8th such outing this year), but subjectively, their defense didn’t really look that bad. Yes, they let in 4 tries and as many line breaks, but when you consider how little ball they had (45%), and how long they spent camped on their own try-line, we’d argue that their defensive effort was actually pretty good. Rather the loss can be pinned on two things: their inability to stop the Cowboys’ forwards (and in particular, Jason Taumalolo), and their inability to generate anything on offense.
In theory, both of those areas should immediately improve with the return of the Trbojevic brothers from Origin; Jake (who’s easily the best middle defender in the team) and Tom (who, as we pointed out last week, accounts for the majority of Manly’s offense). If we were disappointed, it was only because they failed to construct a decent gameplan (that presumably would have involved directing heavy traffic at the Cowboys’ best forward, Taumalolo, in order to exhaust him and get him off the field – the Cowboys entered the match short a forward on the bench, and yet Taumalolo was forced to make just 27 tackles in 80 minutes), and the continuation of Daly Cherry-Evans’ 2018 vanishing act (though in his defense, it’s always hard for a half to impose himself on a match when his forwards are getting beaten as badly as they were last week).
So, if Manly’s offense does improve this week, what sort of outcome can we expect? It’s difficult to say, because the Warriors’ defensive numbers have been swinging wildly from week to week over the past two months. Yes, they’ve won just 3 of their last 7, but those include an excellent defensive display to beat the Dragons, and comprehensive wins over the Tigers and Eels. On the other hand, they’ve also lost 3 of those games by 20+, including giving up 50 points to Melbourne, and 32 to Sydney. With all due respect to the Storm and Roosters, the Sea Eagles offense – when on – is significantly better than either.
Our main concern is whether or not the Eagles will be able to control the field position sufficiently to get into positions to score. Compared to the Cowboys, New Zealand should give up a few more metres (their RMCVOA is 13th compared to the Cowboys’ 5th), however they’ve so far been excellent at controlling possession with tight discipline, and building pressure through their opposition’s mistakes. Manly’s handling has improved dramatically over their last 4 games (averaging just 7.5 errors per game, which would put them a clear 1st in the league), and they’ll need to maintain that standard if they’re going to find success here.
It’s tight, and we can’t believe we’re saying this after their humiliating defeat a week ago, but we think Manly can win here. Tom Trbojevic really is that good.
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Knights v Roosters
Offense VOA: Knights 17.02% (3rd), Roosters -3.19% (9th)
Defense VOA: Knights 19.37% (14th), Roosters -36.77% (1st)
We were genuinely stoked to see the Knights open up the throttle last weekend; they’ve been way too good this year to watch their season collapse back into wooden spoon territory. With their 6th win of the year, they’re thankfully well clear of that conversation, and with Mitchell Pearce not too far away, they’re arguably back into Top 8 consideration. In just a few weeks, they’ll get a whole string of also-rans, including the Bulldogs, Eels, Titans and Cowboys, one after the other. The only tiny, little hurdle before that though, is that they have to get past the Roosters and Storm first.
World’s dumbest football side or not, you have to admire the Roosters’ defense, and their ability to repeatedly shut down the Tigers was almost as incredible as their ability to repeatedly hand them attacking opportunities. Generally speaking, we’d argue that it’s near impossible to hand the Knights attacking field position and expect to keep them out, however the Roosters might be the exception.
Sydney have made it a habit this year to hand opposition teams cheap possession and field position, and they keep turning them away regardless. The Roosters have somehow managed to lose the possession count in 10 of 13 matches this season, however in those games, they average just 2.5 tries conceded per game. That’s more than impressive – it’s a minor miracle (for comparison, in the same situations, the Knights average 5.2).
So, we fancy that the Roosters can hold the Knights out if necessary, however Newcastle may be the one team in the league against whom Sydney can actually get an even share of possession. Though the Roosters’ discipline issues are common knowledge, the Knights’ inability to force repeat sets have had a similar effect on their own possession counts (they rank last in forced drop-outs, and have won 50% or more possession in just 3 games this year, the same as the Roosters). This is partly a reflection of their poor forward pack (it’s difficult to force a repeat set if you can’t get anywhere near your opponent’s line – hence the Knights have the 2nd lowest number of attacking kicks, total), but is mostly a bad look for their kicking game generally – the Knights have forced just 10 drop-outs all year; Cooper Cronk has made the same number on his own.
Though we were pleased with Newcastle’s effort last weekend, the Roosters are a very different beast to Parramatta. There’s always a risk with the Roosters that they could give up a wealth of possession and turn a comfortable win into a contest; however at this point, we have enough faith in the Roosters defense to back them anyway.
Our tip: Roosters
Eels v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Eels -26.21% (15th), Cowboys -18.50% (14th)
Defense VOA: Eels 14.93% (13th), Cowboys 1.55% (9th)
Though slamming the Eels has become something of a popular sport among NRL commentators this week (and fair enough; it’s something of a past-time here at The Obstruction Rule, as well), we should probably take a moment to put their embarrassing capitulation into perspective.
Remember, the Eels chose to drop five-eighth Corey Norman prior to the game due to disciplinary issues (otherwise known as “that one good attacking player they’ve got”), and then lost fullback Bevan French and halfback Mitch Moses early in the game to injuries. For a team who were already among the league’s worst on offense, these losses were always going to be insurmountable, and their inability to generate much of anything – even against a defensive straggler like Newcastle – is at least somewhat understandable.
Rather, what bothered us was seeing their middles get soundly beaten by the worst forward pack in the competition. Here was a Knights group who hadn’t outgained anyone in 12 weeks of competition, muscling up to Parramatta and dominating field position. And if there’s one team in the league who know how to convert a limited amount of field position into points, it’s Newcastle; giving them the lion’s share of it was just inviting them to score points, and they obliged, comfortably trotting in 30 of them.
In contrast, the Cowboys’ weekend couldn’t have gone any more differently. Despite missing a decent-sized chunk of their pack to Origin, the Cowboys middles completely blew Manly off the park, largely on the pack of an unbelievable 80 minute effort from Jason Taumalolo. We hope that anyone defending Aaron Woods’ pathetic per carry numbers on the grounds of his high workload was watching last Thursday night, as Taumalolo took the game by the balls, running for 264m at over 10 yards per clip. Yes, the Sea Eagles should have done a better job at wearing him out in defense (as previously mentioned, he was only forced to make 27 tackles in 80 minutes, presumably because he’s far too terrifying for the Sea Eagles to run at), but regardless, those numbers are superhuman. If Taumalolo had been born 2000 years earlier, there’d be entire religions devoted to him; though we can’t be sure that he’s definitely a deity, we’re erring on the side of caution and praying to Jason Taumalolo before bed (we imagine Paul Green does likewise).
Now, the Cowboys are getting a few troops back, and are getting a shot at a pack that just got demolished by Newcastle? Offensively, we do think the Eels should be better than they were last week, but regardless, this looks like a no-brainer.
Our tip: Cowboys
Sharks v Tigers
Offense VOA: Sharks -11.13% (12th), Tigers -15.52% (13th)
Defense VOA: Sharks -20.27% (3rd), Tigers -1.41% (8th)
Sunday afternoon will see a clash between two sides coming off disappointing losses to under-strength opponents.
For the Sharks, they were comprehensively dominated in the middle of the park – though the scoreline ultimately looked competitive, it wasn’t; they were totally outplayed from start to finish. The Sharks inability to slow down the Rabbitohs’ middles was jarring to watch, and admittedly made us feel a little nervous about them going forward. This is a Cronulla defense who’ve been known for their line speed over the past couple of years, and last week they just looked flat and caught on their heels for extended periods. We can excuse their clunky offense (we lost count of how many attacking plays died with Edrick Lee, who will thankfully be back on his wing this week), however if the Sharks aren’t winning the battle between the 20s, they look like a totally different football team.
As for the Tigers, they just kept on doing Tiger things. They almost managed to fluke their way to another win, but ultimately, their complete inability to do anything resembling competent football was once again their undoing. For the 3rd time this year, they were held to just 1 line break; but disturbingly, that happened despite them enjoying 53% of the ball. The Roosters’ defense is fantastic (we have them ranked 1st in the league), however, that’s still embarrassing – particularly given the number of players missing from Sydney due to Origin.
It won’t get much easier this week either, with a trip down to Cronulla on the agenda. There, they’ll be running into a defense who’ve held their opponents to 1 or less line break in 4 games this year – 1st in the league. Though the Sharks just got shredded by the Rabbitohs, this is a much softer matchup (South Sydney rank 1st in LBVOA, the Tigers 14th). So, once again, the Tigers are likely to have to rely on their own defense to turn this into a contest.
We’re not prepared to rule that out as a possibility, but we have enough belief in the Sharks’ offense to take Cronulla here. Though they’ve certainly looked clunky on occasion, the Sharks had actually strung together a bunch of decent attacking performances prior to last weekend, scoring 20+ in their previous 4 games in a row. With how the Tigers look in attack, that’d be more than enough points to see them home.
Our tip: Sharks
Storm v Broncos
Offense VOA: Storm -5.46% (10th), Broncos 9.68% (6th)
Defense VOA: Storm -27.33% (2nd), Broncos -8.69% (6th)
We’re still trying to figure out what to make of the 2018 Storm.
Some days (like their 50-10 Round 8 demolition of New Zealand) they look like the Melbourne Storm of yesteryear; on others (like their woeful 24-4 loss to Manly), they look like Parramatta. They average 12.17 errors per game (2nd only to the Roosters), which puts their defense under enormous pressure, but more importantly, limits their own opportunities to score points. The problem with predicting the Storm’s performances though, is that their crappy handling isn’t consistent. Although they average a little over 12 errors per outing, they’ve only actually been within +/- 1 error of 12 in 4 games. In their other 8, they’ve been either noticeably better (in 3 games they’ve been as low as 9), or shockingly worse (in 4 games, they’ve made 15 or more). And, as you’d expect, the results then become distinctly different.
Compare the pair:
- When Melbourne make 10 errors or less in a game, they average a 52% possession share, and are scoring a ridiculous 6.25 tries and 38 points per game.
- When Melbourne make 12 or more errors per game, they average a 46% possession share, and cross for just 1.5 tries per game (and only 11.7 points).
The difference is night and day. The frustration for prognosticators such as ourselves, though, is trying to guess which weeks they’re going to take flight, and in which weeks they’ll lay an egg.
To that end, we think it may be handy to look at the statistic for ‘average opposition errors’ – in the Storm’s 6 games with 12 or more errors, 4 came against teams who rank in the Top 4 for average opposition errors (the Tigers – twice – Dragons and Sharks). And where do the Broncos rank on that list? 13th.
So, as best as we can, we’re going to roll the dice on a decent Melbourne performance this week, led by a fresh Cameron Smith. It’d help if a few of the Broncos’ Origin contingent miss out as well (Brisbane have been known to rest their stars post-Origin), but regardless, when the Storm are at their best, they’re easily better than Brisbane. The question is whether or not you trust them to be at their best.
Our tip: Storm
Bulldogs v Dragons
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -10.27% (11th), Dragons 10.16% (5th)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs 2.06% (10th), Dragons -17.85% (4th)
Monday Night Football is back! (Though, unfortunately not at the expense of the unbelievably stupid 6pm Friday timeslot. Humph.)
Obviously, the Dragons are raging hot favourites (and rightly so), however we actually don’t think the Bulldogs are without a shot here.
After a flawless opening to the season, the Dragons have slowly begun to regress a bit of late, on both sides of the ball. After scoring 5 or more tries in 3 of their first 4 matches of the season, they’ve now scored just 5 tries in their last 3 games – combined. To make matters worse, in 2 of those games, they enjoyed a lop-sided 56% possession advantage. All of a sudden, their offense is looking a little bit stale. In part, this is likely due to their opponents – we’ve long hypothesised that the Dragons don’t much fancy running into big, aggressive forward packs, given their own forward-dominated game plan – and the Rabbitohs, Raiders and Panthers are among the biggest going around (indeed, they got completely monstered by Penrith, getting outgained by over 400m, and failed to score a single try). This is mixed news for this particular matchup – although the Bulldogs forwards have been generally mediocre in 2018, they have actually turned up on occasion, and those occasions have been against some of the better packs in the competition (including outmuscling the Panthers in Round 3, the Cowboys in Round 6, and the Sharks in Round 11). Though strong performances by the Bulldogs’ middles have been few and far between, it’s not beyond the scope of their abilities to stand up to St George-Illawarra here, particularly with half the Dragons’ starting pack backing up on a 5-day turnaround.
And defensively, the Dragons have begun to slide as well. In the competition’s opening 5 rounds, the Dragons never conceded 3 or more tries; since then, they’ve hit that mark in 6 of their past 7 matches. Part of that is a natural regression that’s to be expected (it’s nearly impossible to maintain such a high level for a prolonged period), however, a good chunk of it is due to the scarily high number of line breaks they’ve been conceding since then. During those opening 5 rounds, the Dragons averaged just 2.2 line breaks conceded per game; from that point on, that number has more than doubled to 4.6, and has given them a LBCVOA since Round 6 of 14.62% – 3rd last in the competition. Again, this should give the Bulldogs some reason for hope. Though Canterbury have notoriously struggled to score points, if the Dragons continue to leak opportunities at their current pace, it’s conceivable that even Canterbury could stumble their way in for a few tries – and then we’d have ourselves a ball game.
Of course, we’re not prepared to actually back the Bulldogs head-to-head – even at their worst, the Dragons’ offense is the equal of the Bulldogs’ typical effort. We’re just putting it out there that this has the potential to be a better game than most are expecting.
Our tip: Dragons