2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66/108 (61%)
Line Betting: 20/45 (44%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 15 Tips and Previews
Eels v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Eels -26.66% (15th), Rabbitohs 48.56% (1st)
Defense VOA: Eels 16.50% (13th), Rabbitohs -12.36% (5th)
For the first time in six weeks, the Eels have won a game – and once again, it’s led to questions like: “Is Jarryd Hayne back to his best?”, and “Have the Eels finally put it together?”. In short, no.
Quite simply, last weekend’s Eels/Cowboys clash was the worst game of football we’ve seen this year, for which the blame can’t be placed on the referee (although admittedly, the refereeing was pretty ordinary as well). In just 80 minutes of football, the Eels and Cowboys combined for (wait for it) 37 errors, in one of the most disturbingly bad displays of rugby league you could possibly sit through (after accounting for the fact that the ball was only in play for 53 minutes 41 seconds, that equates to an error every 87 seconds. To be honest, it felt even worse).
And when the ball was actually in play? They were shithouse. Though they managed to jag 4 tries, they mustered just 2 line breaks (their 4th week in a row in which they’ve made 3 or less), while getting gashed for 6 line breaks, and 1460 metres (quite remarkable, considering that the Cowboys only completed 25 sets). Oh, and remember – those defensive numbers were against the offense ranked 4th last in the NRL.
The Rabbitohs, meanwhile, were arguably just as ordinary last week, but somehow manage to keep putting up numbers, even when they’re not playing well. The Bunnies made a disgraceful 18 errors themselves; but unlike the Eels, South Sydney were still able to hold their line against one of the league’s offensive cellar-dwellers. Despite having just 46% of the football, the Rabbitohs still limited the Titans to just 2 line breaks, missed just 13 tackles, and conceded over 200m less than Parramatta did. And, perhaps most importantly, that was easily the worst game Souths have played since Round 1; whereas the Eels serve up this shit every week.
So no, we don’t think the Eels have turned a corner, and we don’t think they’re going to beat the Rabbitohs. In fact, we’d say that there’s a good chance they’re going to get flogged.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Cowboys v Warriors
Offense VOA: Cowboys -16.82% (13th), Warriors 9.95% (6th)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 2.01% (10th), Warriors 17.97% (15th)
The other half of that Eels/Cows stinker we were just criticising were North Queensland, and they’ll feature here against the unpredictable Warriors – although on this particular occasion, we’re holding out some hope for a bounceback.
The reason for our optimism is the aforementioned level of production we saw from the Cowboys (when they weren’t dropping the ball). Given that the Cowboys’ 23 errors (not a typo) last week was a distant season-high for the entire league (in fact, no other team has even made 20 in a game), it’s fair to assume that there’s absolutely no way that the Cowboys will play as badly this week as they did against the Eels. They simply must improve in that particular area, if only because it’s virtually impossible to be any worse. And outside their sloppy handling, they actually weren’t that bad.
Their 6 line breaks marked the 2nd consecutive week of improvement in that regard, and their 1460m gave them over 3000m in a fortnight for the first time this year. There are signs here that the Cowboys’ offense might actually be starting to put it together. Of course, we have to acknowledge that these numbers have come against the defenses ranked 12th and 13th, however that’s actually reason for hope here – the Warriors rank 2nd last.
So, if we believe that the Cowboys are a good shot to put a few points on the Warriors, the main question becomes whether or not they can keep New Zealand out. With the Warriors coming into this game after putting 34 points on the Sea Eagles, your immediate reaction might be “no”. However, unlike the Cowboys, we’re a bit more pessimistic about the Warriors’ attack.
Yes, they smoked Manly, but everyone’s had a turn at that; indeed, even the Cowboys themselves put 26 on them just a week earlier – and that was without half their team. If we look at their offensive performances outside that, they’re a lot less promising – 3 times in their prior 5 games they were held to 10 points or less, while only hitting 20 against the Eels and Tigers (both of whom are worse defenses than the Cowboys). Further, those points against Parramatta look a bit fluky – they only made 3 line breaks in that particular outing, broke only 16 tackles, and ran for under 1250 metres (all numbers that the Cowboys smashed through against the same opponent last week, despite making 15 more errors).
Throw in the returns of Michael Morgan, Scott Bolton and Javid Bowen, in addition to a long away trip to North Queensland for the Warriors, and we fancy that the Cowboys can actually jag this one.
Our tip: Cowboys
Roosters v Panthers
Offense VOA: Roosters -4.15% (10th), Panthers -1.54% (8th)
Defense VOA: Roosters -39.14% (1st), Panthers -8.96% (6th)
Obviously the game of the round, and deservedly scheduled as such – in prime-time, on free-to-air, on Friday Night Footy. After rugby league fans were subjected to the Titans and Rabbitohs last week, they get rewarded in Round 15 in a big way.
As is so often the case for the Roosters, this match is likely to be decided by Sydney’s discipline, and their ability to earn enough of the football to beat the Panthers. Penrith continue to be a picture of consistency (the Raiders being just their latest victims), and while the Roosters erratically swing between “hot” and “hot garbage” – often multiple times over the course of a single game – we’d actually argue that in a vacuum, the Roosters are possibly the better football team (though in a vacuum, the Roosters would be significantly less likely to drop the ball). As good as Penrith’s improved defense is, it’s still a long way behind the standard of the Roosters’; and while Penrith are certainly the better attacking team, it remains to be seen how that attack might fare against an elite defense such as the Roosters’. Yes, the Panthers have rolled along comfortably against every top defense they’ve faced this year (they’ve scored 3 or more tries in every such game, putting 18 points on the Rabbitohs, 22 on Cronulla, and 28 on the Dragons), it’s worth noting that none of those defenses are as good Sydney’s, and on each occasion, Penrith benefited from a lop-sided possession count (the Panthers enjoyed 53%, 54% and 55% of the football in each game, respectively). If Penrith get that much ball again here, they’re a reasonably safe bet to win.
But are the Panthers a sure thing to dominate the possession? Look, it’s probably more likely than not, but we wouldn’t call it a certainty. The Panthers have won the possession count in a ridiculous 11 of their 13 matches this year (including their last 8 games in a row), compared to the Roosters’ 2. This is due to a variety of factors, however the largest is easily Penrith’s flawless ball handling – they’ve made the least errors of any team this year, while the Roosters have made the 2nd most. The Panthers average almost 3 less errors per game than the Roosters, and while Sydney were putting in their most disciplined effort of the year last weekend against the Knights (7 errors) , Penrith still made less (6).
However, errors aren’t the only part of the equation. The ability to force repeat sets certainly helps, and in that regard, the Roosters perform marginally better (1.5 v 1.15 per game); and likewise, the Roosters actually concede less penalties, as well. Indeed, the Panthers’ 10.23 penalties condeded per game is the worst in the competition, and in away games (such as this one), that jumps to 11.1.
Ultimately though, the biggest factor here is likely to be the Roosters’ handling. The reason being that poor handling by Sydney will not only gift the Panthers possession, but also field position – and with the level of dominance we’ve been seeing from the Panthers’ pack, if Penrith are able to camp down the Roosters’ end, Sydney may find themselves stuck down there for long slabs of play at a time (and that’s only if they don’t concede points). The Panthers are the physical match of just about everyone they’ve come across (only the Cowboys have outgained Penrith by over 100m all season), and their blisteringly fast line speed has a habit of trapping teams down their own end (Penrith rank 2nd in RMCVOA), where teams eventually crack under pressure.
The Roosters can’t allow that to happen, and if they can just keep their cool, we think they could be a big chance to win here. However, we’re never prepared to pin our hopes on the Roosters’ ability to hold the ball.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Even if you’re not interested in either team, this game is worth watching if only to see opposing young forwards Jack Hetherington and Victor Radley – two of the most violent young hitters that the casual fan hasn’t heard of. Add in the presence of other noted defensive weapons Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Dylan Napa and Dean Whare in the same game, and since Mark McGaw retired, this is as close as you could legally get to modern-day gladiators, and will be worth the price of admission alone. Somebody might actually die (or at least be very badly hurt).
Our tip: Panthers
Bulldogs v Titans
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -6.91% (12th), Titans -34.74% (16th)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs -1.63% (8th), Titans 53.02% (16th)
Things are getting dire for the Bulldogs, who’ve now won just 1 out of their last 7, and find themselves just a single win ahead of Parramatta. Of course, things aren’t much going much better for the Titans – if they lose this week, the Bulldogs will jump them on the ladder, leaving them square in the firing line. Which makes this game at least vaguely interesting, even if it’s not likely to reach any great heights.
We’ve said it before, but the Bulldogs may be the most consistent team in the competition (consistently mediocre, yes; but consistent, nonetheless). Through 13 matches, they’ve scored either 2 or 3 tries in all but 3 of those; while their defense has conceded 3 tries or less in all but 5. So… how the heck are they losing so much?
Well, on a couple of occasions, (like last week, against the Dragons), they were brought unstuck by goalkicking, despite scoring the same number of tries. But mostly, that “or less” modifier keeps biting them in the backside – when the Bulldogs score 3, those are the weeks that they concede 4; when they keep teams to 3 tries, those are the weeks they score 2. Generally speaking, they’re not that bad; they’re just not that good, either.
So, if the Bulldogs are to have any success, they need to either start scoring more than 3 (possible), or start conceding less than 3 (or else, pray for goalkicking mercy from the rugby league gods). Conveniently, a home game at Belmore against the might of the Gold Coast should be just what the doctor ordered, on both counts.
In the Titans, the Bulldogs are facing a team who’ve been held to less than 3 tries in a game in 7 of their 13 matches so far, thanks largely to their dependence on scoring tries from kicks (the Titans rank last in LBVOA). Likewise, the Titans have conceded more than 3 tries in 9 matches so far, including 4 of their last 5. If any team are going to facilitate an increase in production for their opponents, it’s the Titans.
Which doesn’t make it a certainty, but it’s at least a possibility. The losses of Jarrod Wallace and Max King leave the Titans’ pack even lighter than it already was, while the Bulldogs forwards turned up strongly against the powerful Dragons pack. If the Bulldogs can win up the middle, we think they’re a chance to blow the doors open and finally score 4 tries. Otherwise, the wooden spoon will be getting uncomfortably close.
Our tip: Bulldogs
Dragons v Sea Eagles
Offense VOA: Dragons 10.34% (5th), Sea Eagles 6.10% (7th)
Defense VOA: Dragons -16.31% (4th), Sea Eagles 14.39% (12th)
We warned you last week that the Dragons have been trending down, and they certainly made beating the Bulldogs look difficult (or, at least more difficult than most teams make it look). That said, they still won. And the Bulldogs have been in much better touch than Manly.
For the second week in a row, the Sea Eagles turned in a bizarre gameplan that played at least some part in their undoing. Against the Cowboys, the Sea Eagles opted to direct all their traffic away from North Queensland’s best forward (Jason Taumalolo) – and were punished accordingly, with a fresh Taumalolo running wild for 264 metres, without requiring a rest. Then last weekend against the Warriors, the Sea Eagles seemed to leave their only world-class attacking player (Tom Trbojevic) completely out of the gameplan; a gameplan which perplexingly seemed to revolve around kicking the ball into touch at every opportunity – including in the opposition redzone.
The lack of involvement from Trbojevic was presumably fatigue-related, with the fullback backing up three days after State of Origin. Regardless, a tired Tom Trbojevic remains hands-down the Sea Eagles’ best attacking option, and he needs to be involved at least once in every attacking set, at the very least. Trbojevic has been involved in 24 of his side’s 63 line breaks this year (38%), well more than double the next most involved (Brian Kelly, with 11). So, it should come as no surprise that Manly’s offense functions better the more that Trbojevic is involved.
Against the Warriors, Trbojevic had just 30 receipts of the football – his 3rd least of the year. So far this season, there have been 6 matches in which Trbojevic has touched the ball 31 times or less (including the 2 matches he didn’t play). In those matches, Manly have scored more than 14 points just twice – a 38 point effort against Brisbane, and putting 20 on the useless Titans. Their average score in such matches is just 16. Compare that to how they travel when Trbojevic touches the ball more – in the 5 games where he has 35 or more receipts of the footy, Manly have only scored less than 18 points once (their 12 point stinker against Newcastle), and their average score leaps by almost 2 converted tries to 27. We realise that at some point, forcing the ball into Tommy Turbo’s hands will have diminishing returns, however 30 touches is nowhere near that point.
This week, we’re reasonably confident that Trbojevic will get more touches (surely!), however the Sea Eagles now have new problems to worry about. The loss of Api Koroisau obviously hurts (he’s arguably their best attacking player outside Trbojevic), and is likely to be compounded by reports that the NRL have knocked back the intended debut of reserve hooker Manase Fainu – meaning they’ll be forced to trot out either Lewis Brown at hooker for the foreseeable future (bad), or Matthew Wright (worse). Either way, it looks ugly for Manly.
The Sea Eagles can take some hope from the recent dip in form from St George-Illawarra, however it’s worth noting that the Dragons have been facing a run of decent forward packs over the last month (and we’re including the Bulldogs there who, as expected, gave a good account of themselves last week). The Dragons offense typically clicks into gear when their middles have the chance to get a roll-on over the top of a weak opposition forward pack – and the Sea Eagles’ forwards are arguably the poster children for ‘weak opposition forward packs’.
We’ll keep a glimmer of hope for any team with Tom Trbojevic in it, but as a matchup, this doesn’t look great for the Eagles.
Our tip: Dragons
Sharks v Broncos
Offense VOA: Sharks -5.03% (11th), Broncos 12.99% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Sharks -21.91% (3rd), Broncos -2.84% (7th)
There mightn’t be two sides in the competition who are doing as well as the Sharks and Broncos, yet looking as unconvincing.
In some respects, it could be argued that both sides are victims of perception, caused by slow starts to the year. The Sharks didn’t score more than 16 points in a game until Round 6; while the Broncos scored 2 tries or less in 4 of their first 5. Since then though, they both seem to be warming into it – the Sharks have scored 20 or more points in 7 of their last 9, and the Broncos have done the same in 6. So what’s the problem?
In the case of the Sharks, it could be that they’re looking a bit like flat-track bullies. Yes, they’ve been steadily racking up points, but it’s worth noting that since they started winning in Round 7, the only Top 8 defenses they beat were Penrith and Canterbury; the rest were defensive bottom-feeders. Further, they’ve only played 1 Top 5 defense in that time – and they were held to 14 in a loss to the Rabbitohs.
Which isn’t to say that the Sharks aren’t capable of carving up on offense; rather, that they’re perhaps not in as good a touch at the moment as they were during their purple patch of Rounds 5-7, in which they were averaging over 5 line breaks per game against the Roosters, Dragons and Panthers.
Our issues with the Broncos, though, are twofold. Firstly, their defense – after being among the league’s best through the opening two months of football, they’ve begun hemorrhaging line breaks of late, and unsurprisingly, that’s resulted in them conceding tries. Though they’ve generally been winning (last week excluded), it’s hard to feel great about a team who’ve conceded 20 or more points in 6 of their past 7 games. It’s fine to win shoot-outs on occasion, but in the long run, conceding stacks of points is rarely a recipe for success.
And if they are to continue to win footy games, they’ll need a dependable offense – something we’re not convinced they’ve got. We’ve consistently panned their halves for an inability to construct tries, and it’s true – the team ranks just 13th in try assists. As a result, the team depends on individual efforts (read: James Roberts specials) to create opportunities, which is reflected in their line break numbers – they’ve made 54 line breaks, yet have only 26 assists.
And it’s for this reason that we’re taking the Sharks. Matt Moylan may get a bum wrap thanks to comparisons to James Maloney at Penrith, but his 15 line break assists is more than half the number of the entire Broncos team combined. Heck, the Sharks have gotten more assists from their back row than the Broncos have gotten from their starting halves (Wade Graham, Paul Gallen and Joseph Paulo have a combined 9 line break assists vs Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima’s 7). That’s concerning for Brisbane, and makes us feel generally more confident in the Sharks’ attacking potential than the Broncos’. Brisbane had better hope that James Roberts is at 100%.
Our tip: Sharks
Knights v Storm
Offense VOA: Knights 12.49% (4th), Storm -2.30% (9th)
Defense VOA: Knights 17.77% (14th), Storm -24.70% (2nd)
There was a time not so long ago, where writing an analysis for a Knights/Storm game was virtually a waste of time – there’s very little analysis required when comparing the best side in the world with one of the worst. That time has long since faded though, with the sudden 2018 improvement of Newcastle, coupled with the rapid decline of the Storm, making this look more like a contest that’s at least worth consideration.
The Knights gave a solid performance last week in going down to the Roosters, but ultimately made it 5 losses from their last 6 outings. That said, they haven’t necessarily been terrible. Part of their problem is simply a difficult strength of schedule – of all those losses, only in the Titans game did they lose to a side sitting outside the Top 8 – but mostly, it’s a lack of starch in the middle of the field, that’s then led to their defense getting obliterated.
We really sympathise with the Knights’ plight, mainly because at their best, they’re genuinely Top 8 quality. However, at various stages over the past 6 weeks, they’ve been forced to play without the following forwards: Herman Ese’Ese, Jacob Saifiti, Daniel Saifiti and Jamie Buhrer. Sure, relatively few of those players would crack the best 17 of any of the top sides, however they’re the best the Knights have got, and without them, their already feeble forward pack has been repeatedly trampled. They’ve conceded over 1300m in every game this year, and have only outgained their opponent once – their upset win over the Eels a fortnight ago, in which they ran in a season-high 30 points.
The good news for Newcastle is that the Storm have been distinctly less consistent in 2018; the bad news, is that when they’ve successfully made metres, they’ve been very consistent (and consistently awesome). When the Storm have gained over 1300m in matches this year (as every Knights opponent has), they average a staggering 5.17 tries, and over 32 points per game. Further, we pointed out last week that the Storm’s offense hits full throttle when they make 11 or less errors in a match. And which team averages the least opponent errors per game? You guessed it – Newcastle.
Add it all up, and it could be a long afternoon for the Novocastrians on Sunday. The Storm should comfortably win between the 20s, giving their returning centres (Will Chambers and Curtis Scott) the ideal platform from which to shake the rust off.
Our tip: Storm
Tigers v Raiders
Offense VOA: Tigers -18.96% (14th), Raiders 16.70% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Tigers 4.77% (11th), Raiders 1.41% (9th)
The final match of the round will be like finals footy for both of these teams, who sit outside the Top 8 and need to beat each other in order to begin the climb upwards.
One of these teams is generally perceived as one who continually finds a way to win, and the other, one who continually finds a way to lose. Which is odd, given that they only sit 2 points apart on the ladder. Granted, the Tigers have a bye in hand, but it’s still interesting how differently the two sides are viewed (and if the Raiders win, they’ll jump the Tigers on for-and-against).
If we had to guess, the generally negative perception of the Raiders is largely due to how well they actually play – the Raiders are really good – they just somehow manage to lose every close game they find themselves in. Last weekend was no exception – they found themselves up by 8 with 15 minutes to play, only to get reeled in once again (in fairness, they’re certainly not the first team to get chased down by the Panthers). For any other team, a 1-point loss to the competition leaders would be considered a minor success; but for the Raiders, their fan-base just rolled their eyes and said “here we go again” (apparently, they all forgot their 1-point win from a week prior).
Which we suppose explains why they come into this match as outsiders… except that, you know… it doesn’t. As many close games that the Raiders have lost, we’re still standing by the view that they’ve been playing well. While we can understand the frustration that comes with frequent narrow losses, those close losses are among the worst games they’ve played – and they were all games they almost won. Through 13 games, the Raiders have lost just 2 matches by more than 8 points. By comparison, of their 5 wins, 4 have come that margin (and of those, 3 were by 13+). The Raiders rarely get flogged, and their high-octane offense means that they’re always a serious threat to dish out a hiding if they get warmed up (the 22 points they put on Penrith, for example, were the 3rd most anyone has made against Penrith this year, and came after the Panthers went back-to-back weeks holding their opponents tryless). Add in the return of Josh Hodgson this week (who’s not only the Raiders’ best player, but one of the best players in the NRL, period), and things are looking up for Canberra.
In contrast, the Tigers have built their successes on winning close games, having won just 1 game by 13+. In fairness, the first step towards winning by more than 13 would be scoring more than 13 – something the Tigers have done in just 8 of 14 matches this year. Which is where the two sides are so very different – while the Raiders consistently score a bunch of points (if only to find that they don’t have enough), the Tigers’ only hope for winning football games is to keep the scores low, and hope that their noses are in front when the siren sounds.
And therein lies the rub. The Tigers’ strategy of winning through defense is great – when their defense is successful. However, when their opposition has even the most remote success with the ball, that’s all she wrote for the Tigers. In 7 matches this year in which the Tigers have conceded 16 or more points, they’ve won just 1. Which is fine… most weeks. However, let’s go ahead and look at how many times the Raiders have been held to less than 16 points. The answer? Zero.
Which is why we’re sticking with the Raiders, popular opinion be damned.
(Also, while we don’t particularly care for historical stats, you may be interested to know that Canberra have won 5 of their last 6 against Wests, average 52.7 points per game in their past 3 meetings, and haven’t been held to less than 16 since 2013. Bad and mean, indeed.)
Our tip: Raiders