2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 74/124 (60%)
Line Betting: 23/51 (45%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 17 Tips and Previews
Storm v Dragons
Offense VOA: Storm -7.29% (10th), Dragons 8.67% (5th)
Defense VOA: Storm -27.36% (2nd), Dragons -16.93% (5th)
Here we go again – another Origin week.
Tonight’s match pits 1st vs 3rd, but don’t be expecting to recognise too many faces at AAMI Park. The two sides combine to be missing 11 regular starters to Origin duty, leaving both sides reduced to skeleton staff, and most “analysis” pretty much guesswork (we should also take this opportunity to admit that in the previous Origin week, we only got 1 out of 4 tips right, so our guessing is no guarantee to be any better than yours. Sorry).
With a list that long, it’ll probably be quicker to focus on who is playing here, than who isn’t. For the Storm, Cameron Smith is still around, their backline still consists of regulars like Suliasi Vunivalu, Curtis Scott and Cheyse Blair, and their forward pack still looks solid enough. Over at the Dragons, their backline is at 100% and Gareth Widdop remains in their halves, however their forward pack has been completely gutted, with James Graham and hooker Cameron McInnes the only regulars remaining in their starting line-up.
On paper then, it looks like a question of what’s better: the Dragons’ outside backs, or the Storm’s forwards; however that’s a debate that’s difficult to make in a vacuum. If you’re simply looking at raw numbers, the Dragons’ backline has easily outperformed the Storm’s all year – Matt Dufty, Euan Aitken and Nene McDonald have all scored more tries than every Storm outside back not named Josh Addo-Carr (who’s not playing), while Dufty, Aitken and Tim Lafai all have more line breaks than every non-Josh Addo-Carr Storm three-quarter; and only Kurt Mann has yet to make more tackle breaks than every member of the Storm backline besides – you guessed it – Addo-Carr. This looks like a total mismatch.
However. (There’s always a ‘however’.) The Dragons are missing almost their entire forward pack, and when the Dragons aren’t dominating run metres, none of their players are very good. Yes, their outside backs have made a habit of torturing opposition defenses, but that’s typically come against retreating defensive lines, and quick play-the-balls. When the Dragons aren’t dominating run metres, the results are very different. All season, the Dragons have played just 5 matches in which they’ve failed to outgain their opponents by 100m or more. And in these particular matches, their offense has come to a screaming halt. Though they average 3.8 tries per game for the year, in these particular matches, that number drops to just 2.4, and their LBVOA collapses to a putrid -42.06% – far worse than any other team in the league.
So suddenly, we have a ball game. If we assume that neither side’s attack is likely to look particularly sharp, then it becomes logical to back the team we expect to win most of the field position, and given the state of the Dragons’ forward pack, we’re giving that edge to the Storm.
We may be wrong; maybe the Dragons’ collection of depth forwards seize the opportunity and totally ball-out, or perhaps Jason Nightingale’s recent conversion into a middle forward finally serves a purpose (okay, that one’s probably a stretch). It’s an Origin round, and in these weeks, anything can happen. But we have to pick, so we’re picking the Storm.
Our tip: Storm
Panthers v Warriors
Offense VOA: Panthers -11.24% (12th), Warriors 8.44% (6th)
Defense VOA: Panthers -3.56% (7th), Warriors 10.80% (12th)
Last weekend’s Panthers/Sea Eagles match was the worst game of rugby league we’ve seen this year. When you write for a boutique rugby league website, you find yourself watching an awful lot of football; both good and bad. However, this particular game was so bad, it’s difficult to adequately convey to those of you fortunate enough to miss it, just how truly awful both sides were. It was like having warm diarrhea poured directly into your eyeballs; every player involved from both sides should have been forced to pool their money and refund the 12,500 poor souls who paid to sit through that mess. It was absolutely abysmal. Surely we couldn’t back Penrith ever again after that. But it’s pretty tempting.
It’s tempting, because this is a match-up that theoretically should play into the Panthers’ hands. While we pointed out in our recent Month in Review that the Panthers have been profiting from enormous field position and possession shares, while playing otherwise middle-of-the-road footy (FUN FACT: the Panthers rank 3rd in the league for tackles in the opposition 20, but have scored just the 12th most tries), the Warriors are a team who are likely to be susceptible to that.
After starting the season with a bang, their forwards have more recently been giving little more than a whimper, with the Warriors having gained over 1300m just 3 times since Round 5. Unsurprisingly then, they’ve been outgained in 7 of those 10 matches, and won just 50% of their games, after starting the season 5 from 5. Now, they’ve lost key forwards Bunty Afoa and Tohu Harris (Afoa leads the Warriors pack in metres per carry [9.9], while Harris leads their forwards in runs of 8+ metres), and are running into one of the best forward packs in the competition (even without Reagan Campbell-Gillard, the Panthers’ engine room is legitimately terrifying). Is this a slam dunk for Penrith then?
Not quite. We’ve omitted one tiny, but significant, detail. The Panthers have lost both their starting halves to Origin duty. (They’ve also lost centre Tyrone Peachey, however he’s been replaced by Waqa Blake, who’s typically preferred over Peachey at full strength, so we’re calling that a wash.) Which creates a new equation – how much do we downgrade the Panthers offense without their star halves?
The simplest answer would be to just draw a line through the Panthers and move on. However, it probably warrants more thought than that. Like, for example, were the Panthers halves really traveling that well of late, anyway? Since the Origin period started, Penrith’s scored just 5 tries in 3 weeks, with a LBVOA of -29.35%. Though Penrith’s halves were killing it before then, there’s an argument that plonking their star duo straight into the team without any training has been hindering the side more than helping it. In that regard, having this week’s halves playing with the squad all week could actually be of benefit.
Secondly, when teams are forced to bring in replacement playmakers, it’s typical for those teams to implement simplified gameplans. With the Panthers’ sudden explosion of errors, that may not be a bad thing. Penrith have earned their lofty ladder position via tight, disciplined, high-percentage football, that strangles their opponents out of matches. This situation may unintentionally return them to what they do best.
And finally, these back-up halves aren’t too shabby, anyway. While neither player is Shaun Johnson, Tyrone May is a mega-stud, who frankly should have been included in the team from the moment he returned from ACL surgery, albeit from the bench (he’s not Kalyn Ponga or Josh Hodgson, but he still ranks highly on The Obstruction Rule‘s list of football crushes). He’s scored 5 tries in just 9 first grade matches, and played five-eighth for the Samoa team that put 22 points on Tonga a fortnight ago. The addition of May is certainly not a bad thing.
We feel like the safest option is to take the Warriors, if only because there’s less question marks over how their team is likely to gel (after all; if you’re going to be wrong, be wrong with everybody else). But we’ve really agonised over this tip, and can’t shake the nagging feeling that there’s a boil-over brewing here. We’ve taken New Zealand, but at our own peril.
Our tip: Warriors
Bulldogs v Raiders
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -7.51% (11th), Raiders 21.62% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs 10.42% (11th), Raiders -3.69% (6th)
With the Raiders continuing to rack up last-minute losses, we wouldn’t blame Canberra fans if they decide to start staying at home and watching Raiders games on TV, like Jack Wighton. However, we implore them to stay the course.
We’re sure that they’re sick of being told this, but the Raiders aren’t playing badly. Yes, they appear to have some sort of allergy to winning, but that doesn’t mean that they’re bad. Their offense is among the best in the league; an achievement that they’ve earned almost entirely while being without their best player, the stupendously talented hooker, Josh Hodgson. Since his return, they’ve torched an ordinary Tigers defense for 9 tries, before putting 22 points on Brisbane at Suncorp. With only Josh Papalii missing due to State of Origin commitments, the Raiders are primed to put more big numbers up against a Bulldogs defense that’s closer in standard to the Tigers than the Broncos.
And if they do, it’s pretty much game over then and there. The Bulldogs looked like world-beaters against the Knights, but let’s put that performance in perspective. Firstly, it was against the Knights. Newcastle possess the 2nd-worst defense in the league, so any strong performance against them deserves an asterisk straight away. Secondly, the Knights lost both their best player (Kalyn Ponga), and their starting hooker (Slade Griffin) within the first half, so their defensive line was obviously disrupted, and in the second half, badly fatigued (this also makes it worth noting that Canterbury were losing 16-12 at half-time). Thirdly, the Bulldogs’ 6 tries was the first time all season that they’ve scored more than 4 tries in a game (and just the 2nd time that they’ve scored more than 3), so it would appear very unlikely that this is a new trend. And finally, we should remember that the Bulldogs are just one week removed from getting completely torched for 10 line breaks by the Titans (which, incidentally, was at the very same venue that they’ll be playing at on Saturday). The Titans. Yikes.
Add in the loss of David Klemmer, in addition to the departure of Aaron Woods (who, for what it’s worth, was pretty good for the Sharks last week), and we don’t see the Bulldogs winning here. In fact, there’s probably a fair chance that they might get touched up.
Our tip: Raiders
Titans v Broncos
Offense VOA: Titans -23.86% (15th), Broncos 18.57% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Titans 56.82% (16th), Broncos -0.94% (8th)
Finally, we get to another badly affected game, as the South Queensland derby gets destroyed by Origin commitments (why would anyone schedule a pearler like this for Origin week??).
Before we get too far into it, we should give a shout-out to the Titans for another great performance last weekend. We can be pretty hard on the poor old Titans (mainly because they’re terrible at rugby league), so it’s only right to acknowledge when they’ve done well. Yes, the Tigers were atrocious (18 errors…how is that even possible?), but even taking the subsequent lop-sided possession advantage into account, the Titans were still pretty good. There have been times when you could present the Titans with all the opportunities in the world and they’d still have done nothing with them, but they’ve now scored 5 or more tries in back-to-back weeks, and are really showing signs of progress.
That progress looks to be associated with a sudden jump in production from their forwards. Though Jai Arrow is a total stud, who ranks 9th in the NRL for total run metres, no other Titans forward places in the Top 80. The past fortnight though, Arrow has gotten plenty of support from the other pigs, with Ryan James making over 100m for two weeks in a row, and Jarrod Wallace and Keegan Hipgrave both topping the century mark against the Tigers as well. With the forwards suddenly making metres, it should came as little surprise that the team have collectively made over 1500m in both their last two games – the only two games in which they’ve hit that mark all year. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that they’ve now lost their two leading forwards, Arrow and Wallace, due to State of Origin commitments (surely they could at least be allowed to keep Wallace, given that he only takes 3 runs per Origin game, anyway). With their attacking fortunes seemingly closely tied to their forwards’ performances, they may have to win this game with their defense.
The Broncos, meanwhile, are without troops as well – they’ve lost centre James Roberts, winger Corey Oates, hooker Andrew McCullough and forward Josh McGuire to Origin duty. However, even without McGuire, their pack looks lightyears better than that of the Titans (Brisbane will have 3 middles in the NRL top 80 for run metres vs the Titans’ 0, while their entire starting pack averages over 8.5m per carry – a mark only hit by the Titans’ Jack Stockwell). Their key creative players in their spine are all available (Darius Boyd, Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima – who rank 1st, 2nd and 3rd on the team in line break assists), and well, they get to play the Titans’ defense. There should be points to be had.
And so we’re pretty comfortable taking the Broncos here, regardless of the Titans’ recent improvement in form. But we’re certainly interested to see what the Titans can do once the Origin period is behind them.
Our tip: Broncos