2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 77/128 (60%)
Line Betting: 25/53 (47%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 18 Tips and Previews
Panthers v Sharks
Offense VOA: Panthers -7.32% (10th), Sharks -3.23% (9th)
Defense VOA: Panthers -9.35% (5th), Sharks -21.49% (3rd)
The Panthers have opted to rest their three Origin stars following a draining State of Origin series, and with good reason – their 36-4 hammering of the Warriors without their best players was easily their most impressive performance of the past month.
In hindsight, that effort shouldn’t have been a huge surprise. The Panthers have been uncharacteristically sloppy over the past month, as they’ve parachuted James Maloney and Nathan Cleary into the squad, having barely trained with the rest of their team. The result has been high error counts, an ineffective offense, and back-to-back losses. With their star duo forced to stand down last weekend though, the guys who have been training with the Panthers’ firsts – Tyrone May and Jarome Luai – lit Panthers Stadium up, combining for 2 tries, 2 try assists, 2 line breaks and 1 line break assist, as Penrith completely exposed the Warriors as the pretenders we all know they are (the spectacular return of Waqa Blake didn’t hurt, either). So, it’s probably with good reason that the Panthers’ Blues reps have been given the weekend off; they can physically recover from a brutal month of footy, before re-joining the squad for the run home next week, knowing that the side is in safe hands.
So, with the Panthers’ cubs (NOTE TO FOX SPORTS COMMENTARY TEAM: A baby Panther is not a ‘pup’ – they’re cats, for fuck’s sake) having proven the better option than rushing back tired rep stars, the next question becomes whether or not the Panthers can actually win here; and more importantly, will they actually win here. The answer to the first part of that question is obviously a resounding yes – the level that the Panthers played last week (in both attack and defense) was at least as good as anything the Sharks have done this year. Indeed, just a week earlier, Cronulla faced the very same Warriors side, and scraped home by 3 points, courtesy of a rather suspicious-looking pass. Only the Storm have put more points on the Warriors in a single outing than the Panthers did last week; and defensively, it was the 4th time this season the Panthers have held their opposition to 6 points or less – an incredible mark, considering that the elite Sharks defense has only managed it twice. To summarise, we’re reasonably confident that last week’s Panthers would beat the Sharks.
Where we’re not confident though, is the likelihood that last weekend’s effort will be replicated (indeed, Penrith were SO good last weekend, that we’re reasonably certain that it won’t be). And if it isn’t, then what are we likely to see? The reality is that we’re facing an incredibly wide range of potential outcomes, from which accurately trying to pluck the Panthers’ performance level seems an impossible task. The team Penrith will be trotting out will be “the youngest and least experienced team in (the) NRL this season” (per Phil Gould), featuring another debutante at fullback, and no less than 13 players aged 23 or under. We love their upside, but it would be naive to assume that they’ll be playing at a consistently elite level from Day One (and God help the rest of the competition if they do).
The Sharks, on the other hand, are the definition of consistency. They’ve won 8 of their last 10 matches – a run that started with a narrow victory over Penrith (though it feels so long ago now, that the Panthers have since lost their fullback for the season, his replacement to a hamstring tear, and their captain that day has since retired). The Sharks have perhaps not hit the heights that we’ve been tipping them for yet, but they have been steadily improving, and rarely turn in an absolute clunker.
We absolutely believe that the Panthers have the talent to win this game, but feel like we’d rather hitch our wagon to a reliable “good” game from Cronulla, rather than rolling the dice on Penrith, and risking it coming up snake eyes. But if you felt lucky, we certainly wouldn’t blame you.
Our tip: Sharks
Knights v Eels
Offense VOA: Knights 7.98% (5th), Eels -25.79% (15th)
Defense VOA: Knights 14.72% (15th), Eels 11.93% (11th)
Can the Eels finally win a game?
Their sole victory since Round 8 came a month ago against an Origin-affected Cowboys team, but over their last two outings they’ve come variously close to winning (they were beating the Rabbitohs for much of the first half, and the Dragons for most of the match). Meanwhile, the Knights are coming face-to-face with the prospect of a few weeks without their best player (Kalyn Ponga).
It’s this confluence of events that at least gave us pause for thought, before shaking it off, and promptly opting to back the Knights, as expected. Though we’d agree that the Eels’ offense has finally shown signs of life of late (they’ve scored 12 tries in their past 3 games, after scoring just 4 in the 3 games prior), the issue we have with this particular matchup is the Eels’ chronic inability to stop opposition line breaks – the very area of offense at which the Knights excel. Sure, the Eels have been looking more competitive; but that isn’t because their defense has improved. They feature the 5th worst LBCVOA in the competition, and have conceded 6 or more line breaks in 3 of their past 4 matches (not to mention their season-high 40 missed tackles against St George-Illawarra).
The Knights, meanwhile, can’t stop busting through the line. They feature the 3rd best LBVOA (15.44%), and have made 5 or more against such top-flight defenses as the Panthers, Rabbitohs and Storm (twice). Indeed, the only reason that the Knights don’t run up a cricket score every week is the consistently bad field position that they receive, courtesy of their trash forward pack. Yes, they’ll be worse for the loss of Ponga, but that will be at least partially balanced by the early return of halfback Mitchell Pearce (and as good as Ponga has been, both he and Pearce share the same 1.1 line break assists per match, while Pearce actually has the superior 1 try assist per game). At least on the surface, it’s not unrealistic to think that the Knights’ offense will continue humming without too much disruption in Ponga’s absence, while the team’s results could potentially improve, as a result of better field position, thanks to the kicking game of Pearce (though he’s only played 7 matches, Pearce still leads the Knights in kick metres, by over 700m).
We’re certainly not ruling Parramatta out, and agree that this still looks reasonably competitive on paper; but that’s only because we rate the Eels a decent chance of scoring a few tries against a fairly ordinary Knights defense. They couldn’t stop anything Newcastle did when they met in Round 13 (when the Knights dealt them a 30-4 flogging), and we’re not convinced they can stop them now; Ponga or not.
Our tip: Knights
Bulldogs v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -7.81% (12th), Rabbitohs 50.98% (1st)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs 13.99% (13th), Rabbitohs -18.28% (4th)
Sitting down here to “analyse” the Bulldogs/Rabbitohs game feels a tiny bit like a waste of time.
There’s very few statistics we could drag up to mount a convincing case for the Bulldogs, and any numbers we throw at you as evidence of a likely Rabbitohs win would fall firmly into the “well, duh” category. Quite simply, at the point that you’re sitting here, at this site, reading this preview, there’s a minimum level of assumed knowledge, and we expect that you already know that the Rabbitohs are better than the Bulldogs. They just are. Their forwards are better; their backs are better (even without Greg Inglis); their offense is better; their defense is better; they win more games than the Bulldogs. You already know that.
So instead, let’s just try and think of whatever we can to make a case for Canterbury.
Like the last time they played, for example, when the Bulldogs were winning for virtually the entire game, before a late Rabbitohs fightback snatched it at the death. The competed pretty well that day?
Or maybe their recent improvement in offensive production? Their season numbers are pretty ordinary, but they’ve scored 28+ in both their last two outings, after failing to hit that mark in any of their opening 15 games. Maybe they’ve turned the corner?
Or maybe the Rabbitohs will just be ordinary? Yes, they’re in the middle of an 8-game winning streak, but contained within those wins, are 3 wins of 2 points or less against plodders like the Titans and the Cowboys (twice). That seems to present some evidence that perhaps the Rabbitohs play down to the levels of their opponent, which could present the Bulldogs with an opportunity to pull their pants down?
Honestly, the Bulldogs probably aren’t without any hope, but if you’re seriously considering backing them, you should at least admit to yourself that you’re doing so because you hope they’ll win; not because they’re objectively better in any way whatsoever. We agree that their attack has looked vastly improved in their past two matches, but it’s worth noting that a) the Raiders were terrible; and b) the Knights defense IS terrible. Also, if you think that that improvement in attacking fortunes is the result of their re-modeled spine, you’re probably mistaken – their new spine combined for just 1 try assist against the Raiders, and have just 11 from 46 combined matches between them. In all likelihood, it’s just variance.
Good luck, though.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Sea Eagles v Storm
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 1.42% (7th), Storm 5.39% (6th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles 3.97% (10th), Storm -26.96% (2nd)
The last time these sides met was back in Round 11, in a trainwreck of match that’s only remembered for Dylan Walker getting punched in the face and Manly “accidentally” cheating the sin bin clock.
Plenty has changed in the NRL in that time, though. The Storm haven’t lost a match since then, while the Sea Eagles lost their next 4 straight, before finally breaking the drought in another bludger of a game against the Panthers (there seems to be a trend forming, in which the Sea Eagles can only win if they’re participating in a stoppage-filled snoozefest).
If you’re pinning your hopes on the Sea Eagles earning back-to-back wins here, we think you’re likely to be disappointed. Generally speaking, Manly’s defense is poor (to put it politely), while the Storm appear to be warming up as the season progresses. Yes, they kept the Storm tryless in their previous meeting, but that was with 59% possession, against 12 men for much of the second half, and against a Storm side struggling to complete a set (the Storm’s 16 errors that night was their season-high). The chances of the Storm being that bad again are unlikely, and the chance of Manly actually stopping them with good defense is close to nil. As it stands, the Sea Eagles have yet to keep any opponent to under 3 tries without having at least a 54% share of possession; and prior to being gifted a seemingly-blindfolded Panthers side, they’d conceded 19 tries in their previous 4 games. Now they get a Storm team who just put 52 on St George-Illawarra? Honestly, it doesn’t look good.
And that’s before we worry about what else they’ve been doing. If the Sea Eagles have a strength, it’s undoubtedly with the ball in hand, but their side has been so decimated by injuries, that they’re even struggling in attack. They haven’t scored more than 3 tries in a game since that win over the Storm (in which they only made 2 line breaks, despite the aforementioned lop-sided possession count), and likewise, their pedestrian forward pack hasn’t made over 1400m since that weird Storm game either (the Storm, meanwhile, have only been held under that mark once since then, and they won the yardage battle, anyway). In short, the Sea Eagles are struggling to score, are struggling to make metres, and are welcoming a Storm team known for their notoriously tight defense, and who are welcoming back Jesse Bromwich.
No, we’re not backing Manly, either.
Our tip: Storm
Raiders v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Raiders 24.46% (2nd), Cowboys -21.51% (14th)
Defense VOA: Raiders -3.53% (7th), Cowboys 1.28% (9th)
There’s no team in the competition as good as the Raiders, yet who make winning look so hard.
Having made a season out of snatching defeat from the most unloseable situations, the Raiders somehow rattled off 3 tries in 4 minutes to keep their season afloat. Their capacity to score points was never really in doubt; they’ve scored the 2nd most tries in the competition, and haven’t been held to less than 21 points since Round 11. Rather, the surprising part of this match was the fact that they got themselves into that mess in the first place.
As good as Canberra’s offense has been, it is at least somewhat concerning that they can’t seem to stop anyone from scoring – from 16 matches so far this season, the Raiders have held their opponents to less than 20 just 5 times. However, it’s probably worth mentioning that 1 of those times happened to be against the Cowboys, who the Raiders beat 18-8 in Townsville, back in April. On that evening, the Raiders had just 45% possession, yet they held North Queensland to just 2 line breaks, and a single try. That particular Cowboys team featured Michael Morgan (gone), Matt Scott (gone, too), and Origin players who hadn’t been forced to play the Wednesday earlier. It’s difficult to make a case that this week’s Cowboys side is likely to be any better offensively than they were then, and back then, they could hardly crack an egg.
And their formline says likewise. Though North Queensland competed admirably against the Rabbitohs, they’ve struggled to score for most of the year (they rank 3rd last in points scored), which is the direct result of a lack of opportunities. They have the 4th worst LBVOA in the competition (-12.94%), and since Morgan went down against the Warriors, that’s dropped to an abysmal -45.20%.
We generally like the Cowboys’ forwards, and against a Raiders pack minus Shannon Boyd, North Queensland should have a clear upper hand. We’re just unconvinced that that’ll matter. The Raiders have points in them all over the park, whereas North Queensland are forced to scrap for every opportunity. Short of a drastic improvement in the Cowboys’ attacking fortunes, we just can’t see how they score enough points to win.
Our tip: Raiders
Broncos v Warriors
Offense VOA: Broncos 19.28% (3rd), Warriors 1.35% (8th)
Defense VOA: Broncos -2.85% (8th), Warriors 13.67% (12th)
This Sunday arvo clash shapes as perhaps the week’s most intriguing match.
Broadly speaking, we’d argue that the Warriors are an excellent match-up for the Broncos (and we did, back in Round 6, when we successfully tipped the Broncos to head across the ditch and hand New Zealand their first loss of the season). The reason for this is tied to the Warriors playing style: when New Zealand win, they typically do it through low error counts (they haven’t won a game when making more than 10 errors), dominating field position (they’ve earned just 3 of their 10 wins when losing the yardage battle), and individual brilliance from a halfback who’s better known for his own running game than for setting up his outside men (Shaun Johnson ranks 4th among NRL halves for line breaks, but 17th for line break assists). That’s all fine, except what we just described is essentially the Broncos. And the Broncos do it better.
The Warriors might play a tight, disciplined style of footy, but there’s no team in the league who play as clinically as the Broncos, who’ve made the least errors in the league, and conceded the 4th-least amount of penalties. And though the Warriors’ pack is generally fine, the Broncos’ is marginally better too, with a RMVOA of 2.01% v the Warriors’ 1.55% (and unsurprisingly, when the two sides met in Round 6, the Broncos outgained New Zealand by almost 300m, on a 50-50 possession distribution). And finally, though we’d agree that Johnson is a better half than Kodi Nikorima (their numbers are eerily similar though, with Nikorima ranking 1st among NRL halves for line breaks, and just 18th for assists), the Broncos have the better supporting cast, with 5 other players adding 10 or more try involvements (Anthony Milford, Darius Boyd, James Roberts, Jamayne Isaako and Corey Oates), compared to just 3 at the Warriors (Blake Green, David Fusitua and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck).
So why then, do we find this match so intriguing? Because of all the things we can’t measure.
Like, how does fatigue affect the Broncos, with up to 4 players backing up after Origin (assuming they all play), compared to a fresh, uninterrupted Warriors team? And how do the Warriors respond psychologically to getting pumped by Penrith’s reserve grade side last weekend? In previous seasons, they’ve been known to fold like a paper crane, but we’ve been hearing all year about how mentally tough they apparently are; perhaps this will be the week they prove it?
Those sorts of things are impossible to measure, so we’ll just ignore them and hope that the Broncos roll along as per usual. But there’s admittedly enough doubt there to make us curious.
Our tip: Broncos
Dragons v Tigers
Offense VOA: Dragons 10.90% (4th), Tigers -18.06% (13th)
Defense VOA: Dragons -6.23% (6th), Tigers 14.61% (14th)
Though we agree with the general perception that the Dragons appear to be regressing as the season wears on, we’d argue that there were positives to take away from their last start 52-30 hammering from the Storm.
For a start, let’s remember that they were missing virtually their entire starting forward pack. From there, it should be little surprise that they got outgained by over 500m, and with so little yardage, it was almost inevitable that they’d concede a stack of points (perhaps not 52 points, but still). Rather, what impressed us was the 5 tries and 4 line breaks that they managed to create, despite their inability to win at the advantage line.
Let’s remember something about the Dragons – though they can be devastating when their forwards are on top, they’re typically pretty ordinary when they get stuck on the back foot. Prior to last weekend, they’d only been held to a net gain of under 100m in 5 games all year, but had been held to just 1 line break in 3 of those. The fact that they were finally able to find new and interesting ways to score will place them in good stead when their forwards struggle in the future. But more importantly – their forwards aren’t likely to struggle like that in the future.
The Dragons 1093 run metres was easily their lowest of the season, and completely understandable. Outside last week, there’s only been 1 other game all year in which they’ve been held to under 1300m. In contrast, this week’s opponent, the Tigers, haven’t made over 1300m since Round 13. And as the Tigers have been gashed for run metres, so too have they been gashed for tries, as they’ve conceded an average of 6 tries per game over their past 3 matches.
Putting it together – a suddenly effective Dragons offense, running into a liquefied Tigers defense – we like the Dragons’ chances of putting up a score. We’re not totally sold on an inevitable Dragons win though, due to the promise of the unknown in the Tigers’ spine. Though the scoreline looked ordinary in their thrashing from the Titans, their remodeled spine did create 7 line breaks – their season high, and in just their first game together. Sure, they butchered most of those opportunities, but they’re opportunities that they simply weren’t making through the first half of the season. If they can continue to create chances, eventually tries will follow.
Will they arrive this week? That we don’t know; but we don’t think it’s ridiculous. We’re placing our eggs in the most reliable basket – the Dragons’ offense. But, this is certainly another interesting clash.
Our tip: Dragons
Titans v Roosters
Offense VOA: Titans -30.55% (16th), Roosters -7.49% (11th)
Defense VOA: Titans 57.15% (16th), Roosters -42.63% (1st)
Sometimes, reality hits like a ton of bricks.
As good as the Titans were in their back-to-back wins against the Bulldogs and Tigers (there’s your first clue), we still warned you that it would take more than two good games for us to erase the memory of 14 Rounds of suckfulness. And then, their embarrassing 34-0 annihilation at the hands of an under-strength Broncos side served to reinforce the point.
To be fair, we’re not having a crack at the Titans because they lost – even against a Brisbane side missing four Origin players, the Titans were arguably worse-affected. You needn’t watch a lot of football to know that the Titans have arguably the worst forward pack in the competition (their league-worst RMVOA of -6.45% is no accident), and taking their two best forwards out of that already-weak pack essentially signed their death warrant right there (and if it didn’t, Garth Brennan’s curious decision to play a hooker and centre on the bench – leaving their forwards both ordinary AND tired – certainly did). The result was the Broncos outgaining the Titans by over 500m, as Ryan James struggled for effectiveness under the weight of an absurdly high workload. James barely managed 7 metres per carry from an exhausting 18 hit-ups, while getting very little support from the rest of the pack (outside the Titans’ starting front row, no other forward made over 53m; with Will Matthews in particular embarrassingly making under 5m per carry – thank goodness he only took 5 totes). By comparison, of all Broncos forwards, only their substitute hooker failed to make 70m or more.
The point here (besides reinforcing just how ordinary any Titans forward not named Jai Arrow is) is that they were never going to win much field position; Ash Taylor was never going to get the chance to attack on the back of a series of quick play-the-balls; and the Titans were never going to win. And that’s fine. What bothered us here though, was the fact that they were held to 0 line breaks in an entire game of football. The Titans’ forwards are sure to be better this week, even with their best players backing up four days after Origin; but that sort of attacking impotence was more like the Titans of Rounds 1-14, not the sharper-looking outfit that torched… well… the Bulldogs and the Tigers.
And if you’re struggling to break the Broncos’ line, it certainly won’t get any easier against the Roosters. As it happens, Sydney rank 1st in LBCVOA (-30.29%), and haven’t conceded over 2 tries in a game since Round 11 (a period that includes a 20-point drubbing of the Titans on the Central Coast).
The best chance for the Titans is likely to be to just cross their fingers and hope that the Roosters choose to rest all their Origin stars, but even then, we’d probably still take the Roosters. Just perhaps by not as much.
Our tip: Roosters