2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 96/160 (60%)
Line Betting: 35/70 (50%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 22 Tips and Previews
Cowboys v Broncos
Offense VOA: Cowboys -22.72% (15th), Broncos 8.45% (4th)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 3.25% (10th), Broncos -7.44% (5th)
Though most of the rugby league world was reeling in shock last weekend at the Broncos’ upset loss to the Bulldogs, you can’t count us at The Obstruction Rule among them. While we admittedly tipped the Broncos, we did mention the threat of a potential boilover due to the Broncos’ offense’s recent over-performance.
Put simply: the Broncos attack simply isn’t as good as their production would suggest. Over the previous fortnight, the Broncos had scored double the number of tries to line breaks (10 v 5), an aberration that created the appearance of a high-flying offense, while being completely unsustainable over a large enough sample size (for context, across the entire season no team in the league has scored more tries than line breaks, period). Further, with the Broncos’ own line break production being typically highly dependent on individual brilliance due to the lack of assists from their spine (no Broncos spine player ranks higher than 10th in the league for their position in assists), it’s looked likely that a correction was coming (and what a correction it was).
That being said, does that automatically mean that the Cowboys will be able to repeat the Bulldogs’ effort here at home? It’s certainly possible, but we’d stop short of calling it likely. The Cowboys’ effort against the Roosters was easily one of their best performances of the season, yet they still lost. Though the Broncos’ attack has underwhelmed us of late, the Cowboys’ has been appallingly bad all year, and depends on earning a good share of possession just to be competitive. Though much has been made of the Cowboys’ unbelievable 97% completion rate last weekend, it’s worth remembering that the Broncos have made the least number of errors all season, while the Cowboys have made the most. If either team is likely to turn in a monster completion rate this week, it probably isn’t the Cowboys.
And without a stack of ball, we’re just not sold on the Cowboys’ ability to score points. The Broncos’ mightn’t be as good as most believe, but for now, we’re still convinced that they’re at least better than the Cowboys. That said, we also thought they’d sneak home against the Bulldogs, and we were wrong about that.
Our tip: Broncos
Warriors v Knights
Offense VOA: Warriors -5.13% (11th), Knights -2.83% (10th)
Defense VOA: Warriors 7.68% (12th), Knights 17.59% (15th)
Before all you Warriors fans get carried away with your win over the Dragons last weekend, please allow us to point out one small detail: in the Warriors’ last 230 minutes of football against 13 men, they’ve scored a grand total of 20 points. That’s not a misprint. 20 (if you’re interested, that’s a pace of less than 7 points per game).
Quite simply, although there was plenty to like about their win (their defense in the last quarter of the game was exceptional, notably for its desperation), the team is still plagued by the same attacking problems that have haunted them for over a month. Outside of their demolition job of the Broncos, the Warriors have hardly looked like scoring, and outside of a very productive 10 minutes with an embedded one-man overlap, they never looked like doing much against the Dragons either (which is even more concerning when you consider that the Dragons had given up 27 line breaks in their previous 4 games). They’ll surely find a few here (the Knights have given up 4 or more in their past 5 straight), but that won’t make us feel any better about an offense that only seems to look threatening when Isaac Luke is carrying the team on his back (he quietly ranks 3rd among NRL hookers for try involvements, 2nd for line breaks, and 3rd for tackle breaks).
But as ordinary as the Warriors’ offense is, can the Knights outscore them? Ordinarily we’d say yes, but on an away trip to New Zealand, and with question marks hanging over the health of star players Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce, it’s hard to feel great about them. Ponga still looked a bit hampered by injury last weekend, while Pearce has been racing the clock to recover from a nasty cork. Add in the obvious mismatch in the forwards (the Warriors actually managed to slightly outgain the Dragons last weekend by 10m; the same team who outgained the Knights earlier in the year by over 400), and we feel like this should be the ideal spot for the Warriors to start building some momentum.
Are we confident? No; if Ponga and Pearce are at 100 percent, the Knights certainly have the capacity to score 3+ tries, a mark the Warriors have hit just twice in their last 6 games. But since it’d be pretty close anyway, we’re going to assume that they’re at least somewhat hindered, and the Warriors can get home.
Our tip: Warriors
Rabbitohs v Roosters
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs 47.86% (1st), Roosters 9.29% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs -14.03% (4th), Roosters 33.34% (1st)
The second consecutive top-of-the-table blockbuster in as many weeks kicks off Friday night, with the Rabbitohs defending their new spot atop the NRL ladder against local rivals, the Roosters.
First things first, we want to say just how impressed we were with the Rabbitohs’ performance last weekend. After being critical of Anthony Seibold for the Bunnies’ lack of offensive variety in their loss to the Tigers, it was pleasing to see the Rabbitohs relentlessly hammer the Storm’s right edge defense, with the Bunnies putting 4 line breaks and 3 tries down that corridor. The Rabbitohs attacked down that edge mercilessly, and with the sort of wrinkles and variation we were hoping to see against the Tigers. It was clear that the Rabbitohs knew that they weren’t going to be getting the consistently fast play-the-balls that they’re accustomed to, and came armed to beat the Storm on the edges (while late in the game, Damien Cook demonstrated that he can still bust out an outstanding individual try, even without a particularly quick play-the-ball). It really was a fantastic attacking display.
All of that being said, the Rabbitohs’ dominant win still should be met with a small asterisk. Yes, they completely obliterated the Storm’s right edge. However, that wasn’t the Storm right edge that we’re used to seeing. With Suliasi Vunivalu a late scratching, Will Chambers was paired with Cheyse Blair, and the combination defended as though they’d only met each other five minutes before the game. While we don’t want to detract from what the Rabbitohs were doing, we have to at least acknowledge that they weren’t facing anything like the Storm’s best defense, and they still only won by 10 points; while (perhaps most importantly) even if the Storm were at their best, the Roosters’ D is arguably better.
Though last weekend’s clash probably wasn’t the best example of the Roosters’ defensive ability (the 20 points the Cowboys scored was the 4th most they’ve racked up in a game this year), it didn’t feel like the Roosters were ever genuinely threatened. They were comfortably in front for the duration of the game, and after the Cowboys got a couple of quick scores to bring it to within 6, the Roosters promptly tightened up to grind the game out. This has become something of a pattern for Sydney of late – giving up cheap tries late in the game when they possess a healthy lead – and will hopefully be addressed, but we’d doubt it will matter much here, with the Rabbitohs’ defense unlikely to let the Roosters get out to a monster lead in the first place.
As for who’ll win, honestly, you could flip a coin and be just as likely to guess the right outcome. As it stands, last weekend’s win for Souths only served to prove to us that they’re at best the equal of a full-strength Storm side, if not marginally worse. With the Roosters every bit the equal of Melbourne (and possibly better), we’re going to back them in here, and expect their superior defense to be the difference.
Our tip: Roosters
Titans v Panthers
Offense VOA: Titans -20.79% (14th), Panthers 8.22% (5th)
Defense VOA: Titans 51.00% (16th), Panthers -0.45% (7th)
After the weeks they’ve had, we imagine that both these sides will be keen to get on the park and just play some footy.
Last weekend, the Titans had their season officially ended (if it wasn’t already) with a loss to the last-placed Eels, placing a sad punctuation mark at the end of what some considered to be a promising season, a month in (not us, but people did). If we ignore the ignominious result, we actually don’t think that they played especially badly, but rather it was just a bad matchup for a team that’s still a work-in-progress. The Eels’ pack is vastly better than that of the Titans, and it showed, with six Eels forwards gaining 90m or more compared to just 2 of their Titans counterparts. Similarly, the Eels’ defense has been better than the Titans’ all year, and though both sides managed 7 line breaks, the Eels allowing that number against the recently impressive Titans is significantly better than the Titans allowing it to a Parramatta team who’d made more than 5 on just 2 other occasions all year.
Over at Penrith, they did the same old, same old; staging another epic comeback to keep a share of 4th spot on the ladder. However, that wasn’t the story of their week. Rather, it was their sacking of head coach Anthony Griffin, and what that’s going to mean for Penrith going forward.
Typically, it’s expected that teams who sack their coaches mid-season enjoy an immediate bounce in form; however it’s also worth remembering that most teams who sack their coaches aren’t in the middle of a scrap for the Top 4. Under the circumstances, we have to acknowledge that there must be at least some chance that this move could completely derail their season (we don’t think it will, but it’s surely possible). How the team responds remain to be seen, though it’s also worth mentioning that it’s rumoured that the team’s comebacks have been tied to them abandoning the Griffinball game plans mid-match, and that without them they may start playing the entire 80 minutes the way that they’ve been playing the last 20 (in which case, they may well put 100 on the Titans). We just don’t know.
So all we can do is look at what we do know. We know that the Panthers’ forward pack is vastly superior to that of the Titans, and that as a result, they should gain well over 100m more than their opponents. We know that the Titans’ offense has been superb over the past four weeks, producing a LBVOA of 40.77%. We also know that it’s still been nowhere near as good as that of the Panthers, who’s LBVOA over the same period of 81.62% tops the league, and is literally twice as good as that of the Gold Coast. And finally, as disappointing as some of Penrith’s defensive efforts have been of late, we know that the Titans’ defense is the league’s worst (and by a fair margin).
In summary, the Panthers are significantly better than the Titans, so we have to back them in. How they respond to the media storm around them is anyone’s guess, but we know that they’re the better football side – hopefully they play like it.
Our tip: Panthers
Sea Eagles v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 4.55% (7th), Bulldogs -15.79% (12th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles 9.63% (14th), Bulldogs 0.16% (8th)
While we weren’t overly impressed with the Sea Eagles’ win over the Sharks last week, it was at least a timely reminder of just how dangerous the Sea Eagles’ offense can be. Sure, Cronulla were a long way short of their best; but still, their defense is no joke. Manly’s 5 tries was the most the Sharks have conceded in a game since Round 6, and marked the 3rd time in as many games that the Eagles have put 4 or more tries on a Top 8 ranked defense. So why are they still anchored to the bottom 4? Because their defense is terrible.
Though the Sea Eagles won the game, they still managed to concede 5 themselves, and that was with the Sharks bombing a stack of opportunities. Their right edge defense looks permanently shaky; on the left, Brian Kelly has conceded the 5th most line breaks among all NRL centres; while the team collectively misses the 6th most tackles in the league. There’s really no area of the field in which they’re defensively sound – which is why they’ve conceded the 2nd most tries this year (including letting in 20 in their past 3 games), and find themselves in the position they’re in.
If there’s an upshot though, it’s that the visiting Bulldogs are hardly an attacking powerhouse, ready to punish the Sea Eagles’ D. Though the Bulldogs piled 36 points on Brisbane during their upset win last week, it was just the 2nd time all year that they’ve scored 5 tries in a game, and is unlikely to be repeated here. The Bulldogs capitalised on virtually every opportunity, scoring a try from every line break they made, plus one from a kick to boot (no pun intended). The actual number of opportunities they had was no better than in any other week (in which they typically limp their way to 2 or 3 tries). It was the 9th week in a row in which they’ve made between 2-4 line breaks; they simply were able to do more with them. That’s great, but still leaves them at a disadvantage against a Manly side who’ve only made less than 4 once in their past 5 games.
Further, the dropping of Matt Frawley only makes their offense worse. Even in a reasonably quiet performance on his return to the top grade, he still managed to slice through for a clean line break and a try, while leading the team in tackle breaks. His reward? Dropped again, for Jeremy Marshall-King – a player who has an equal number of try involvements and half the number of line break involvements, despite having played more than twice as many games (Marshall-King has played 19 v Frawley’s 9). We’re not saying that Frawley is a superstar, but the fact that the Bulldogs continue to ignore their most effective attacking playmaker is just baffling; particularly in a game such as this one, where they’re likely going to need to find plenty of points to keep up.
We’re not ruling the Bulldogs out – we love their consistent efforts, which is more than could be said for the Sea Eagles. However, Manly have the offensive capacity to score 20+ points, even when they’re not playing well. And generally speaking, that’s enough to beat Canterbury.
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Eels v Dragons
Offense VOA: Eels -25.28% (16th), Dragons 6.86% (6th)
Defense VOA: Eels 8.02% (13th), Dragons -2.87% (6th)
The Dragons are in a slump. At this point, that much isn’t really in dispute.
But, would we say that they’re playing so badly that they’re likely to lose to the Eels here? Though we’re not exactly bullish on the Eels’ prospects, we’d have to answer that with a firm ‘maybe’.
Stylistically, the Eels are the type of team that the Dragons’ offense typically struggles against in the first place. The Eels have a deceptively decent forward pack, and they defend the middle third of the field surprisingly well. The Eels themselves got to within 2 points of St George-Illawarra when they met in Round 16, and all the Dragons’ losses so far have come against teams with decent forward packs (the Warriors, Rabbitohs, Panthers, Storm, Tigers and Roosters). Indeed, it’s the Dragons’ inability to generate much offense against Parramatta that’s turned the Eels into somewhat of a bogey team for them – prior to that last-gasp win earlier in the season, the Dragons had lost their previous 6 games in a row to the Eels, while never registering more than 18 points.
However, no matter how badly the Dragons’ offense may struggle (and to be clear, we think they likely will), the Eels still need to score more. Let’s say, for example, that the Eels manage to hold the Dragons to 3 tries (which would be a fine job, considering the Dragons season average is 3.7 tries per game). Where do the Eels’ tries then come from?
Though they managed to find 5 last weekend, that was against the Titans (AKA The Worst Defense In The League™). Before that, they went 4 weeks in a row without scoring more than 3 tries in a game, and indeed, from 20 matches so far this season, they’ve managed it just 7 times.
Of course, the Dragons’ defense has looked shaky of late; but for the most part, we’d argue that they defended relatively well last weekend, albeit against a pretty clueless Warriors team. Yes, they bled 3 tries while Matt Dufty was in the sin bin, but outside of that period, they kept New Zealand tryless, and to be honest, they never looked like cracking. And importantly, though the Dragons’ defense has been gashed a few times of late, those poor performances have almost exclusively come against elite attacking sides: they gave up 36 to the Roosters, 52 to the Storm, 28 to the Panthers, and 24 to Souths – three teams with Top 5 offenses, plus the Storm. For all the criticism they’ve drawn, the Dragons haven’t given up more than 3 tries to a Bottom 8 offense since Round 7 (and if you’re wondering, the Eels are ranked last).
So we see no reason for them to start now. Very generally speaking, this match presents similarly to last weekend’s Broncos/Bulldogs game – we expect the more fancied team to struggle a bit for points, but are backing them in anyway, due to doubts over the attacking potency of their opponents. Of course, it turned out that we were wrong last week, and the Bulldogs did suddenly find 5 tries, for the first time in over a month. Can the Eels do it as well? Time will tell, and we have to admit that it’s not as ridiculous as you perhaps first thought.
Our tip: Dragons
Raiders v Tigers
Offense VOA: Raiders 27.59% (2nd), Tigers -18.17% (13th)
Defense VOA: Raiders 2.05% (9th), Tigers 4.04% (11th)
It’s that time of year again – time for the Raiders’ biannual flogging of the Tigers (it comes around so fast).
Though they lost last weekend, the Raiders did get to warm up their attacking muscle (not a euphemism) against the Panthers, blasting in 31 points during an immensely enjoyable shoot-out. With that effort, the Raiders racked up over 20 points in a game for the 8th time in their last 9 matches (from which they somehow only have 4 wins). Among those is their 48-12 Round 15 hammering of this week’s opponents, the Tigers.
And if the Tigers don’t carry enough psychological scars from their repeated drubbings at the hands of Canberra (the Raiders average 51.5 points per game against the Tigers since 2016), the speculation swirling around their coach surely won’t help matters. Like the Panthers above, we can’t be certain how the side reacts to the news that their coach may be on the verge of walking out on them (it’s at least possible that they may circle the wagons and be galvanized by the news), but you’d have to imagine it’s at least mildly disruptive; and against the Raiders, they can’t afford anything less than their best.
Though not every team humiliates the Tigers like the Raiders typically do, their edge defense isn’t great to begin with, and their good performance in holding the Knights to 3 line breaks was the first time since Round 13 that they’ve kept anyone to less than 4. Though the Tigers’ middle defense is typically pretty stout, their inability to hold their edges is a major part of why they’ve been consistently tortured by the Raiders – both Canberra wingers are ranked in the top 6 at their position for line breaks, while Joey Leilua is 4th among centres as well. More than any other team, the Raiders do almost all their damage down those corridors, where the Tigers are at their weakest. The addition of Malakai Watene-Zelezniak in place of Corey Thompson might make them marginally better defensively, but against the Raiders, we’re really not sure it’ll matter.
With the Tigers playing to keep their season alive, you’d expect to get a strong effort from them, but on an away trip to Canberra – who can rack up a score at the best of times – we may well find that the Raiders get out to a lead, mentally break the Tigers’ spirits, and post another cricket score. We hope not – surely Tigers fans have suffered enough this week – but it’s a very real possibility.
Our tip: Raiders
Storm v Sharks
Offense VOA: Storm -0.58% (8th), Sharks -1.53% (9th)
Defense VOA: Storm -29.53% (2nd), Sharks -15.76% (3rd)
In most weeks, a Storm vs Sharks clash would be the highlight of the round. Perhaps it’s because of the top-of-the-table game on Friday night; perhaps it’s because their previous clash was the now-infamous Penaltyfest 2018. We’re not sure. But for whatever reason, there’s been hardly a peep about this game in the press all week, which is a shame – these two sides normally turn in a beauty.
Both sides are coming off losses, but so be it – they’re both vastly better than their results last weekend would suggest. In the Storm’s case, their makeshift right edge got lit up by the Rabbitohs, but that’s irrelevant here – Suliasi Vunivalu is back, and with him, we expect their right edge defense to return to normal. Meanwhile, we’d argue that the Sharks’ own defensive lapses last weekend were the product of a lack of effort more than a lack of ability. Subjectively, the Sharks never looked troubled or under duress, and they didn’t appear to be under any threat of losing until the moment that the ball left Daly Cherry-Evans’ boot (and indeed, were it not for a shanked goal attempt, the Sharks would have already won, anyway – where have we heard that before?). There’ll be absolutely no risk of complacency here, given the long history of animosity between the two clubs.
As for picking a winner, it’s difficult, because the two sides are so similar to one another. They’re both built to win through their defense, which has been reflected in their recent matches – neither side has scored more than 3 tries in any of their past 4 meetings. And if the game is so low-scoring, picking a winner has more to do with luck than anything else – in a single-score match, the bounce of the ball or a single bunker decision can turn the result (and in that context, getting $2.65 for Cronulla seems like good value).
As it so happens, we’re taking Melbourne; partly because they’re at AAMI Park, and partly because in both Offense and Defense VOA, the Storm are marginally better on both sides of the ball. But make no mistake – this is super close, and should be a hell of a game.
Our tip: Storm