2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 100/168 (60%)
Line Betting: 36/75 (48%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 23 Tips and Previews
Broncos v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Broncos 10.50% (4th), Rabbitohs 42.79% (1st)
Defense VOA: Broncos -8.08% (5th), Rabbitohs -15.05% (3rd)
Having spent the better part of the last month arguing that the Broncos’ offense isn’t as good as people think it is, we’re taking a different position this week – that their defense isn’t as bad as its recently looked, either.
Regular readers will recall us making the point that the Broncos’ recent trend of scoring more tries than they make line breaks was unsustainable – and we were right (over their last 2 weeks, they’ve scored 8 tries compared to 11 line breaks, returning the ratio to almost exactly their season average). However, that hasn’t been why they’ve been losing. Rather, the reason for the Broncos’ recent stumbles can be pointed to the reverse problem – that is, that they’ve been conceding unusually more tries than they’ve been conceding line breaks.
With it an established fact that over a large enough sample size, it’s rare to score more tries than you make line breaks (no team has done so this year; the Storm have the best ratio, having scored 9% less tries than they’ve made breaks); it naturally follows that it’s unusual for anyone to concede drastically more tries – however that’s exactly what’s happened to Brisbane. Though they’ve otherwise been reasonably good defensively over the past fortnight (both their LBCVOA and TBCVOA have been above average), they’ve somehow managed to lose because although they’ve allowed just 7 combined line breaks over two weeks, they’ve somehow conceded 11 tries.
So how did this happen? Against the Bulldogs, it was as simple as conceding 3 tries from kicks (though only the first was particularly unlucky), while against the Cowboys, the Jason Taumalolo try came from a freak error on a Darius Boyd kick return, while two more came from kicks – including the most outrageously unlucky bounce for Anthony Milford. Yes, Boyd’s positional play at fullback does leave them susceptible to a grubber behind the line, but regardless, they’d be unlucky if this trend continues; and if it stops, they’re in with a big shout here.
The Rabbitohs’ backline has been decimated beyond recognition, and it showed in their offensive performance last weekend. Though we acknowledge that they were facing the best defense in the league, the Rabbitohs’ 2 line breaks was nonetheless the least they’ve made since Round 2, and came despite a wealth of possession (55%) and a dominant display from their forwards (5 of whom made over 100m, including a phenomenal 222m effort by Tom Burgess). If they can’t get much going under conditions like that, they’re not likely to be any more favourable here, where the Broncos are effectively playing for their season (remember, they’re only 1 win clear of Wests, and have a date with the league-leading Roosters next week).
The Rabbitohs’ offense will no doubt be better this weekend for having spent the week working on their new combinations, however, the question is how much better they’ll be. We fancy the Broncos have a few points in them here, and if they can just have a bit more luck on defense, we’ll back them in for the upset.
Our tip: Broncos
Sea Eagles v Titans
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 3.82% (7th), Titans -22.33% (15th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles 6.49% (13th), Titans 51.37% (16th)
In a match that’s probably only of interest to fans of the teams involved (and perhaps not even then), the Sea Eagles will host the Titans on Friday at Brookvale (and even if you wanted to, good luck getting to Brookvale Oval by 6pm on a Friday).
Though their respective VOA numbers may suggest that this is a slam dunk tip for the Sea Eagles, it’s actually not. Yes, it was nice to see Manly’s forwards turn in their monthly big effort last weekend; and defensively, keeping the Bulldogs to 6 points was their best performance since they got to play against 11 men in Melbourne. The problem with Manly though, is that how they fare in any particular week appears to have no bearing whatsoever on how they go the next. Sure, they kept the the Bulldogs to just 2 line breaks, while only missing 16 tackles. But just one week earlier, they conceded almost exactly double those numbers, leaking 4 breaks and missing 31 tackles. The last time they conceded less than 4 line breaks (against the Storm in Round 18), they followed it up by allowing 13 to the Roosters. In short, the difference between the Sea Eagles’ best and the Sea Eagles’ worst is as wide as any team in the competition, and in many cases, they appear to swing between those extremes at random.
In contrast, the Titans had actually been consistently decent over the prior two months, before going error-for-error with Penrith last weekend. Had the Titans played anywhere near the level that they’d previously been playing at, they likely would have scored enough points to win. However, in much the same way as they did against the Eels a week earlier, the Titans managed to get themselves penalised out of the game, as they watched what should have been an overwhelming possession advantage get gobbled up by poor discipline.
Since Round 15, the Titans’ offense has actually been very good, turning in an impressive LBVOA of 32.90%. Their problem, though, is a lack of field position, that gets compounded by their tendency to give away penalties. With the Titans armed with one of the league’s worst forward packs (they rank 4th last in RMCVOA, and 2nd last in RMVOA), they’re typically behind the 8-ball for field position in the first place. So, when they give away penalties, one of two things happen: either a) they piggy-back their opponent into their own end, where they then struggle to get out again; or b) they concede points, because their opponent was already down their end, and their defense is completely incapable of withstanding repeat sets. As a result, their otherwise impressive attacking form isn’t translating to wins. When their discipline has been good, they’ve won – it’s no coincidence that in their only 3 wins since Round 12, they’ve given away their 3 lowest penalty counts (7, 5 and 4).
So the question here is: can we count on the Titans to dial in the penalties against Manly? And to that, we have to say probably not. The Titans have conceded the 3rd most penalties of any team this year, have given away double-digit penalties in 13 games this year. Now, they’re facing an away trip to Brookie, where the home crowd isn’t likely to let the referees miss much. Should they invite the Sea Eagles into their own end, you’d better believe that Manly have the attacking nous to turn those opportunities into points. The Titans absolutely have it within themselves to win this game, we just don’t have the confidence to say that they will.
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Storm v Eels
Offense VOA: Storm 9.91% (5th), Eels -21.28% (13th)
Defense VOA: Storm -28.37% (2nd), Eels 0.25% (7th)
They may have lost last week, but we came away from Melbourne’s loss to the Sharks even more convinced of their premiership credentials than ever.
Don’t get us wrong; the Storm were ordinary. But it’s surely a reflection of their class that the Storm can perform so far short of their best and still finish within 3 points of a quality side such as Cronulla (needless to say, we also regard the Sharks very highly). Though Melbourne’s offense was clunky, they were kept in the game by their defense, and their forwards.
After an horrific opening 20 minutes, the Storm’s defense tightened right up in the second stanza, allowing only 2 line breaks, and limiting Cronulla to just 641 metres. This, coupled with a monster effort by their starting pack (who all made 99m or more) helped Melbourne dominate territory and begin to turn the tide on Cronulla. Had their offense been only slightly better, they could easily have won.
The Eels, meanwhile, gave the Dragons an almighty touch-up, and in doing so, managed to climb off the bottom of the ladder for the first time since Round 2. Before we go too crazy about the Eels, we should first point out the obvious – they had a 61% possession share (meaning they had the ball for over 50% longer than the Dragons), from which they were always going to win (only 4 times all year has a team earned 60% or more of the possession, and they’ve all won, by an average score of 38-8). They certainly do deserve some credit for that – though the Dragons were abysmal, the Eels did turn in an astonishing 93% completion rate, and conceded just 5 penalties. The almost complete absence of cheap turnovers did a wonderful job of compounding the Dragons’ own error-riddled issues, and gave Parramatta the ideal platform from which to punish St George (with over 50% more ball, they also made over 50% more metres; earning a season-high 1812m). That’s great, but they won’t have the same success here.
Though it’s certainly plausible that the Storm will continue to rain errors (they’ve made the 4th most in the league), the chances of the Eels turning that into easy field position are slim. Whereas the Dragons rank 3rd last in RMCVOA, the Storm are a distant first, largely due to their ability to control the speed of the ruck. Secondly, winning the possession battle with the Storm doesn’t immediately equal points – despite earning less than 50% possession on 12 separate occasions this year, they’ve conceded over 20 points just 4 times, and never to an offense ranked lower than 8th (the Eels are 13th).
Which means that Parramatta are likely going to need to win with their defense. Though they were excellent last weekend, one swallow doesn’t make a summer; and we can’t forget that they conceded 7 or more line breaks in their two games immediately prior. The Eels certainly have the defensive ability to make life difficult for Melbourne, but they don’t show it with enough regularity for us to expect it.
So, suffice to say that we’re backing the Storm here. We actually do think that they’ll give a good showing; we just don’t believe they have the offensive aptitude to trouble the Great Wall of Melbourne.
Our tip: Storm
Panthers v Knights
Offense VOA: Panthers 11.50% (3rd), Knights -7.94% (11th)
Defense VOA: Panthers 2.75% (9th), Knights 16.95% (15th)
It’s likely a matter of opinion as to whether or not you find the Panthers’ ability to dig their way out of trouble impressive, or not.
Looking at them favourably, there’s probably no other team in the competition with the capacity to tear an opponent to shreds in such short order as Penrith. The fact that they’ve now amassed 6 games in a row in which they’ve made 5 or more line breaks, while playing perhaps a cumulative good hour or so of football could easily be the stuff of a Doctor Blake mystery. Penrith have struggled to turn in anything resembling a complete performance outside of their Round 12 thumping of St George-Illawarra, and yet their offensive numbers are out of this world. If they ever manage to put it all together for 80 minutes, they’d be close to unstoppable.
But on the other hand, it’s also difficult to ignore how unbelievably shit they’ve been through the majority of their matches. Last weekend they really tested the boundaries of poor performance, making 15 errors (their 2nd most in a game this year) and conceding a further 12 penalties (their 3rd most this season), in a disturbingly poor 76 minutes, in which Anthony Griffin must have been feeling somewhat vindicated. Then suddenly, KABOOM – Penrith dropped the hammer and blew through the Titans for 2 quick tries like they weren’t even there – but it doesn’t erase their earlier sloppiness.
The good news for Penrith is that the Knights weren’t good for any of their match against the Warriors. The Knights’ forwards are always poor, but getting outgained by over 600m – with only one forward making over 90m – is not a good sign when you’re facing a trip to Penrith. The Panthers forwards are monsters, and they should be welcoming James Tamou back into the squad this week as well.
Even allowing for the loss of James Maloney, this has all the makings of a beat-down for the Knights. The Knights haven’t made more than 1250m in any of their past 3 games (a mark that the Panthers have only missed 3 times all year), and with one of the game’s best offenses likely to receive a wealth of field position against the NRL’s 2nd worst defense, this is a recipe for disaster. The only question will be how long it takes for Penrith to get going. If they wait 75 minutes, we could have ourselves a contest. If they finally play to their potential, look out.
Our tip: Panthers
Tigers v Dragons
Offense VOA: Tigers -12.31% (12th), Dragons -0.56% (8th)
Defense VOA: Tigers 3.50% (10th), Dragons 0.36% (8th)
We had an inkling last week that the Dragons would struggle to handle the Eels; we never expected that they’d be on the receiving end of a 40-4 hiding from the team that was then running last.
The reason we had concerns for St George-Illawarra last weekend was that Parramatta are a stylistically poor matchup for the Dragons. The Dragons’ offense is only ever effective when their forwards are able to dominate, and any team with a pack who’ll match them with a bit of aggression can leave St George with no Plan B. Yes, the lop-sided possession count (39-61) and injury to Gareth Widdop certainly played a part; but the way the Eels were able to slow the Dragons’ forwards meant the Dragons weren’t going to score anyway. Remember, this is a forward pack widely considered to be among the best in the league, and who made up the core of the victorious New South Wales engine room. Against Parramatta, they could barely bend the line at all, with no Dragons forward making over 10m per carry, and only bench forward Leeson Ah Mau and second-rower Tariq Sims getting a tickle over 9. While the lack of footy inevitably meant they were going to be outgained, it was the lack of impact and their inability to re-establish control in the middle third that stopped their offense. Which is bad, because the Tigers can do the same thing.
It may sound odd with Wests coming off a 22-20 victory over the Raiders, but we were far more impressed by their defense than anything else they did against the Raiders. It’d be easy to look at their raw attacking numbers and say “Wowzers! 10 line breaks! Their offense must have been on FIRE!”. But to be quite honest, it really wasn’t. The Tigers’ first half offensive explosion was directly the result of the Raiders’ defensive ineptitude. The Tigers were strolling through the Raiders’ line without having to really throw anything at them. The overwhelming majority of Tigers’ breaks came not from well-executed set plays to get guys into space, but rather from poor misses by Raiders defenders (this can be evidenced by the Raiders’ unusually high missed tackle count – the Tigers’ 36 tackle breaks was only the 4th time all year they’ve had more than 30, and similarly, it was just the 6th time that Canberra have missed more than 30).
In contrast, when Canberra had the ball, they were throwing everything everything bar the kitchen sink at Wests, and – for the most part – the Tigers held up reasonably well. Sure, they conceded 20-odd points, but who doesn’t? The Raiders have scored more than that in 8 of their past 9.
Whether or not you rate the Tigers a chance here likely depends on two things: how badly you think the loss of Gareth Widdop affects the Dragons’ offense (just so you know, he’s their team leader in both try assists and line break assists), and whether or not you believe the Tigers middles can stop the Dragons’ pack (who are still missing Paul Vaughan). If both of those factors render the Dragons’ offense ineffective, then the Tigers’ own offensive question marks are likely to be irrelevant – the Tigers mightn’t need to score too many to win anyway.
Our tip: Tigers
Sharks v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Sharks -2.19% (9th), Cowboys -21.62% (14th)
Defense VOA: Sharks -14.62% (4th), Cowboys 5.85% (12th)
Last weekend’s Sharks/Storm encounter was every bit the low-scoring arm-wrestle that we expected it to be.
Though many have this week pointed to that victory as confirmation that the Sharks are legit premiership contenders (we don’t know why anyone needed confirmation, they’ve been very good for most of the year), we’d argue that they didn’t look particularly impressive, and in many ways were burdened by the same issues that have been holding them back of late.
Remember: the Storm were terrible. Though they’d been playing well leading into this clash, Melbourne looked obviously out-of-sorts for the majority of the game, with passes going behind players, and plays breaking down with worrying consistency. And yet, the Storm still managed to score 3 tries, and put 4 line breaks past the Sharks defense – the 4th time in their past 5 matches that the Sharks have allowed that many clean breaks. For a team built to win through defense, this should be concerning. Particularly, because in many cases, the issue hasn’t been bad defensive decisions, but rather bad defensive technique, with their spike in line breaks tied to a spike in missed tackles (their TBCVOA over this period is up to 13.47% – 4th worst in the competition). Indeed, the long break by Josh Addo-Carr featured as many as 4 missed tackles, while Joe Stimson’s came from a howler of a one-on-one miss by Chad Townsend, that probably should have led to a try. Of course, this is fixable – we’d certainly rather defenders who are getting in front and missing, rather than guys who fail to get into the right spot in the first place (*cough* Bryce Cartwright *cough*). But nonetheless – at some point you have to wonder why a team who missed 21 or less tackles in 7 of their first 9 games, has been averaging over 31 for the past 5 weeks.
That being said, we still don’t foresee it being an issue here. Though it was nice to see Johnathan Thurston’s Cowboys jag a win, they were a long way short of Cronulla’s level, and were arguably short of Brisbane’s, too. We can’t very well sit here and draw attention to the Sharks’ missed tackles without mentioning that the Cowboys have only missed less than 21 tackles in a game twice all year, and not since Round 7. Against the Broncos, they missed 31, while allowing a further 6 line breaks. If they defend like that against the Sharks, it’s very likely that they’ll concede something in the neighbourhood of 20-odd points, and that’s a mark that the Cowboys would be unlikely to hit at the best of times (indeed, they got exactly that back in Round 1, when the Cowboys squad was still healthy). Here, they’ve added Jason Taumalolo to an absentee list that already includes Michael Morgan and Javid Bowen, in addition to a host of old faithfuls who’ve been shuffled on to make way for younger talent.
We’d expect the Cowboys to struggle here anyway, but we can’t possibly back them without Taumalolo, who’s still the best forward in rugby league today. Without him, they have a real shortage of attacking weapons, and even if the Sharks’ defense is a little bit short of its best, we still can’t see them testing Cronulla.
Our tip: Sharks
Bulldogs v Warriors
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -23.57% (16th), Warriors -6.20% (10th)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs -2.63% (6th), Warriors 4.15% (11th)
Perhaps we’re just masochists, but we’re really looking forward to the Bulldogs/Warriors clash, if only to see what transpires.
The fascinating aspect of this clash is how evenly the two sides balance each other out. The Bulldogs come armed with the league’s worst offense, which has never been as evident as in their futile 6-point effort against Manly last week (just the 3rd time a team has scored less than 20 against Manly since Round 11). They had absolutely nothing, and the imminent return of Lachlan Lewis and his 0.33 line break assists per game isn’t likely to make them noticeably better. However, the Warriors’ offense is hardly setting the world on fire, either.
Though the easily-impressed may have been roused by the Warriors’ 20 points against the Knights, it didn’t escape us that it was against the Knights. In context, that sort of performance is average at best. Indeed, the Warriors’ 20 points was the 7th lowest score the Knights have conceded all year, and came on the back of a period in which the Warriors had made just 20 points in their prior 230 minutes of football against 13 men. The Bulldogs’ offense is awful, but the Warriors’ hasn’t been significantly better.
On defense, the story is similar. The Bulldogs are marginally better in VOA, but that’s mainly because of they’re consistency. They’re not especially dominant, but they’re rarely shockingly poor, having conceded more than 4 tries in a game just 4 times all season, and 3 or less in over half their matches. The Warriors, in contrast, have the capacity to be occasionally excellent – they shut down Newcastle with ease last weekend, and their season has been peppered with some super defensive displays – however they also have the potential to be eye-wateringly bad, having conceded 7 or more line breaks on 7 separate occasions (a mark that the Bulldogs have hit just 3 times). The Bulldogs defense mightn’t be great, but it’s rarely awful.
Which is why this game could be anything. Neither side is in particularly good touch, and though the Bulldogs are predictably at a particular level, the gulf between the Warriors’ best and worst is enormous. As it stands, we’re taking the Warriors on the grounds that we’d rather have the team with the upside to win the game, rather than the side relying on their opponent to lose it. But honestly, anything could happen.
Our tip: Warriors
Raiders v Roosters
Offense VOA: Raiders 30.21% (2nd), Roosters 9.26% (6th)
Defense VOA: Raiders 11.47% (14th), Roosters -34.38% (1st)
The relentless drag of a disappointing season looks to have finally taken its toll on the Raiders.
After a season’s worth of matches in which they’ve typically played well but ultimately lost, they once again came up short last Sunday, but this time, they didn’t even play well. Though the scoreline was ultimately flattering, the Raiders’ laughably poor defense probably deserved to concede more than the 20 points they gave up in the opening stanza. Yes, most of the damage was done while Joey Leilua was in the sin-bin, however a lack of numbers doesn’t explain the pathetically soft missed tackles, nor the sheer ease with which the Tigers were cutting through their line. Wests weren’t throwing anything particularly exotic at the Raiders (and unsurprisingly, they went tryless in the second half); this simply looked like the result of poor attitude, which is probably understandable at this point.
However, it’s not about to get any easier. Fresh off a hard-fought victory in which the Roosters kept the league’s best offense to just 2 tries, Sydney will now head to Canberra in the box seat for the minor premiership. If the Raiders have nothing to play for, it’s the opposite for the Roosters, who we’d expect to be bringing their best effort to Canberra. As it stands, they’re already a bad matchup for Canberra – their elite defense has conceded more than 20 points just 5 times all year, and just once in their past 10 games. The Raiders, meanwhile, have only held their opponents to less than 20 on 6 occasions so far (and never against an Offense ranked higher than 12th), and twice in their past 12. If the Roosters’ defense is capable of shutting down the Raiders (which it should be), we hold very little hope of the Raiders defense keeping the scoreline competitive.
While the Roosters’ offense has been building into the season (they’d scored 21 tries in 3 weeks, prior to their battle with the Rabbitohs), the Raiders’ defense has been virtually non-existent of late, conceding a league-worst 35 line breaks in their past 4 games (for context, that’s 40% more than the next worst, Penrith).
With the Roosters building and the Raiders fading, we just can’t see how the Raiders compete here, sans a huge improvement in attitude.
Our tip: Roosters