2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 103/176 (59%)
Line Betting: 37/78 (47%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 24 Tips and Previews
Tigers v Sea Eagles
Offense VOA: Tigers -15.02% (12th), Sea Eagles 7.36% (5th)
Defense VOA: Tigers 4.19% (10th), Sea Eagles 10.04% (14th)
The last month or so has seen Thursday nights turn into the evening for upsets; which makes us immediately ask the question: ‘why not Manly?’.
Well, there’s a few obvious reasons. They’re coming in off the back of an embarrassing home loss to the Titans, which was the 4th time in their last 5 games that they’ve conceded 28 or more points in a match. They’ve won just 3 of their last 11 matches, and are now facing an away trip to Campbelltown, where they’ll take on a Tigers side who must win in order to keep their season alive, and who thumped them 38-12 back in Round 6. It’s not ideal.
But it’s also not impossible.
For as magical as the Tigers’ story has been, they haven’t been playing particularly well of late themselves. We warned you in last week’s preview that their numbers against Canberra were inflated by the Raiders’ ineptitude, and they proved us correct – turning in an ugly, mistake-riddled performance in losing to the Dragons last week. In fact, outside of the Canberra Stadium outlier, the Tigers have scored just 6 tries in their other 3 games since Round 20, and only made 7 line breaks. Of course, we’d expect their offense to find a bit more success against Manly (just about everyone finds success against Manly), but it’s likely a mistake to assume that the Tigers will automatically post a big total just because they’re playing the Sea Eagles.
Not to mention that the Tigers’ defense isn’t that good, either. Yes, for the most part it’s better than Manly’s, but you may be interested to learn that over the last 4 weeks, the two sides have an almost identical LBCVOA of 1.17% and -3.09% – with Manly’s being the slightly better one. Add in the loss of the Tigers’ best middle defender, Elijah Taylor, and perhaps we shouldn’t be immediately assuming that the Tigers’ defense will be the difference.
Of course, it’s still difficult to back the Sea Eagles here. Last week, they managed to post 34 points, and they still lost. The Tigers have all the motivation in the world, while the Eagles seem to just be counting down the days until the end of the season. But if we’re purely discussing football ability – and we remember that it is Thursday – we keep coming back to that question: ‘why not Manly?’.
Our tip: Sea Eagles
Warriors v Panthers
Offense VOA: Warriors -4.76% (10th), Panthers 8.26% (4th)
Defense VOA: Warriors 7.77% (12th), Panthers 1.76% (9th)
Ignoring for a moment that both of these sides were raging hot favourites last weekend, was anyone really that that surprised that they both lost?
Sure, they’re both comfortably in the Top 8, but for as many good performances as both these teams have registered, they’ve turned as many stinkers, if not more. The Warriors have so far registered losses to bottom 8 teams the Bulldogs and Titans, they’ve given up 50 points to the Storm, and they got hammered 36-4 by the Panthers’ reserve grade team back in Round 17. The Panthers, meanwhile, haven’t been any better, with losses to the Knights, Cowboys, Sea Eagles and Bulldogs, their own 50 point embarrassment against Brisbane; and that’s only counting the games they’ve lost. Penrith have also been dreadful for extended periods in most of the games they’ve won. If you’re looking for consistent excellence in the NRL, you’re probably best served looking elsewhere.
So, what happens when they play each other? Honestly, who knows? If either side turns up and plays to their potential, it’s likely to be enough to win; but how often does either side do that? Rather, all we can do is look at how they typically play, and go from there.
By that measure, we’d argue that the Panthers are in marginally better form, but it’s close. Neither side is setting the world on fire defensively, with the Warriors’ LBCVOA over their past 4 games of 36.45% slightly better than the Panthers’ 41.58%, but only barely (and they’re both terrible). On offense though, it’s a different story.
Though the Warriors had a mammoth 58% share of possession against the Bulldogs, they could only muster 5 tries, and that’s while throwing everything they had at Canterbury (with their set plays struggling, they turned to extensive second-phase play in order to crack the Bulldogs’ line, posting a whopping 19 offloads for the game – their 2nd most all year). The fact that New Zealand were able to make so many offloads while limiting their errors to just 7 was certainly impressive, but also unlikely to be replicated. In previous games when they’ve leaned on offloads for offense, it’s led to a spike in errors – when they made their season-high 27 offloads in Round 2, they made 10 errors; in the 3 games where they made 17 offloads, their error counts jumped to 9, 13 and a whopping 16. If that’s how they choose to play it against Penrith, they’re certainly likely to score, but they’re also likely to gift possession to the Panthers – and if the Panthers’ offense gets going, it very well may be curtains.
That said, the Panthers are going through a clumsy phase of their own. After leading the league in ball-handling for most of the season, they’ve turned in 15 errors in both of their last 2 games, and have rung in the changes as a result. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak returns to fullback (where he should have been in the first place), Wayde Egan comes in at hooker (Sione Katoa had made the 8th most errors in the team, and given away the 5th most penalties), and James Fisher-Harris returns at lock (Corey Harawira-Naera is a superbly talented edge runner, but turned in the worst game of his life last weekend at lock, missing 7 tackles, making 2 handling errors, and averaging less than 7 metres per carry). All of these changes are beneficial, but will the team play any better?
In theory, Penrith should be comfortably better than the Warriors, especially with five-eighth Blake Green out of action. But can we be comfortable backing them? When these two sides are involved, we’re never comfortable.
Our tip: Panthers
Cowboys v Eels
Offense VOA: Cowboys -18.60% (14th), Eels -23.98% (16th)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 7.42% (11th), Eels -2.25% (6th)
The much-hyped Spoon Bowl of 2018 has finally arrived, and you almost feel sorry for the teams involved, given how well they’ve both been playing lately.
If you’d only been watching the NRL for the past month, you’d never guess that these sides are anchored to the bottom of the table. North Queensland have won 2 of their last 4, and gave another solid account of themselves last weekend. Though the scoreline looks bad, the mere fact that they went toe-to-toe with an elite side such as the Sharks is a giant leap forward for the Cowboys, and we shouldn’t forget that they were actually level at halftime. The big knock on the Cowboys this year has been their inability to create scoring opportunities, but their 5 line breaks against Cronulla was just the 8th time all year that the Sharks have conceded that many in a game, and the Cowboys did it without their most damaging ball runner, Jason Taumalolo.
The Eels, meanwhile, were pretty decent themselves against Melbourne, and were somewhat unlucky that the score looked as bad as it did (they lost 20-4). The great strength of the Eels these days is their defense, and they were impressive again, keeping the Storm to just 2 line breaks; a week after allowing 0 to the Dragons. Granted, the Storm were completely out of troops for pretty much the entire second half, but still – that was the fewest line breaks the Storm have made in a match since they were held to 2 by the Roosters in Round 16; and in the first half – when the Storm had 58% of the ball – they kept them to zero.
So, with the improving Cowboys offense meeting the suddenly-elite Eels defense, who wins? As is often the case in such matchups, we’re siding with the superior forward pack, and by that measure, this is a no-contest. The Cowboys are welcoming back Taumalolo and Matt Scott to a pack that only just regained Jordan McLean, while the Eels have lost the under-rated Nathan Brown.
If the Eels are going to win, they’re going to need to keep it incredibly tight, and we wouldn’t be surprised if both sides play a conservative, forwards-dominated game plan, at least until someone falls behind. If Parramatta can control possession and limit the damage up the middle, they’re a big chance. But this is in North Queensland, at Johnathan Thurston’s last home game, with the loser lumped with the wooden spoon. If the Cowboys forwards are ever going to turn in a monster game, it’s probably going to be this week. The Eels had better be prepared.
Our tip: Cowboys
Raiders v Rabbitohs
Offense VOA: Raiders 25.32% (2nd), Rabbitohs 41.79% (1st)
Defense VOA: Raiders 7.98% (13th), Rabbitohs -11.62% (4th)
How does Ricky Stuart have any hair left?
While he seemed to be pleased with the Raiders’ superb defensive display against the Roosters last week, he surely must have been frustrated, wondering where on earth that sort of effort has been the rest of the season? Just a week earlier, they turned in their most inept defensive performance of the year, getting torn apart by a pretty mediocre Tigers team; only to turn around and deliver a gritty, hard-earned win against the ladder-leaders (and one in which they defended a 2-point lead for 11 minutes, we might add). Given the high standard of their offense (which has scored the most points of any team this year), if they defended anywhere near that level for the rest of the year, they’d easily be embedded in the Top 4. But they don’t.
Instead, what they typically do is give up a heap of line breaks (they rank 3rd last in LBCVOA) and concede a heap of tries (they’ve conceded the 4th most tries). Indeed, prior to last week, they’d conceded 6 or more line breaks in a game for the previous 4 weeks in a row. Which is bad news at any time; it’s particularly bad news when you’re about to play the Rabbitohs.
Yes, the high-octane Rabbitohs offense has been sputtering over the past fortnight, but that was with most of their backline stars out of action. This week they welcome back Alex Johnston, Campbell Graham and Greg Inglis, giving them back the strike power that they’d been lacking. Between those 3 players, the Rabbitohs will be getting back 35 combined line breaks worth of talent, and 20 tries. It’s little wonder that South were struggling to score in their absence.
But they shouldn’t have any trouble this week. Though Canberra were defensively excellent last week, that effort looks like a classic outlier, and the return of turnstile Michael Oldfield to the centres is likely to make Canberra worse, not better (his 66% tackle efficiency is the 3rd worst of any NRL centre this year). As much as we love the Raiders, they’re going to need to be even better than last week here, and we don’t see it happening.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Titans v Storm
Offense VOA: Titans -18.45% (13th), Storm 7.23% (6th)
Defense VOA: Titans 54.66% (16th), Storm -30.14% (2nd)
We’re not backing the Titans. Regular Gold Coast readers would have known that long before they opened this week’s preview, but we feel the need to say that upfront. However, we’ll also say this: this is the best chance the Titans have had in years of beating Melbourne, and that includes the game last year that they actually won.
Look, perhaps we’re just enchanted by the juicy $2.75 you can get on the Titans at time of writing, but we legitimately think they’re a serious shot here. Though they’re not a side typically known for their attacking prowess, they’ve been one of the most in-form attacking units of the past two months, with last week’s win over Manly the 6th game in a row that they’ve made 5 or more line breaks. Through that period, they’re averaging over 4 tries per game. Sure, we wouldn’t expect those numbers to continue against the Storm’s elite defense, but this isn’t the Melbourne team you’re used to seeing.
Rather, the Storm have been decimated by injury and suspension, with representative stars Will Chambers, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Suliasi Vunivalu all ruled out (as well as reserve hooker Brandon Smith, while Cameron Smith is under an injury cloud himself). Remember, the last time Vunivalu was missing the Storm leaked 4 line breaks and 3 tries down his edge against the Rabbitohs. Though they defended superbly well against the Eels while down to 12 men and an empty bench, but the Titans are a distinct upgrade over Parramatta.
And they’re likely to have to win via defense, because their offense hasn’t been sharp for weeks, and that was when their team was healthy. Over their past 6 games, the only defense the Storm have really lit up was the Raiders’ and they needed a 57% possession share to do it. Even including that game, their LBVOA over the past six weeks is a pretty pedestrian -14.43% – a huge drop-off from the Titans’ 44.24% over the same period.
And so, we’re taking the Storm, but only because we believe in their defense (and the Titans’ is the worst in the league). If their injury toll adversely affects it (as it very well might), we don’t just think it’d be competitive; we think the Titans could win.
Our tip: Storm
Roosters v Broncos
Offense VOA: Roosters 5.78% (7th), Broncos 13.72% (3rd)
Defense VOA: Roosters -37.74% (1st), Broncos -10.65% (5th)
We had this game ear-marked as another upset win for the Broncos, until Tuesday afternoon happened. With the arrival of Tuesday afternoon came the naming of the teamlists, and with them, the return of Luke Keary. And Luke Keary changes everything.
For anyone skeptical about the value of Keary to the Roosters, may we direct you to their production, both with and without their little five-eighth. Prior to Keary’s injury, the Roosters had made over 9 line breaks in back-to-back matches, and were looking close to unstoppable. Since then though, they’ve made just 9 in their past 3 games combined, including being held to 2 tries last weekend by the league’s 4th worst defense. The difference in the Roosters both with and without Keary is obvious: in their 18 matches with Keary, they have an above average LBVOA of 6.13%; without him, that drops to an insipid -31.47% (which shouldn’t be any great surprise; his 16 line break assists are a distant first on his team, and 10th in the league). Which is good news for Sydney, but bad news for Brisbane.
Because without Keary, the Broncos would have been a huge chance. As it is, we still think the match will be hugely competitive (the Broncos actually won 28-22 back in Round 11), but we fancy that the Roosters probably have a few more points in them. Indeed, the recent absence of Keary may turn out to be a blessing for the Roosters, as in his absence, Cooper Cronk has finally begun to put his stamp on the side, with his kicking game in particular right on point last week (Cronk forced 4 line drop-outs against the Raiders, helping his side win the possession battle despite losing the penalty count 10-7). The combination of Cronk’s game management with Keary’s creativity may finally live up to it’s potential.
The Roosters’ defense is the best in the NRL, and while the Broncos’ has been quite good of late as well (they’ve kept every opponent they’ve faced to 4 or less line breaks for the past 4 weeks in a row), the difference between the two is sizable. If the Roosters’ defense was good enough to hold the Raiders to a single try (the first time anyone’s done so all year), they should have enough to contain Brisbane.
Don’t be surprised if the Roosters come back with a bang.
Our tip: Roosters
Sharks v Knights
Offense VOA: Sharks 1.73% (8th), Knights -8.54% (11th)
Defense VOA: Sharks -12.99% (3rd), Knights 14.81% (15th)
Like most people, the Knights winning always brings a little smile to our faces here at The Obstruction Rule, particularly when they manage to jag one against a Top 8 team, like they did last weekend. It was nice. But don’t let that warm, fuzzy feeling cloud your judgment – they’re probably about to get toweled up.
For a start, the Knights were not good last weekend. They made 16 errors, were outgained (again) by over 350m, and they gave away 10 penalties. In fact, it’s a minor miracle that they won while playing so poorly, and the responsibility for the result falls more on the Panthers’ immense suckitude than anything else. If Newcastle played any other team last weekend – anyone at all – they would have lost.
And in addition to not being good last weekend, they’re typically not very good most weekends. Though they had one of the hottest red zone offenses in the league earlier in the year, the toll of injuries and a long season has worn them down, and they’ve now failed to muster a positive LBVOA since they lost to Melbourne all the way back in Round 15. We’d thought that the return of Mitchell Pearce would spark them again, but unfortunately they then lost five-eighth Connor Watson, and have been forced to continually churn through changes to their spine, with Jack Cogger and Nick Meaney both being brought in to little effect (while Watson has 16 line break involvements and 47 tackle breaks from 14 appearances; Cogger and Meaney have a combined 11 LBI and 16 tackle busts from 14 games of their own). Watson is a chance to return here (he’s been named on an extended bench), but now Kalyn Ponga is in doubt; and regardless, we can’t see it making a substantial difference.
The Sharks are comprehensively better than the Knights in every facet of the game, and with a Top 4 spot still up for grabs, we completely expect them to bring their best footy in front of their home crowd. While the Knights have been outgained in all but one game this season, the Sharks have dominated yardage in 13 of 22 games this year (including outgaining the Cowboys last weekend by over 200m). While the Knights haven’t posted a positive LBVOA over the past 6 weeks, the Sharks have a staggering LBVOA of 29.71% over the same period. And though we think the Sharks’ defensive level has been slipping of late, the return of Wade Graham this weekend will be a huge boost (his 5 line breaks conceded in 15 games is easily the best among Cronulla edge forwards), and still, they’re a long way better than Newcastle, anyway.
Finally, you may be interested to learn that Cronulla have won their last 7 on the trot against Newcastle, scoring 30+ in 4 of those wins. We don’t expect this one to be any different.
Our tip: Sharks
Dragons v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Dragons -0.80% (9th), Bulldogs -21.03% (15th)
Defense VOA: Dragons -1.81% (7th), Bulldogs -1.44% (8th)
Please indulge us for a moment while we get something off our chest: Lachlan Lewis isn’t very good. (That feels SO much better.)
We feel the need to point this out, not because we particularly dislike Lewis (he seems like a lovely kid), but rather to counterbalance the out-of-control hype-train about Lewis currently in the mainstream media. It’s downright baffling why his tyres are being pumped so hard on the back of one immaculate field goal, kicked under no pressure whatsoever (only the Warriors would have such a low football IQ as to not expect a field goal attempt with the scores locked and 90 seconds remaining). He’s being talked up like he’s the second coming of Steve Mortimer, when in reality he looks a lot more like Daniel Mortimer – who was also an over-hyped rookie, and who came back to earth with a thud in his second year.
If we were to summarise our criticism of Lewis into a single sentence, it’d be this: at this early point in his development, he lacks any of the attacking skills required of an NRL half. He’s a complete non-threat running the football (his 4 tackle breaks is less than all halves this year who’ve played 7 or more matches, outside journeyman Sam Williams and Trent “No-Knees” Hodkinson), he can’t put his outside men into space (he has just 3 line break assists in 7 matches), and his kicking action is so painfully slow that we’ve seen Anthony Griffin complete sentences in the time it takes Lewis to get a kick away. As soon as an opponent clues into it and starts putting him under pressure (which we don’t expect will take particularly long), he’ll lose his only remotely serviceable asset.
And please, before you angrily write in about how he’s only young, we acknowledge that he’ll surely get better in time (he couldn’t possibly get worse). However, even relative to other young halves, he just isn’t very good. The following is a list of some halves with more line break assists than Lewis this year: Matt Frawley, Ryley Jacks, Jack Cogger, Te Maire Martin, Tyrone Peachey, Clint Gutherson and Blake Austin. What do they all have in common? None of them are a first choice half at their respective clubs. At this point in his career, about the only regular half in the competition we’d prefer Lewis to is Jeremy Marshall-King, which is unfortunate for the Bulldogs – since they play for the same team.
So, it goes without saying that we’re taking the Dragons here. Not because St George-Illawarra are playing particularly well themselves – they’re not (in fact, they’ve been dreadful). They got a win last weekend, but in fairness, it was more a case of the Tigers beating themselves (it’s hard to win a game making 18 errors). The Dragons offense is struggling itself, having scored more than 3 tries in a game just once in the past 6 weeks. However, we still fancy they’re better than Canterbury (the Dragons have made 6 line breaks in a game twice in the past 4 weeks alone; the Bulldogs haven’t done it all year).
And in addition to a marginally better offense, the Dragons are also likely to have better field position with which to score, too. Though the Dragons have been getting inexplicably gashed for run metres of late (they’ve conceded 1350m or more in every game for the past 8 weeks), there’s not a team in the league who gives up as many metres as Canterbury, who have a shameful RMCVOA of 6.42%. St George seem intent on taking advantage of those run metres on offer, shifting Tyson Frizell to the second row in order to accommodate metre-eater Leeson Ah Mau (who actually leads their all-star pack in metres per carry with 9.6).
This game is likely to be tight, and we’d understand if Dragons fans have post-traumatic stress after the way they imploded against the Bulldogs in the final round last year. But ultimately, if we have to choose between a halves combination of Kurt Mann & Ben Hunt vs Lachlan Lewis & Jeremy Marshall-King, we’ll take Mann/Hunt, without hesitation.
Our tip: Dragons