2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 106/184 (58%)
Line Betting: 38/82 (46%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 25 Tips and Previews
Rabbitohs v Tigers
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs 39.75% (1st), Tigers -12.07% (11th)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs -12.74% (5th), Tigers 4.05% (10th)
Round 25 opens with what could have been a do-or-die clash for the Tigers. Had the Panthers rolled the Warriors, or the Roosters beaten Brisbane, everyone would have been talking about this game.
And the Tigers would’ve been in with a huge chance, too. Their tough middle defense matches up well against the Rabbitohs’ bigs, and when the two sides last met, they held the high-octane Rabbitohs offense to just 6 points (the only time Souths have scored less than 12 all year). Their attack is spotty (outside of a brief 4-minute spurt against Manly, their offense was nauseatingly bad last week), but it has its moments, and if they can hold Souths to 2 or 3 tries, they could seriously win here.
But, it wasn’t to be. And now, instead of the Tigers battling for their season, they instead have a largely meaningless evening of sports, against a South Sydney side jostling for Top 4 positioning. To make matters worse, Wests have lost their front row enforcer, Russell Packer; while their opponents get to add Robert Jennings back into a three-quarter line that just regained Alex Johnston, Greg Inglis and Campbell Graham a week ago (the new faces had little impact against Canberra, but they’ll be better for the run).
Finally, it’s worth noting that after the Tigers’ dominant win over Souths in Round 19, the Rabbitohs opened up the playbook a bit and demonstrated a bit more attacking enterprise in putting 30 points on the Storm, before a mounting injury toll completely derailed their offense (in Rounds 22 & 23 – when the Rabbitohs were without all of Inglis, Jennings, Graham, Adam Douehi and Johnston – South Sydney’s LBVOA plummeted to -20.23%, despite being 39.01% for the year). They admittedly weren’t any better last week either, but they didn’t get much of an opportunity to be – they gifted the match to Canberra via a whopping 14 errors, and got hammered 10-6 in the penalty count, to boot.
But here, with their strike weapons all one game further into their comebacks, and against a team playing only for pride, we’re expecting the Rabbitohs to have too much firepower. It’s a shame – this game projects closely enough, and the Rabbitohs have been sufficiently out-of-sorts (they’re currently on a 3-match losing streak), that we’d otherwise probably back the Tigers in here. Instead, we’re expecting relatively little resistance, and the Rabbitohs to get back on track.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Warriors v Raiders
Offense VOA: Warriors -1.36% (9th), Raiders 24.04% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Warriors 4.93% (12th), Raiders 5.88% (13th)
Whether or not you were impressed by the Warriors’ win over the Panthers last Friday night likely hinges on how positively you’ve perceived the rest of their season so far. If you’re one of those Warriors apologists who thinks they’ve had a strong year and are a legitimate premiership threat, then you probably saw their thrashing of the Panthers as an appropriate return to form, and an announcement of their intent to go deep in September.
We, however, think the Warriors are crud; have always been crud; and that last weekend was merely an opportunistic thrashing of an opponent playing so badly that any decent team would have won by 50. Our gripe with the Warriors is that neither their offense nor their defense is in any way reliable. Sure, they just put 36 on Penrith. But so what? They’ve had random good games scattered throughout the season, but just as many terrible ones to match. Last weekend was the 6th time this year that New Zealand have scored 5 or more tries in a game; yet they’ve also been held to 2 or less tries in a game on 7 occasions (and 2 of those came the week following a 5+ try effort). Their defense is even worse.
They did very well last weekend to keep the Panthers to just 2 line breaks; but a week earlier, they got gashed for 5 by Canterbury (which also happened to be the equal most the Bulldogs have made in a game all year). The week prior, they held the Knights to 2; and the week before that, they gave up 6 to the Dragons. Are you seeing a pattern here? Indeed, from 23 matches played so far this year, only once have they gone 3 weeks without conceding at least 5 line breaks in a game.
What we were impressed with last weekend was the Raiders’ win over the Rabbitohs. Though the Raiders’ defense is almost as inconsistent as the Warriors’ (they’ve gone 3 weeks without conceding 5 line breaks in a game twice), containing the Rabbitohs to just 2 tries is undoubtedly more impressive than keeping the Panthers to 3; and there’s no argument whatsoever about the Raiders’ attacking ability.
We’re sure by now you’ve heard the news that the Raiders are likely to become the first team in the modern era to score the most points in a season and miss the playoffs (they currently lead the competition by 16 points), but they also rank 1st in TBVOA, 2nd in LBVOA, and score points with incredible consistency, having been held to 2 or less tries in a game just 3 times all season (and that’s despite their best player, Josh Hodgson, being unavailable until Round 15).
So for us, it’s reasonably straightforward. If you’re judging their defenses on last weekend’s effort, Canberra were better. If you’re judging them on the season, they’re both unreliable. And if you’re judging their offenses, the Raiders are so much better it isn’t even close. So it’s Canberra for us. Though we acknowledge the possibility that the Warriors might play well, it’s every bit as likely that they won’t; and if Canberra play well, the Raiders will win, anyway.
Our tip: Raiders
Storm v Panthers
Offense VOA: Storm 6.33% (5th), Panthers 6.48% (4th)
Defense VOA: Storm -28.66 (2nd), Panthers 4.75% (11th)
Having presumably just read the previous game’s preview, you likely already know what we think of Penrith’s performance last weekend – they were unbelievably bad, and it was looking like being the worst performance of any team this year (until the Dragons played on Sunday afternoon).
The Panthers should have won both their last two matches; and if they had, they’d be playing off for the minor premiership this weekend against the Storm. However, they’ve suddenly found themselves mired in a bog of poor form, beating themselves in every possible way. After being one of the most disciplined teams in the league for ball-handling, their past 3 games has seen them make error counts of 15, 15 and 12, which is disastrous on two fronts. Firstly, because it robs possession from their otherwise-dangerous offense. But secondly (and perhaps most importantly), because it increases the exposure of their defense, which – particularly of late – has been dismal.
It’s well known that the Panthers miss a bunch of tackles (they’ve missed the 3rd most of any team this year), but now they’ve suddenly started allowing line breaks as well (and sometimes, they even combine the two!). Through their past 3 games, the Panthers have allowed a LBCVOA of 38.04% – 2nd worst in the league. Unsurprisingly, that’s led to them conceding a whopping 13 tries in 3 games. This is bad, but it’s especially perplexing given how good they were earlier in the season. Remember, this is the same Penrith team that went 2 whole matches without conceding a single try in weeks 11 and 12. How they’ve allowed their defense to descend to this level of ineptitude is a mystery (and before you point the finger at the sacking of Anthony Griffin, note that the Panthers’ defensive collapse began all the way back in Round 18 – four weeks before Griffin got the punt).
But (we can’t believe we’re typing this) they’re not without some hope here. Though they’re playing the best team in the competition, they’re playing them without a host of stars – and without them, the Storm’s offense is a lot less intimidating. Though the Storm were arguably better than the 8-6 scoreline suggests (they still made 7 line breaks), they were still ineffective last week, and continue to plagued by handling issues of their own (they’ve now made double-digit errors in 4 of their past 5). Perhaps more notably, without a host of forwards (including Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Sam Kasiano and Ryan Hoffman), they were outgained by the Titans – just the 2nd time the Titans have won the yardage battle against anyone in their past 8 matches. With the big Penrith pack rolling in to town, and the return of James Maloney, there’s every chance that the Storm are going to need to find more than 2 tries to win.
That said, they probably will. Regardless of how many question marks might be hanging over Melbourne, we couldn’t in all good conscience tip Penrith, no matter how much potential they might have for an upset. After a pretty ordinary last month, the Panthers went to a whole new level of craptacular last weekend, and it would take an enormous reversal of form to win here.
Our tip: Storm
Knights v Dragons
Offense VOA: Knights -12.37% (12th), Dragons -7.33% (10th)
Defense VOA: Knights 18.60% (15th), Dragons 1.57% (7th)
This could be the most difficult game of the week to project, with both sides coming into this clash in really ordinary form.
Both sides have won just 1 of their past 5, and will be without key players. For Newcastle, their swollen injured list has grown to add Connor Watson and Lachlan Fitzgibbon, in addition to their best player, Kalyn Ponga (who was notably absent in last weekend’s 38-12 belting from Cronulla). This leaves Mitchell Pearce as the only remaining starter in an otherwise second-string spine, comprising Pearce, Nick Meaney, Jack Cogger and Danny Levi. While this would be difficult to overcome for any side, for a team such as Newcastle – who lean on their offense in order to win games – it’s downright devastating.
Though they’ve improved dramatically from last season, the Knights’ defense is still well short of NRL standard, and has seen them concede 20 or more points in 16 of their 23 matches so far (including 5 of their past 6 – the only game they won in that stretch, they held Penrith to 12). When your defense is conceding those sort of numbers, it puts enormous pressure on your offense to generate points (just ask the Raiders), especially when you’re missing your best playmakers, as Newcastle are here.
If there’s any hope for the Knights, it’s that the Dragons’ offense hasn’t been scoring many points lately themselves, having notched up 20 points in a game just twice in their past 10 games. Now, they’ve added Euan Aitken and Jason Nightingale to a list of outs that already included Gareth Widdop, Paul Vaughan, and it looks like we may have ourselves a real contest (or perhaps more accurately, a stalemate).
If we were arguing for the Knights, we’d say that Pearce is probably the best player on the ground here, and that he should be able to find holes in a Dragons defense that’s conceded 38 or more points to bottom 4 defenses twice in 3 games. However, we’re not arguing for the Knights. This looks more to us like the Dragons sole recent win, in which they scraped home over the Tigers in a pretty lacklustre contest between two struggling sides. Though the Dragons’ offense is out-of-sorts, is notable to us that their only two recent scores of 20 or more points came in their only two games against defenses ranked in the bottom 6. The Knights’ is ranked 12th.
So we’re hopeful that the Dragons can find the points necessary to limp home to victory here. But don’t confuse ‘hopeful’ with ‘confident’.
Our tip: Dragons
Titans v Cowboys
Offense VOA: Titans -17.86% (15th), Cowboys -14.69% (13th)
Defense VOA: Titans 55.37% (16th), Cowboys 4.02% (9th)
It’s not often that a final round clash between two bottom 4 sides carries the potential to be the game of the round, but here we are.
At the end of a topsy-turvy NRL season, it seems appropriate that a couple of stragglers would be right up there among the form teams of the competition. And make no mistake, they are.
The Titans gave a good account of themselves in going down narrowly 8-6 to the competition leaders, and had they been facing anyone other than the Storm, they probably win that game. The Titans’ offense was disciplined, and they managed to stretch their run to 7 games in a row with a positive LBVOA (a period in which their LBVOA of 37.28% places them 2nd in the league). Only the elite Melbourne defense was able to keep them out, and if they continue to play to that standard, they should have more success against the Cowboys.
However, the result will likely depend less on the Titans, and more on how good the Cowboys play. With their forward pack finally back to full-strength, the Cowboys completely blew the Eels off the park last Friday night, with every Cowboys starting forward gaining 100m or more (and 3 of them went for over 150m, with Jason Taumalolo’s staggering 203m leading the way). If the Cowboys are able to stomp all over the Titans’ middles in a similar manner (which they should, given that the Titans’ defense ranks 3rd last in RMCVOA), then it’s likely that the recently efficient Titans offense could find itself starved of field position and attacking opportunities.
Which would be disastrous for the Gold Coast. Because as good as their attack has been (and it has been excellent), their defense remains the worst in the league; and even during their recent uptick in form, they’ve still managed to concede 31 line breaks in their past 4 matches (by comparison, the Cowboys have conceded just 18). If the match is played down the Titans’ end, it’s not a question of whether or not the Cowboys score, it’s a question of how many.
Which then puts the onus back onto the Titans to keep up. We’re giving them a good shot, and like their chances of scoring (we’ve got them down for about 3 tries). But if the Cowboys forwards get rolling, we’re not sure anyone could stop them, least of all the Titans.
Our tip: Cowboys
Eels v Roosters
Offense VOA: Eels -27.11% (16th), Roosters 5.58% (8th)
Defense VOA: Eels 1.99% (8th), Roosters -37.67% (1st)
Well, that was short-lived.
Having scrapped and battled and fought their way to finally get off the bottom of the ladder, it lasted all of two weeks, before the Cowboys dumped Parramatta right back down there in emphatic fashion.
In many ways, we feel sorry for the Eels. They’ve actually been playing really well for the past two months, and it’s extraordinarily unfortunate that Spoon Bowl 2018 happened to coincide with Johnathan Thurston’s final home game in Townsville. Parramatta were never going to win that game, and North Queensland let them know it almost immediately, streaking away to a 14-point lead inside the opening 10 minutes. Even if the Cowboys hadn’t been brilliant (which they most definitely were), the referees likely wouldn’t have let Parramatta win anyway, as they got hammered 13-7 in the penalty count, on the way to giving the Cowboys an absurd 63% possession share. We’re not taking anything away from the Cowboys – just to reiterate, they were phenomenal from the opening whistle – but simply pointing out that the Eels were on a hiding to nothing here, and if it were any other day, it probably wouldn’t have been quite so ugly.
But here we are, and absent a healthy upset win here (plus Manly copping a significant flogging on Sunday), the Eels will likely come last. We’d be surprised if they’ve already given up – they’ve showed plenty of moxie over the past two months, and the chances of the Sea Eagles getting pumped by Brisbane are (to put it politely) “high”. However, we just don’t know how the Eels will beat Sydney.
The problem here is that the two sides are built very similarly, but the Roosters are significantly better in every facet. Both sides win games on the back of their defenses, but as good as Parramatta’s has been of late, the Roosters’ is the best in the league. Neither side will win any awards for their offense, but while the Roosters’ is disappointing, Parramatta’s is utterly hopeless (need we remind you of the Eels’ Round 23 effort against the Storm, where they had 56% of the ball in the second half, against a Melbourne team with an empty bench and who’d lost a man to the sin bin – and they only scored 4 points). Both sides have potential strike weapons in their backlines, but James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell > Jarryd Hayne and Michael Jennings. And though we’ve long argued that the Eels have one of the most under-rated forward packs in the competition, the Roosters’ is quietly fearsome (and though they’ve lost Dylan Napa, they’ve regained Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who’s pretty damn terrifying himself).
So unfortunately, we have to back the Roosters here to consign the Eels to another wooden spoon. We expect a bit more fight from Parramatta than what we saw last week, but they’ll need more than fight if the Roosters are on their game.
Our tip: Roosters
Bulldogs v Sharks
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -16.24% (14th), Sharks 5.75% (7th)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs -8.37% (6th), Sharks -14.73% (3rd)
Hats off to the Bulldogs for a superb win last Sunday afternoon, albeit against a Dragons side who appear to be just an empty husk of a football team. Regardless of how bad St George are traveling, we’ll still point out that the Bulldogs’ 38 points on the weekend was their highest score since Round 16, 2016 – over 2 years ago. Which you could interpret as a sign of how good their offense is now; but rather, it’s probably more an indicator of just how bad their offense is generally (and also, how bad the Dragons are traveling – yikes).
We savaged Lachlan Lewis last week for not being up to NRL standard, and despite the Bulldogs’ comprehensive win, that hasn’t changed. Despite his side scoring 6 tries, and touching the ball more than any other player besides his hooker, Lewis again offered just 1 try assist, and 0 line break assists. Rather, the Bulldogs’ entire attacking success game via their three-quarters, with their centres combing for 3 line break assists, and Will Hopoate adding another. Which is fine – tries all count the same, it doesn’t matter where they come from – except that they’re essentially just experienced outside backs taking advantage of defensive errors from their opponent, rather than successfully executed set plays. And of any opponent they may face, the Sharks outside backs don’t make a whole lot of defensive errors.
In fact, when it comes to defensive errors by their outside backs, the Sharks probably make less than anybody. Neither of their centres rank in the Top 20 for most line breaks conceded at their position, and their worst defensive winger (Valentine Holmes) is exactly 20th (and though admittedly Josh Dugan, Jesse Ramien and Edrick Lee have all played well short of a full season, they’ve all played more than 12 matches, and if you doubled their numbers, they still wouldn’t make the list). Indeed, the Sharks’ watertight edges are a huge part of why they concede so few tries – they’ve allowed 3 tries or less in over a third of their matches, including last week’s hammering of the Knights.
So we’re not sure exactly where the Bulldogs’ points are going to come from against an elite defense like Cronulla’s; and though the Dogs’ defense is also very good, the Sharks’ attack should be able to find a way through it, especially with five-eighth Matt Moylan back on deck (for those of you keeping track, Moylan ranks 3rd in the league for line breaks assists, despite having missed 3 games).
We’re pleased that the Bulldogs won’t come last – their squad has never quit on the season, even though their management evidently did back in June, when they released Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods mid-year. But with the Sharks warming up for a tilt at the premiership, we’re not expecting an upset here.
Our tip: Sharks
Broncos v Sea Eagles
Offense VOA: Broncos 15.09% (3rd), Sea Eagles 6.01% (6th)
Defense VOA: Broncos -12.91% (4th), Sea Eagles 13.90% (14th)
Given the promise that the Sea Eagles showed in making the finals in 2017, you can understand why the NRL scheduled this clash to round out the season – probably expecting two sides battling it out for a Top 8 spot. That won’t be happening.
Instead, Manly get to close out their dumpster fire of a season with a depressing road trip to Brisbane, where in all likelihood they’re going to get their butts handed to them.
Though the Sea Eagles were unlucky in losing to the Tigers last weekend (they only went down by 2 points, while having multiple tries disallowed due to forward passes), they really had nobody to blame but themselves. Regardless of whether or not you think those passes were flat or forward, there was no need for either pass to be thrown with as small a margin of error as they were, and they were just a couple of the 13 errors that Manly gave up to repeatedly gift possession back to the Tigers (who were playing pretty poorly themselves). Further, the Sea Eagles’ embarrassingly bad defense was the real criminal here, particularly during a dismal 4 minutes in which they conceded 3 tries due to the most elementary of defensive errors. Of course, the Sea Eagles’ defensive issues aren’t new – they’ve conceded the 2nd most tries of any team this year, and conceded 22 or more points in 5 of their past 6 matches. But if Manly can’t contain a Tigers offense ranked 11th in the competition – who made 9 errors themselves and had just 47% of the ball – they have very little hope against the more enterprising Broncos.
In Brisbane, the Sea Eagles will be facing a team who are not only the most disciplined in the NRL (the Broncos have made the least errors and conceded the 4th least penalties), but also possess a consistently productive offense that just put 22 points on the best defense in the league. Though we frequently criticise the Broncos’ structured offense for it’s stale ineffectiveness, you certainly can’t knock their x-factor, with stars like James Roberts, Anthony Milford, Kodi Nikorima and Tevita Pangai Jr all capable of punishing defensive errors – and you can count on plenty of those from Manly.
As it stands, it’s difficult to see any way in the world that the Sea Eagles can compete here. Their best chances of late season wins probably came over the past fortnight, when they got back-to-back games against sides with bad defenses and below average offenses – yet they managed to lose both of them. Perhaps if the last-placed Eels somehow beat the 2nd-placed Roosters we might get a decent effort from Manly (since in that instance, a healthy loss would put Manly in line for the wooden spoon), but otherwise, we’re expecting another forgettable effort to close out a forgettable season.
Our tip: Broncos