2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 115/196 (59%)
Line Betting: 40/86 (47%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Finals Week 2 Tips and Previews
Sharks v Panthers
Offense VOA: Sharks 4.71% (8th), Panthers 4.81% (7th)
Defense VOA: Sharks -12.65% (4th), Panthers 0.77% (9th)
First up, the Sharks were a little unlucky to lose last weekend against the Roosters. If Luke Lewis doesn’t spill the ball inches above the ground (or if they don’t butcher any of their other plentiful scoring opportunities), they’re likely enjoying a week off right now. However, they did lose, and now that they’re here, it’s actually not a slam dunk that they’re going to roll past the Panthers.
We realise that the Sharks won both their meetings during the regular season (and all their meetings since 2016), however it’d be revisionist history to suggest that Cronulla were comfortable victors in either of those matches. In Round 7, the Sharks got home 26-22, but scored the same number of tries; winning the game through penalty goals. In the return clash the score looked more favourable (24-12), but hid how well Penrith actually played. On that particular night, the Panthers made more line breaks, more tackle breaks, more offloads and more run metres. In fact, about the only thing they didn’t do was score more tries. This, despite being mired in an otherwise bog average two-month form slump.
So, despite what you may have thought about Cronulla’s impressive form line against the Panthers, it’s nowhere near as lop-sided as it looks. Which is important, because the team Penrith will be trotting out at Allianz Stadium will be vastly better than either of the Penrith sides who lost to Cronulla during the season. Returning from their Round 7 loss are representative stars: Josh Mansour, Dallin Watene-Zeleznaik and Nathan Cleary. From the Round 18 loss, Penrith will be adding: Mansour, Watene-Zelezniak, Cleary, Tyrone Peachey, James Maloney and Reagan Campbell-Gillard. That’s an enormous influx of talent to a team that was statistically superior as recently as two months ago.
But perhaps more concerning to Shane Flanagan than the long list of “ins” for Penrith, is the short list of “outs” for Cronulla – specifically, Wade Graham (Josh Dugan is out too, but it’s debatable whether or not they’re any worse with Jesse Ramien in his place). Though the Sharks have done well to win games in his numerous absences this year (including the Round 7 win over Penrith), it’s indisputable that Cronulla’s offense is markedly better when he’s present. Graham ranks second on his team for line break assists with 11, and unsurprisingly, the team’s attacking output slumps when he’s unavailable: with Graham, they possess the 2nd best LBVOA in the NRL, with 18.54%; without him, that drops to a depressing -9.27% (13th). The difference is night and day.
We make all these points, not to argue that we think Penrith are significantly better – we don’t. While the Sharks’ LBVOA without Graham is poor, the Panthers’ over the past month has been an appalling -40.42%. They’re only two weeks removed from a three-week stretch of double-digit errors, and while they defended brilliantly the past two weeks, they’re certainly prone to the odd bed-wetting. Penrith aren’t great.
But they mightn’t need to be. It’s likely that Penrith won’t be required to put another 9 line breaks on Cronulla to win this game – depending on how many opportunities they convert, 4 might be enough to keep it close, and we think that’s within reach (after all, the Panthers hit that mark in both their two prior meetings). And if it is close with the clock winding down, who would you rather pin your hopes on: James Maloney and Nathan Cleary, or Matt Moylan and Chad Townsend. The answer is subjective, but we’ll roll with the New South Wales halves.
Our tip: Panthers
Rabbitohs v Dragons
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs 42.17% (1st), Dragons -1.05% (9th)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs -15.76% (3rd), Dragons -1.46% (8th)
We wrote last week that for the Dragons to win, they’d need a massive performance from their forward pack, and a complete reversal of form from Ben Hunt. They then got 100+ metres from 4 different forwards (including an insane 12.5 metres per carry from Tyson Frizell, and a hat-trick of tries for Tariq Sims); a try assist, a line break assist, 4 offloads and a 40/20 from Hunt; then added in Brisbane’s 2nd worst error count and worst missed tackle count of the season; and here we are – the Dragons are into Week Two, while Josh McGuire is having a meeting.
However, as good as the Dragons were last week (and to be clear, they were very good), we’re not holding our breath expecting to see that sort of performance again. The Dragons were incredible, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that we haven’t seen that sort of effort from them in close to three months. They completely dominated Brisbane in the middle of the park, limiting the Broncos to just 1158 metres; but we can’t just forget that it was the first time they’d held a team to less than 1350m since Round 15. Against an elite forward pack like the Rabbitohs (who rank 2nd in the league for RMVOA), it’s nearly impossible to see them repeating that success.
And without that heavy field position advantage the Dragons enjoyed last weekend, we struggle to see them competing. Even while playing most of the game down the Broncos’ end, they still found a way to leak 3 tries and 5 line breaks – against an offense like Souths’, those numbers could be even bigger; and if the Bunnies control the field position, they could very well put up a cricket score (in 8 matches this year in which the Rabbitohs have outgained their opponents by 200m or more, they’ve scored 5 or more tries in 7 of them).
If that happens, it’s likely to be all she wrote for St George-Illawarra. Though they competed well with the Rabbitohs in their earlier meetings (they actually beat Souths back in Round 5), it’s worth noting two things. Firstly, both of those meetings came in the first 10 rounds – back when the Dragons were actually good (in fact, we had them rated as the best team in the competition at the time). Outside last week’s super performance, the Dragons haven’t played anywhere near that level since getting their souls snatched by Penrith in Round 12. Secondly, even then, when the Dragons were at their best, they never scored more than 2 tries, or made more than 2 line breaks in a game against Souths. Quite simply, if they couldn’t threaten the Rabbitohs line behind a dominant pack and with Gareth Widdop playing, we’re not sure how they’ll do it here.
The best chance the Dragons have is likely to be just crossing their fingers and hoping that the Rabbitohs turn in a shocker. It’s not completely out of the question – that barn-burner the Rabbitohs played against Melbourne must have drained them, and it’ll be interesting to see how Sam Burgess backs up after the Storm turned him into their own personal piñata. However, even then, you’d still have to favour the Rabbitohs, who are coming in off an 8-day turnaround, compared to the Dragons’ 6.
In summary, we just can’t get behind St George-Illawarra here. Even if they play as well as they did last weekend, it’s likely that’d only be enough to make it close, and wouldn’t necessarily earn the win. Given that we don’t expect them to be that good again, the Rabbitohs pretty much tip themselves.
Our tip: Rabbitohs