2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 130/196 (66%) [Last week:3/4]
Line Betting: 52/95 (55%) [Last week: 1/2]
2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Line Betting: 54%
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NRL Finals Week Two Tips and Previews
Broncos v Panthers
Offense VOA: Broncos 20.92% (3rd), Panthers -0.53% (7th)
Defense VOA: Broncos -4.52% (7th), Panthers -2.79% (10th)
Friday night will see Brisbane and Penrith compete for the dubious honour of getting pounded by Melbourne in a week’s time.
While realistically, the winner of this game is unlikely to matter due to the juggernaut waiting for them on the other side, that doesn’t mean this isn’t important. On any given Sunday, any team can beat any other; sporting history is littered with stories like Stephen Bradbury and the 2016 Sharks, who stumbled their way to victory after their opponents fell over (Sharks fans can say what they like, but if Josh Hodgson doesn’t hurt is ankle in Week One of last year’s playoffs, they don’t make the Grand Final). But they all have one thing in common – they were all there to take advantage in the first place, which is why this game is still critically important.
While the bookmakers have the Broncos installed as raging hot favourites, we find their confidence at least somewhat surprising. Yes, we acknowledge that the Broncos are a vastly superior attacking unit. Even allowing for the absence of Darius Boyd (who’s already been ruled out of this match, along with forward Tevita Pangai Jr), the Broncos still have plenty of weapons, and they’ve actually performed surprisingly well without him this year.
Just last week, they managed to put 5 line breaks and 4 tries on the Roosters, and that was while using a continuous cavalcade of custodians (or, to put it differently, three different fullbacks – though that doesn’t have the same ring to it). In earlier matches without him this year, they’ve performed similarly well. They put 30 on the Raiders without him in Round 16; 34 on the Knights in Round 19; and – most impressively of all – 42 on the Bulldogs in Round 20. In the interests of full disclosure, they did have a couple of clunkers, too (notably, a 10-point effort against the Warriors, and being held to 12 by the Storm), but the point stands – the Broncos are capable of scoring points, with or without Boyd.
The next question, then, becomes: how many points can the Broncos expect to get? Yes, the Panthers conceded 28 points to Manly a fortnight ago, but we’re happy to ignore that, on the grounds that they named a half-baked team in a game that didn’t matter, and played accordingly (last week, in a game that did matter, they held Manly to just 10). Outside of that game, they’ve held every opponent they’ve faced from Round 18 onwards to 22 points or less – and in that period, they’ve faced several of the league’s best offenses, including Manly (who were held to 8 & 10), Canberra (22) and St George Illawarra (16). So it’s probably fair to say that 22 looks like being the upper limit for a Boyd-less Broncos. (It’s probably also worth mentioning that over the same period, the Broncos conceded over 22 points 3 times – including their infamous 52-point capitulation to Parramatta at this very ground three weeks ago. So score one for the Panthers defense.)
So, let’s say that Brisbane score something in the neighbourhood of 20 points. Can Penrith score more than that?
It’s at this point that the pro-Penrith argument begins to look a bit shaky. For a start, the Panthers will be without their skipper, Matt Moylan. That doesn’t make the Panthers suddenly hopeless – since moving to five-eighth in Round 13, the Panthers have played six matches without Moylan, winning 4 (and in matches without Moylan, but with Dylan Edwards playing a full match, they’re undefeated). But it would be unrealistic to say that their attack is unaffected by his absence. Tyrone May is an excellent footballer, no doubt. However, he’s primarily a ball-runner, rather than a ball-player, which is evidenced by his stats – May averages just 0.3 line break assists per game, compared to 0.8 for Moylan (Moylan’s 14 line breaks assists for the season rank him 12th in the league, despite having played just 18 matches). Without Moylan, the team loses an enormous amount of creativity, and are instead forced to turn to Bryce Cartwright when they’re chasing points (who’s talented, but when it comes to consistency, he makes Manu Vatuvei look like Cameron Smith). Cartwright was excellent last week, having a hand in all of Penrith’s tries. However ultimately, just one of those came via a line break. The other two came from a kick, and from a knee (or, if you’re Trent Barrett and refuse to look at the Spider Cam vision; a knock-on).
Which makes us fear for how many points Penrith can actually score. Brisbane’s defense is putrid, but so, for that matter, is Manly’s. If Penrith are to win this match, they’ll need to dominate field position (which should be easy enough – their forward pack could eat Brisbane’s for breakfast), and then, turn that field position into points. Is it possible? Certainly, and we’re giving them a huge shot. But 20 points just feels like a lot of points to get at Suncorp. If they can keep Brisbane to less than 18, Penrith probably win this game. But that’s easier said than done.
Our unrealistically specific tip: Broncos 20-18