2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 14/24 (58%)
Line Betting: 5/10 (50%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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A quick note on the early round stats: The nature of our VOA-based NRL statistics is that they naturally require a league average as a starting point, thus the smaller the sample size, the less accurate these stats will be. However, to satisfy our readers, we’ll publish the stats and associated projections from Round 1 (despite a persistent letter-writing campaign, I’m yet to find any major footy tipping outlets who are willing to start their competitions from Round 10…). In order to do this, we’re forced to use the 2017 database as the foundation for the stats, and as the weeks pass these will be combined with the new season’s numbers and weighted progressively less each week until the numbers used are entirely from 2018. We can’t guarantee that this method is necessarily going to be effective (although we tried it last year and it was surprisingly successful, the level of player turnover this off-season is unprecedented, and likely to greatly affect the outcomes), but it’s the only way we can think of to present the data in the early rounds without it being totally skewed by an insufficient sample size. In short, for at least the first month it is best to consider our stats as purely for entertainment purposes. They may prove accurate (we’ll review them later in the season), but the method remains firmly in the testing phase.
NRL Round 4 Tips and Previews
Cowboys v Panthers
Offense VOA: Cowboys -18.02% (12th), Panthers 8.66% (8th)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 29.78% (14th), Panthers -1.98% (10th)
How much is Nathan Cleary worth to the Panthers? That’s the million-dollar question that punters (and Phil Gould) need to figure out, and the next two months will hopefully give us a few clues.
According to the bookies, Cleary’s worth an awful lot, with the Panthers blowing out to over $4 at time of writing. Maybe we’re just being contrarian, but in this particular match-up, we like those odds.
The appeal of the Panthers here lies in how their strengths stack up against the Cowboys’ weaknesses. Thus far, both sides have struggled with their structured attacking sets. James Maloney has struggled to get on the same page as his outside men at Penrith, and was only just beginning to settle in when the Panthers lost Cleary, and Maloney was thrust into the role of dominant playmaker. In the long run, we expect this to actually be a blessing in disguise for the Panthers, as it’ll force the ball into their best player’s hands more often, and by the time Cleary returns, Maloney should (hopefully) be firing on all cylinders. In the meantime, it’s less than ideal, however it’s worth pointing out that the Panthers have scored very few tries from their set attacking patterns anyway, so how much they’ll lose from Cleary in that regard should be minimal.
In the Cowboys’ case, they too have struggled in the their opposition’s red zone, mainly due to the limitations of a mind-numbingly simple gameplan, and the absence of Lachlan Coote (who’s expected to make a comeback this weekend via the Queensland Cup, and should subsequently liberate Johnathan Thurston). The Cowboys’ lack of success generally can be linked to their inability to free up their outside men (the Cowboys outside backs have combined for just 2 line breaks in the opening three weeks). If the Panthers’ defense has an obvious weakness, it’s out wide, where their three-quarters have allowed over a third of their conceded line breaks (and if you add the halves to that number, it jumps to over a half). Penrith’s middle is generally water-tight, so the Cowboys’ typical attacking set of ‘give it to Taumololo or Hess and hope for the best’ isn’t likely to reap many rewards. The Cowboys will need to send the ball wide early and often to put points on Penrith, something they’ve failed to do effectively in 2018 (or 2017, for that matter).
When it comes to the Cowboys’ Achilles Heel, however, it’s a very different story. Where the Cowboys struggle defensively – in the middle of the park, around the ruck – just so happens to coincide with exactly what the Panthers do best. For all their flaws in executing their structures, the Panthers have so far been rescued on two occasions (and almost for a third time last week) by individual efforts, straight through the middle of the defensive line. The blossoming Dylan Edwards leads the team in both line breaks (4) and tackle breaks (15), and being a running fullback, he spends much of his time hovering around the forwards in support play (similar to Billy Slater). Tied for second in both numbers is Viliame Kikau, who’s a lot like what Coen Hess would be, if Hess could actually tackle (should they line up opposite each other, it should be spectacular). Most importantly, the absence of Cleary should theoretically have a minimal effect on this style of offense, with the Panthers’ line break assists spread relatively evenly across the team (Cleary himself accounts for just 2 of the Panthers’ 9; in contrast, at the Cowboys, Thurston accounts for 4 of his team’s 7).
So will the Panthers be worse? Probably, but it remains to be seen how much worse, and this is a theoretically good match-up for Penrith otherwise. The Cowboys very well may win (they can’t keep playing this poorly forever), but their over-whelming favouritism seems to be built more on reputation than anything they’ve actually done thus far.
Our tip: Panthers