2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 105/160 (66%) [Last week:5/8]
Line Betting: 43/81 (53%) [Last week: 4/6]
2016 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 71%
Line Betting: 54%
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NRL Round 23 Tips and Previews
Rabbitohs v Bulldogs
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs -10.91% (11th), Bulldogs -40.80% (16th)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs 10.15% (12th), Bulldogs -23.56% (3rd)
It’s not often that a late-season dead-rubber between two sides well out of finals contention would shape as one of the more interesting games of the round, but that’s what it’s come to in Round 23.
They took a while to get going, but the Rabbitohs’ offense looked genuinely sharp last week, carving up the Dragons straight through the middle of the ruck. Damien Cook in particular was excellent, running for 116 metres, and adding a line break, line break assist and try assist, in a 70-minute effort that saw Robbie Farah relegated to the bench for more than three quarters of the match. We don’t know how well that attacking style will translate against the more stout Bulldogs defense, though. With the exception of the first half last week (and their embarrassing slaughter at the hands of the Broncos three weeks ago), the Bulldogs are rarely beaten through the middle of the field, and soft efforts like the Dragons’ “defense” of John Sutton’s try aren’t likely to be available this week.
On the other hand, if the Rabbitohs are able to dominate their opponent’s forward pack, that’s easily when they’re at their best; and the Bulldogs pack has been particularly pedestrian of late. We were happy to give them a pass in their Round 20 hammering from Brisbane on account of James Graham’s absence, but since his return a fortnight ago, they’ve conceded over 1450 metres both weeks, including being outgained to the tune of 365 metres by the Eels less-heralded engine room. And if you think the Bulldogs’ forwards have been disappointing, wait until you get a load of their offense. Woof.
The issues with the Bulldogs’ attack can be encapsulated in one play from last week’s match – when the Bulldogs, down by 14 with 15 minutes to play, decided to reach into the bottom of their bag of tricks, and pulled out a first tackle cross-field kick to… Josh Jackson? Now, Jackson is a relentless defender who’s worth his weight in gold to the Dogs; but he’s also punishingly slow, and was likely only standing out there in the first place in the hope of catching his breath. When the ball found him, unmarked and without a defender within 15 metres, he ran like he was full of chocolate, and was gobbled up by the Eels defenders accordingly.
If the Bulldogs can’t even get their trick-shots to make sense, what chance do they have of threatening anybody? If their best surprise point-scoring move involves putting their concrete-footed back-rower into space, there’s absolutely no hope for them to turn their offense around, at least not this year (and don’t even get us started on the ill-fated experiment with Chase Stanley at five-eighth, which we’re expected to be subjected to once again, tonight).
And yet, oddly, we still give them a chance (a huge chance, to be quite honest with you). Not because we expect to see any offensive improvement (of course not), but rather because we still believe in the Bulldogs defense, and because the Rabbitohs’ defense is so bad, that surely even the Bulldogs can scratch up a try or two. Over the past four weeks, the Rabbitohs have conceded an average 7 line breaks per game, and 4 tries or more in each of those matches. Sure, the Bulldogs are nowhere near the quality of any of the sides that the Rabbitohs have faced, but there’s certainly weaknesses in the Rabbitohs to be taken advantage of, and as recently as Round 7, the Bulldogs were able to put 4 tries on the Rabbitohs themselves (though it’s worth pointing out that the Bulldogs have only won 3 of the 13 matches they’ve played since then).
We think there’s a really strong argument to be made for the Bulldogs, but we can’t quite bring ourselves to give them the nod with their offense where it currently is. It should be an interesting contest though, and if the Bulldogs’ defense shows up, we’ve got a real game on our hands.
Our tip: Rabbitohs