Rugby league is back, baby. It’s good again. Awoouu (wolf Howl)
Yes, the rugby league tipping equivalent of a dril tweet has returned for another season of being really bad at tipping but not so bad that you could take it to the bank as a contrarian indicator.
Before we get down to business, there are some announcements to be made.
Some boring stuff
Feel free to ignore this section if you don’t care about the technical underpinnings of these tips or what’s changed from last year. The NRL tips are just below.
For the rest of you, here’s some things that are different from last year. I’m only going to do a ‘preview’ of a few games per round this year. Trying to write 8 x 200 words every week gets hard and is repetitive when you make the same comments over and over again, made worse because I don’t watch every single game to find fresh material. Instead, I’ve borrowed an idea from Five Thirty Eight and created a metric for whether a game is worth watching or not, called the Match Viewability Rating (or MVR).
MVR is the product of quality, the ratio of the lower rating of the two teams compared to the maximum rating in that round, and competitiveness, the logarithm of the lower rated team’s chance at winning. This produces a number out of one hundred – with high quality, competitive and therefore more watchable, contests rating higher – with an average of around 68, most falling within 15 points either side of that. The top rated game last year was Sydney v Brisbane in round 13 (two highly rated teams, closely matched) on 97 and the lowest was Sydney v Gold Coast in round 26 (one very lowly rated team, huge disparity in ratings) on 31. The grand final was a rather paltry 54 because the Storm were 100 rating points ahead of the Cowboys.
I will restrict myself to talking about the three games with the highest MVR, although I reserve the right to talk about other games if the metric fails me, as it has in round 1, trying to tell me that Tigers-Roosters is a more interesting prospect than Dragons-Broncos. This is mostly because all of the ratings have been reverted to mean for the season start.
Last year, the tipping jury consisted of three Elo rating systems plus me. This year, two of those systems have basically merged into one, so the Jury is now made up of three voters, meaning no more split votes. The Jury will present an odds percentage, based on an average of the two odds provided by the Elo systems and with a 5% bonus if I agree. The odds percentage translates directly into a margin. One of the early primers talks about how that happens but the two are logarithmically proportional.
The margins and odds given are fairly conservative at the moment. Rugby league ratings don’t spread out much as it is but the systems revert heavily to mean between seasons so the ratings are clustered close together, and so the probabilities are not moving much from 50%. This will change as the season progresses as the teams find their place in the pecking order.
We’re also doing Intrust Super Cup tipping this year. I know even less about QCup than NRL, so will restrict my commentary to the game on TV that week and, if I feel like it, a bit of general commentary about the round.
Brisbane at St George Illawarra
Ben Hunt has been given a tough assignment, facing down his old team in the opening game of the season at Kogarah. The Dragons come in with a decent pack, possibly one of the best halves pairings in the league and a home brand backline full of nobodies whose only job is to not muck up the playmaking. I couldn’t possibly name any of them. Some might say the lack of star power in one third of the team is a weakness. I am one of those people that would say that.
The Broncos have already had their seasons written off by a number of rugby league ‘experts’, even though the surest bet in the NRL is Brisbane making the top eight by the end of the season. It’s been more reliable than betting against the Knights over the last three years. While the exit of Hunt is a blow, it’s worth remembering that he was in such bad shape after coming back from six weeks off due to injury last year that he was sent to Ipswich. He was only called back because of more injuries in the first grade squad. Brisbane still finished third.
I’m backing the Broncos here.
Cronulla at North Queensland
The Cowboys are one of a triumvirate of suspiciously talented teams that make up with the premiership favourites for 2018. Along with the Roosters and Storm, North Queensland boast a slew of rep players, including a halves pairing of Michael Morgan, our top rated player of 2017, and Jonathon Thurston, possibly the greatest of all time, that makes Hunt/Widdop look reserve grade. The only question is how long it will take them to regularly steam roll the competition.
Conversely, I don’t understand why anyone has any positive feelings around the Sharks, long-term in 2017. Valentine Holmes is a certified star but Andrew Fifita is, at best, mercurial, Paul Gallen should be getting ready to move to a retirement village, Matt Moylan went AWOL – literally – last season and Chad Townsend is not anything. I could go on but while I think there’s a reasonable basis in reality that while Cronulla may feature in September, the premiership-contending Sharks, as unlikely as their 2016 victory was, are no more.
I, and the Greeks, are unanimous in tipping North Queensland.
Parramatta at Penrith
During my season preview, I struggled to pick between the two ‘P’ clubs as the one that will be more successful. Both are seemingly on track for a premiership. I eventually went with Penrith because I think the team that finishes fourth, possibly way behind the premiership troika, will be a surprise and the Panthers felt more surprising than the Eels. Also, James Maloney joined the Panthers in the off-season to provide some experience to balance Nathan Cleary’s raw talent. Off-season instability has left me questioning this selection but I will stand by it right up until they concede their first try.
The Eels have a pretty good squad on paper, if lacking a bit of experience. Mitchell Moses is not yet a certified star but has plenty of potential. Jarryd Hayne is back but whether he turns up to beat up on crap teams like he did last year or whether he shows up for all twenty-four games remains to be seen. Semi Radradra’s departure is a blow but not an insurmountable one. The Eels are a potential contender and this game will be the first to give us some insight into how this season will unfold.
I stand by my Panthers tip but I am preparing to run away from it as soon as the first opportunity allows.
The Storm, Raiders, Roosters and Rabbitohs will easily account for the Doggies, Titans, Tigers and the visiting Warriors respectively. I think Manly will put the prospects of the new-look Knights right back into perspective with a big win.
Burleigh at Sunshine Coast
Last year’s grand finalists are taking on one of the biggest disappointments of 2017. The Bears struggled, largely in part from their best players having to step up to the Titans who were struggling with their own extensive injury woes. Gold Coast rugby league was in such a state that the three teams, between ISC and NRL, won a total of twenty-two games or about seven each, barely enough to avoid a wooden spoon. Thank God for the Knights and the Capras right?
The Sunshine Coast were in the mix for the minor premiership last year until a run of poor results in the last quarter saw the Dolphins and Tigers overhaul them. It didn’t matter because a close (and controversial!) win over Souths, a ground out a win over Easts and then smashing the Dolphins put them in contention for the premiership against the Hunters. It was a spectacularly poor match but proves that the Storm feeder has plenty of talent.
I think that the Falcons will have too much talent for the Bears.
The Dolphins, Tigers and the at-home Hunters will be too strong for their opposition. The Blackhawks-Cutters and Pride-Seagulls were a bit of a coin toss. I expect the Blackhawks’ run for a top six spot will start here and the Pride have homefield advantage against a relatively lacklustre Bayside team. My roughie was Tweed over Norths, just to mix it up a bit.