Using the same format I used during the rep weekend, this is the finals preview-ish post.
I didn’t get to do all the analysis I wanted to because I’ve run out of time. By the time this gets published, I should be somewhere in or around California starting my honeymoon, which I think should probably take priority. I won’t be filing from America (in fact I probably won’t see any rugby league for six weeks) but I will be back in October or November to do some post-season stuff.
This post relies pretty heavily on Elo ratings, so you might want to brush up.
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Why a three-quarter season review? We could ask Penrith the very same question but for me, it’s because I was too busy with life around round 12 and I will be on holidays and away from the computer by round 25, so this is the only real opportunity I get to pull together a post reviewing the season that’s been until sometime in late October. I think now is a good time to do it anyway because the narratives are established and we’re just close enough to peak over the fence into how the conclusion to the 2018 NRL campagin might play out.
I’m going to try and limit my word usage and let the graph and/or table do the talking. Feel free to use the contents page to jump around:
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If you’re the Eels, probably a lot more than zero. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Around the start of the finals last year, The Arc posted the probabilities of each finalist winning the AFL grand final. Some guy on Twitter (let’s call him Bill because I don’t remember who it was and I’m not digging out a throwaway tweet from six months ago) asked if the probabilities had been calculated for all finals series throughout history so we could see how many teams were expected to win against reality. They hadn’t but more on that next week.
I thought, in the true embodiment of the philosophy of this site, “That’s a great idea. I’m gonna do that but for NRL.”
We’re down to the final four. There’s the impossibly good expansion team from Melbourne, the pretty good expansion team from Brisbane, the grit-sucking, giant-slaying fairy tale machine from regional Queensland and there’s the 109 year old club of gronks that no one in their city wants to support.
The NRL could not have set it up better with the four major TV markets represented. I’m assuming that the twenty or so in Melbourne that will watch this weekend would have out-numbered the theoretical audience in Auckland should the Warriors ever get their act together.
In the meantime, and with my tipping record now falling behind people who haven’t bothered to tip since July, here’s my preliminary final tips.
Brisbane (16-8) @ Melbourne (20-4)
I think everyone in Brisbane wanted to avoid this scenario but here we are. In fact, had the Broncos done a better job in their qualifying final, they wouldn’t be here and would instead be facing a Cowboys outfit that, while good, is not once-in-a-generation good. The good news is that Oates and Boyd are back and Brisbane are as close to full strength as they’re going to get in a year where just about every player has had some time off. If only Adam Blair would pull a hamstring, we could get him on a plane to New Zealand by half time and he’d stop being a deadweight. That is unless he scores the winning try in which case I never doubted him but that’s about as likely as Brisbane being in the position to score a winning try. I guess what I’m saying is, anything’s possible.
Here’s some fun facts: Melbourne have won 64% of their games since their founding in 1998. They’ve led the NRL all-time winning percentage since 2007. The previous decade saw four clubs top that list at one point or another. At home, Melbourne have won 75% of their games and their record at home against Brisbane is 68%. That’s before we even get into the stats about this year’s team, like they’re the first NRL team to get to 44 points without breaching the salary cap. Yet.
I could go on about the Storm and while I hold out a little hope for the Broncos, it’s going to be a Melbourne win.
I was right at least that my bracket was destroyed within fifteen minutes of the first game as the Roosters went to an early lead against the Broncos that they only briefly gave up. I finished the round one tip from four, meaning that the only thing I got right was that I got my bracket wrong.
Fortunately, a new week of finals brings new opportunities to get things wrong.
Penrith (13-11) @ Brisbane (16-8)
The Panthers rode Nathan Cleary like Hannibal crossing the Alps (sixteen of them riding one elephant somehow) through yet another game that somehow resulted in victory. I just looked up the team list to see if he had any teammates and the only name I recognised was Josh Mansour and that’s only because he looks like he should be robbing stagecoaches in 1890s Ballarat. Penrith did a good job of turning around the fixture that they lost only a week before, particularly having to come from behind in the last ten minutes, which is roughly the amount of time that the Panthers’ premiership chances have left.
Brisbane and Sydney played their usual roles on the stage of rugby league, the Broncos as Brisbane and the Roosters playing the role of Sydney. It was practically a spec script: the Broncos went behind early, the Roosters lifted their foot off the pedal too early and Brisbane stormed back to take an unlikely lead with ten minutes to go, capitalising on the unlikeliest of Roosters’ errors. Painfully weak Broncos defence saw the Roosters’ superstar-in-the-making Latrell Mitchell get through for the game winning try. It was a fun time while it lasted, even if it was only five minutes, which is roughly the amount of time that the Broncos’ premiership chances have left.
I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the Panthers win it, just because Brisbane haven’t been that reliable, but I think that the Broncos are really itching to cop a hammering from the Storm.
This is the last projections update for the year. It’s come around so fast.
While I realise there’s still three weeks of finals left, in reality there’s three games left after next weekend. The Stocky is not great at dealing with small sample sizes of games, as evidenced by its relative lack of performance towards the year’s end, so its a little pointless doing it any further this year. I might tweet something instead. Let’s also ignore the fact that the Storm are unbackable favourites at the moment.
The projections will be back next year, rebranded and tarted up, and the tips posts will continue until I sign off sometime after grand final day.
Sydney City 24 (17-7) d Brisbane 22 (16-8)
Melbourne 18 (20-4) d Parramatta 16 (16-8)
Penrith 22 (13-11) d Manly 10 (14-10)
North Queensland 15 (13-11) d Cronulla 14 (15-9)
If you haven’t checked out the deep dive in this year’s finals yet, I urge you to do so. I’ve sliced the finals every which way imaginable but for the record, here’s my bracket that will almost certainly be destroyed within fifteen minutes of the first game:
Here’s why I tipped the way I did.
Brisbane (16-8) @ Sydney City (17-7)
If you’re only going to tune into one final this weekend, not only would I question your presence on this blog (shit’s about to get a whole lot harder), but I would recommend it be this game because it’s the only one paper that might be close.
The Roosters come into this slight favourites, having finished higher on the ladder and playing at home. The regular season record was one win a piece, although the aggregate score of 48-24 is well in the Donkeys’ favour. It’s tighter than Sam Kasiano’s jersey.
One of the big question marks is whether Brisbane are any good without Darius Boyd. Kodi didn’t have a great game as his replacement in fullback but returns to the number 1 jersey this week but given Derrius’ performance against Parramatta, his absence may be more boon than bane.
I think Brisbane will get this. Despite everything they’ve done to me this year, I reckon they have it in them.