NRL Tips – Round 22, 2017

I struggled to get this post together. I must be running low on creative juices after what feels like a season that’s already been decided (Melbourne to win everything) but for some reason, we have to go through the formalities of playing the last few games. I propose we just lock the ladder positions now, go to the finals and wrap up a month early. Just in case the NRL isn’t listening to the fifteenth best non-podcast/non-gambling based blog, here’s how I think the round will go.

Draw

parramatta-sm Parramatta (12-7) @ canterbury-sm Canterbury (7-12)

Tuesday’s front page of the Daily Telegraph means we all need to sympathise with Bulldogs fans as they get painted with the same brush as an alleged terrorist, a sentence you would never write in any other sport. It’s okay though because by the weekend, we’ll all be back to panning the Bulldogs’ terrible on-field performances.

Parramatta beat the Broncos last week, taking their streak to four wins on the trot. What utter bastards. Having been forced to watch Eels’ games lately, I’m not entirely convinced they’re the real deal, particularly defensively. That won’t matter this match because the Bulldogs are pathologically incapable of scoring points (and we’re back, baby). Parra will be able to run in the minimum fourteen points required and so the Eels will win.

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Analysis – Is the NRL getting more competitive?

The short answer is yes and no. Yes, the NRL is more competitive now than when it started but no, it doesn’t seem to be a thing that improves consistently year-on-year.

Let me explain. On this blog, we use Elo ratings to measure teams’ performances and assess each team’s probability of winning a game in advance. Surely we can use our ratings system to assess the competitiveness of each NRL season.

Philosophically, what is a high level of competitiveness? It has to be a situation where the teams are fairly close in performance resulting in a hard to predict outcome. Here’s two ways of measuring that closeness of performance with pros and cons.

  1. You could look at the spread of teams ratings. Pro – makes an assessment based on all teams. Con – if all teams are pretty average but one team is excellent and another awful, then there isn’t a big spread of talent. This would imply a highly competitive season even though there is really only one potential premiership contender.
  2. You could look at the difference between top and bottom ratings. Pro – simple. Con – if one team is truly terrible and three or four are pretty good, then the season is pretty competitive but the difference between top and bottom might be exaggerated due to the crapiness of the bottom team. This would imply a not particularly competitive season despite there being multiple potential champions.

Which is better, measuring the spread or measuring the difference from top to bottom? Neither way of doing this is immediately obvious as a better method. Let’s look in more detail.

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Club Report – Parramatta Eels

par-lgBackground

Parramatta of the ’80s and Parramatta of the ’00s were powerhouses of top flight rugby league. The ’80s vintage managed to win their first, second, third and fourth premierships. The ’00s vintage, on the other hand, was less successful. In 2001, Parra won all but four games of the regular season, taking the minor premiership, and secured a grand finals berth. The opportunity to claim their first title in fifteen years went begging as Newcastle took honours that year. A less dominating, but still minor premiership winning, performance in 2005 took them deep into the finals only to be eliminated at the preliminary final by the Cowboys.

Depending on your perspective, the Eels were robbed of a premiership in 2009. Despite finishing in eighth position that year, Parra made the grand final against the Melbourne Storm. The Storm won the game but were later stripped of the title due to salary cap breaches. It would be the last time the Eels played finals football, declining from there to pick up back-to-back wooden spoons in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Parramatta joined the illustrious club of serious salary cap breachers themselves. This cost them their first shot at finals football since 2009. With that behind them, the Eels are well on track this year to break their drought.

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NRL Projections Update – Round 21, 2017

I think rugby league historians prefer the expression “dour” when they really mean “boring” game. The Panthers-Bulldogs match on Thursday night will not be making much of an impression in the record books and so I think we’re safe to use the expression “boring”. The teams went to the break at Pepper Stadium even but we all knew something from the Panthers was coming and they delivered, scoring two more tries and taking the win.

The Sharks were never in any real doubt against the Warriors in Auckland on Friday night. The Warriors out-errored the league leaders in the field and lost out in possession, the kicking game and the game overall to the Sharks. The Broncos were in the picture in the first half against the Eels, sprinting out to a twelve point lead in the first ten minutes. The Eels got level quickly and kept the Broncos’ playmakers quiet and out-muscled their forward pack. Jonus Pearson was a liability on the Brisbane wing, slipping over half a dozen times, while Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses have formed a solid combo in the Eels’ halves, steering Parramatta to a win.

After dismantling Manly the week before, the question was “Are St George good again?” The answer was a resounding “no”. Everything went the Knights’ way for a change in front of a good turnout in Newcastle. With only a narrow lead at half time, the expectation was that the Knights would fade away but they kept the Dragons out and sealed the win with a late try and field goal. Taking a 3-1 try lead into the break, Canberra were in control of their rendezvous with Souths. The Raiders eventually took the win after the full eighty, despite a late consolation try for the Bunnies, avoiding the need for the childish meltdowns that has marked more recent Canberra losses. At Allianz, the Cowboys stormed to an early lead and looked in pole position to take a somewhat surprising win. The Roosters showed why they are in contention for this year’s minor premiership and overall premiership by pegging the Cows back to even and then taking the lead by the three-quarter mark. The Roosters kept the Cowboys at bay for the remaining quarter of the tense affair to take the two points.

Melbourne demolished Manly on Sunday afternoon for Cameron Smiths’ 350th game. The Sea Eagles were only down by six at half time before the Storm monstered their way through the second half to take a commanding win. Manly have now suffered two big losses in a row, raising questions over their form. On the Gold Coast, the Titans basically handed the Tigers a win on a platter. Any time the Gold Coast looked dangerous or in a scoring position, they managed to drop the ball or pass it forward. Wests’ execution was cleaner and netted them two points in an otherwise unentertaining game.

Round 21 Results

penrith-sm Penrith 16 (10-9) d canterbury-sm Canterbury 8 (7-12)

cronulla-sm Cronulla 26 (13-6) d warriors-sm New Zealand 12 (7-12)

parramatta-sm Parramatta 28 (12-7) d brisbane-sm Brisbane 14 (12-7)

newcastle-sm Newcastle 21 (3-16) d st george illawarra-sm St George Illawarra 14 (10-9)

canberra-sm Canberra 32 (8-11) d souths-sm South Sydney 18 (6-13)

sydney city-sm Sydney City 22 (14-5) d north qld-sm North Queensland 16 (12-7)

melbourne-sm Melbourne 40 (14-5) d manly-sm Manly 6 (11-8)

wests tigers-sm Wests Tigers 26 (5-14) d gold coast titans-sm Gold Coast 4 (7-12)

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Analysis – Your team and their finals appearances

There was a remark on Twitter a while back that Mitchell Moses had left Wests because he wanted to play finals footy but had chosen to go to the only club that had been without a final appearance longer than the Tigers. That didn’t seem right but I looked into it and it was true.

That got me thinking. How often do teams turn up to the finals? Some, like the Storm and Cowboys, seem to be regular fixtures but how do the rest fare?

Warning: this is going to be one of those “Well, yeah, I knew that” type posts. This is not about showing off some fancy analysis, just a bit of curiosity.

Double warning: Pie charts ahead.

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NRL Tips – Round 21, 2017

We’re getting down to the wire, with only a handful of rounds left to run until finals time. While the finals places may be more or less decided, unless you’re a Panthers or Eels fan, there’s still a lot to play for.

The better teams are looking to secure a pathway through the finals that doesn’t involve playing the Storm. The lesser teams are using their time constructively too. By planning Mad Monday activities six weeks in advance, I’m sure they can negotiate a discount at their venue of choice. There might also be some focus on next year and not sucking so much but that’s surely more of a coach problem than a player problem. Just ask Des Hasler.

Draw

canterbury-sm Canterbury (6-12) @ penrith-sm Penrith (9-9)

The Bulldogs have nothing left to play for. They were embarrassed by the Broncos last week, so they don’t even have pride left. There’s just an interminable series of six games left to go before they can go hide for a while and go back to whatever it is Canterbury players do in the off-time. I really don’t want to know what that is.

Penrith are the only team currently outside the top eight that could conceivably still finish inside the warm embrace of finals contention. It’s an ask but they need to win games like this, even if it’s just to avoid the indignity of losing to this particular version of Canterbury. Seeing as the game plan recently has been “pass the ball to Nathan Cleary and get out of his goddamn way”, I think that will be as effective against the Bulldogs as it was against the Warriors, so I think Penrith will keep the home fans happy with a victory.

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Club Report – Gold Coast Titans

gct-lgBackground

The Gold Coast Titans have only been in the NRL since 2007. The Titans franchise are the most recent iteration of top-level rugby league’s attempts to crack the Gold Coast market, following in the footsteps of the Giants (1988-89), Seagulls (1990-95) and Chargers (1996-98).

Gold Coast peaked in 2009 and 2010, managing top four finishes. Since then, results have been thinner on the ground and the club collected a wooden spoon in 2011. The Titans finished outside of the finals spots every year until last season when the Eels were docked enough points for them to sneak in, only to be eliminated in the first round against the Broncos.

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