Oppose the Broncos when their rake has a rest
Hooker Andrew McCullough won the Broncos Player of the Season award in 2012 and was again one of their better performers last year.
However McCullough has not yet proven himself to be an 80 minute player, sharing the hooking role with Ben Hunt, Jake Granville and Peter Wallace last season. When he is off the field the Broncos miss his incisiveness and energy in attack and his hard work and reliability in defence.
Generally McCullough is benched around the middle third of the game and the Broncos performance during that period last year doesn’t make for great reading.
In only nine out of 24 games did they manage to score more than a converted try, being kept scoreless on six occasions and tryless on seven occasions.
On six occasions they conceded two converted tries or more and on five occasions they conceded more than 70% of the opposition’s match total.
The message is clear – get against the Broncos when McCullough is off the field.
Reynolds the prolific pest
Under Des Hasler the Bulldogs have developed a unique attacking style, using forwards as play-makers to prevent the opposition getting numbers in the tackle whilst also taking pressure off the halves to create all the space out wide.
The chief beneficiary of this system has been now-departed fullback Ben Barba who scored 32 tries in 44 games over the past two seasons. However in terms of try-scoring one of the less-heralded benefactors has been five-eighth Josh Reynolds.
Last year Reynolds was slightly longer than $2.50 to score for the Bulldogs and his career price to score is $2.86. Reynolds is not averse to scoring first either with a career first team try scorer price of $8.57. His outright first try scorer price is $15 but he scored the first try only once in 23 games for the Bulldogs last season.
Therefore look to back Reynolds to score at anything over $3.25 or to be first team try scorer at around $9.50.
Cowboys ride rough in the big smoke
For some reason the Cowboys just can’t seem to win in Sydney.
While over the past three years they are $2.29 to win away and only $2.50 to win in NSW, they are $3.80 to win in Sydney – a massive price considering they have finished in the top eight for every one of those three years.
Last season they did improve with a 50% record in Sydney from six matches, however one of their losses came against the lowly Tigers while they recorded very marginal wins against the bottom-placed Eels and 14th placed Dragons – although granted one of their losses was the controversial semi-final against Cronulla.
In fact the Cowboys seem to match up well with the Sharks having won at what is now known as Remondis Stadium on all three occasions they have met over the last three seasons.
On the flipside they have failed to win in five trips to ANZ Stadium over the past three years, although that is against typically strong opposition in Souths and Canterbury.
Still you should definitely look to get against the Cowboys in Sydney, although perhaps give matches in Cronulla a swerve.
Back the Snake but bypass big Jorge at Brookie
Flying Manly fullback Brett Stewart’s try-scoring record at Brookvale Oval is well documented. Over 10 years and 76 games he’s shorter than $1.50 to score at his home ground, having never failed to score at home in games against the Titans (4), Panthers (3), Warriors (3) and Cowboys (2).
Bustling winger Jorge Taufua is also carving out a healthy try-scoring reputation at Manly with 30 tries from 49 games. However Taufua’s record at Brookvale is not nearly as strong as you’d think with a career price of just $3.17 to score at Fortress Brookie, in comparison to $1.88 to score away from home.
Therefore when at Brookvale look to back Stewart to score at anything bigger than $1.65 and lay Taufua at anything from $2.20.
While the Knights pushed through to within one win of a grand final appearance they were wildly inconsistent throughout the 2013 season.
Big wins were often soon followed by big losses and vice versa, making them an absolute dream side to trade.
On eight out of 16 occasions they won as underdogs, three of those priced at $2.60 or bigger.
Similarly they lost four out of the 11 games they started as favs in, all of which they were priced at no higher than $1.65 and two in which they were priced shorter than $1.40.
They also drew with Brisbane after starting at around $1.50.
Furthermore they only scraped home by two points against Penrith after starting at $1.15 and came within two of Melbourne despite starting as high as $4.75.
Four times when they won as underdogs they won by 16 points or greater and they also copped a 16 point defeat against Warriors when they started favs.
Out of the 27 matches they played last season ten were decided by 20 points or more, while a further seven were decided by four points or less.
In short the Knights were more volatile than Julian O’Neill after a few drinks. Blindly backing them as underdogs or laying them as favs would’ve garnered a 30%+ return.
One of the better rosters in the comp and an enticing record against the better sides last year has been offset by a multitude of off-field incidents and a serious injury to Jarrod Mullen.
Once again it looks like you do a lot worse than getting with the Knights as dogs and getting against them as favs, especially at big prices.
Eels should not be fancied
The Parramatta Eels have been toxic over the past couple of years.
They claimed the wooden spoon in the last two years and were in that position going into the final round of 2011 before a win over the Gold Coast consigned the Titans to that “honour”.
It is therefore not surprising that in the last three years Parramatta have only started as favourites in
11 of 72 matches. Of those 11 matches Parramatta have lost six.
Last season as favs the Eels started by thrashing the Warriors in round 1 but were then annihilated by Penrith and only snuck home against the Tigers thanks to a try with two minutes to go.
There is renewed optimism at Parramatta this season with a new coach and some handy recruits but they still have comfortably one of the weakest squads in the competition and a losing culture to overcome.
Therefore as favs they are a definite auto-lay.
Panthers may take some time to purr
There’s a lot of hype around Penrith this season off the back of encouraging results in 2013, a highly regarded coach and general manager, plus a number of new signings.
However it pays to be wary of teams who recruit heavily in the off-season as if often takes time for them to develop combinations and gel effectively.
The Panthers also recruited strongly last season with six of their regular first-graders in 2013 playing their first season at the club and a further five recruits combining for over 30 games. However it did take some time for the new players to combine effectively with the Panthers losing six of their first eight games last year.
Similarly the Sharks bought a number of players in for the start of 2013 and while they (and many others) blamed the ASADA investigation for losing five of their first seven, there’s no doubt that the inability of new players to immediately fuse played a significant part.
Another example is the Gold Coast side of 2012 who had brought in an abundance of fresh talent such as Jamal Idris, Aiden Sezer, Nate Myles, Beau Champion and Luke Douglas. Despite all the exciting recruits they lost seven of their first nine.
In 2011 the Bulldogs lost five of their first 11 after bringing in Hodkinson, Pritchard, Keating, Eastwood and Tolman.
The one side that bucked the trend was the Roosters last year, however even they suffered two of their six losses for the season within the opening five rounds.
Furthermore Penrith historically don’t start the season all that well, winning only six out of 22 games prior to May since 2011, including just two out of six as favs.
So while everyone gets excited about the Panthers, I’d advise opposing them early on in the season while the new players are still trying to figure out how to work effectively together.
The Profit Elijah
One of those new players who will ply his trade at Centrebet Stadium this season is former Warriors back-rower Elijah Taylor.
While Taylor was a consistent performer during all three years at the Warriors, his first two seasons garnered just six tries in 44 appearances.
However last year Taylor became an attacking force, scoring eight times in 23 games, making him shorter than $3 to score.
He was also an impressive $4.60 to be first team-try scorer and $7.67 to be first try scorer outright, which was in contrast to his 2011-12 prices of $22 and $44 respectively.
Obviously his record prior to 2013 and the fact he is at a new club suggests you tread carefully but if his try-scoring form continues at the Panthers – which seems likely given Taylor’s pledge to focus on attack – then look to back Elijah to score at around $4.25, to be first team try scorer at $10 and first try scorer outright at anything from around $17.
Jim Jim likes to get in early
What a 2013 James Maloney had – he won a premiership, broke into the NSW Origin team and finished as the top point scorer in the NRL with an incredible success rate at the kicking tee of 87%.
The other reason that helped him to claim that last accolade was scoring nine tries in 25 games which was a pretty good return for a five-eighth. But what was more incredible was that he scored the first try in the match five times and the first try for the Roosters on six occasions.
As a result last year he was $3.13 to score, $4.17 for first team try scorer and just $5 for first try scorer outright. This compares to career prices of $3.59, $8.67 and $14.86 respectively.
While it is unlikely that Maloney will continue in quite the same vein, especially with regards to scoring first, his record at the Warriors (24 tries in 75 games) suggests he is a proven try scorer and can therefore be backed to score anytime at $3.50, to be first team try scorer at $10 and first try scorer outright at around $15.
Ok to leave it late to trade on the top eight
In general the bookies and exchanges acknowledge the parity between the majority of sides in the competition and the unpredictability of what lies ahead.
As a result you’re unable to back or lay anything outside of $1.70-$2.20 for the majority of teams to make or miss the top eight.
But don’t despair as the real opportunities open up as the season progresses. Every year at least one side comes from the clouds to make the eight – last season it was the Cowboys who came from 14th after round 18 to win seven out of their last eight and sneak in.
In 2012 the Raiders stormed home to eventually finish sixth despite spending over 75% of the season outside of the eight. At the same time the Tigers bombed out by losing eight of their last 11 to drop from fourth to tenth.
During the season the middle block of the competition (teams positioned 7th-12th) are rarely separated by more than four points, however as the season comes towards the home stretch this is rarely reflected in the prices, opening up various opportunities at enticing odds.
So if you want to take a position on who will finish inside or outside the top eight you’re best advised to wait a little while until the more attractive prices come into play despite the majority of sides still being locked closely together in the middle of the table.
New rules = More Points (but be wary)
In 2014 the NRL are implementing nine new rules and the most likely impact is more points.
Stopping the clock in the last five minutes of a match and 80 seconds following the scoring of a try, restricting how often a captain can speak to the referee, awarding an extra tackle from a 20m restart and allowing quick taps will all directly make the game faster and more continuous.
A crackdown on “cannonball” and “crusher” tackles will also likely expedite the play-the-ball and make the game even faster, tiring players in the process.
Replacing scrums with taps after 40/20s and kicks out on the full may actually deny the attacking side a more likely immediate scoring opportunity, however the difference will be negligible as if taps can be taken quickly this will speed up the game further.
I would suggest taking a cautious approach early and waiting to see just how these new rules affect points scored. Early season games are traditionally lower scoring but this could be countered by the new rules, leaving few opportunities to get involved.
One thing to note is that the impact of stopping the clock during the last five minutes may be overestimated, especially if we see some instances early in the season of points being piled on late in close games.
The rule states that the clock will only be stopped following a conversion or penalty kick at goal and is therefore designed for tight finishes.
However of the 16 matches in which 60 or more points were scored last year the margin was 28 or greater in 11 of them. Therefore in the highest-scoring games there is unlikely to be the urgency facilitated by the clock-stop rule, which means that the higher quotes could be too high, while in games priced up as lower-scoring and close the quote could be too small.
The other obvious opportunity is backing sides at long odds with 15-20 mins to go in the knowledge that that 15-20 mins has the potential value of 20-25 mins. This rule would’ve suited the Tigers side of 2008-11 perfectly as they were often at their best when 12-18 points behind with 15-20 mins to go.
This rule should produce more last minute gubbings but the key will be identifying at which point the market hasn’t sufficiently taken the new rule into account.