A couple of close calls last week, but no cigar for the debutant NRL analyst Shaun Beirne, @shaunbeirne. How's his luck this week?
Preliminary Final (Week 3) History since 2000
Points of interest:
• Home teams win at a rate of 67%
• Higher ranked home teams win at 60%
• Matches at one teams home ground average 42.5 points and 9/15 are over 38.5 total points
• Higher ranked teams on a Neutral ground win at a rate of 82%
With small samples any new result has a higher than ideal influence over the figure, so something that looks like a strong trend can quickly look like a weak trend. That said it is interesting that the higher ranked Neutral team outperforms Higher ranked home teams. Perhaps a negative effect of the home fans expectations.
Cronulla v North Queensland
Friday 1955 AEST, 1055 BST
These two teams met last season at the semi-final (week 2) stage with the Cowboys handing the Sharks a 39-0 hiding.
This season they have each won one of their head to head matches, the Cowboys 20-14 at home in round 1 and the Sharks 13-10 in R14.
Comparing the team’s statistics from last season we see that Cowboys finished third (38 points +133 points differential) last season and fourth (34 points +229) this season. The Sharks finished sixth (34 points -7) in 2015 and third (39 points +176) in 2016.
The Cowboys excelled away from home last season winning 9/12 (regular season only) scoring an average of 24.6 points to 18.7. However, this season they were 3/10 (neutral matches excluded) scoring 17.3 points to 19.4.
The commentary around this match has centred on whether the Cowboys can back up after that incredible match against the Broncos last week. I’m on the side of it is going to be extremely difficult but not impossible. I think one need only consider the fact that Jonathan Thurston elected to take a penalty goal after 34 minutes when down 8-4 as an indicator of just how fast the game was.
If you can see where I’m leaning with the recommended play I will leave you with the Sharks having two big inclusions from their last start win over Canberra Paul Gallen and Sam Tagatese.
As confident as one can be when betting against a team with arguably the greatest ever player who just seems to step up every time, I have to bet up on Cronulla at the head to head and 13+ for some cream.
Melbourne v Canberra
Saturday 1940 AEST, 1040 BST
Melbourne lost at home to the Cowboys at the corresponding stage last season taking their record in sudden death matches at AAMI Park to one win and three losses since 2011. Incredible given they have lost just 16 of 69 regular season matches in the corresponding period.
Melbourne earned the week off by strangling the Cowboys (16-10) in wet conditions a couple of weeks ago. Canberra bounced back from their loss to Cronulla to beat Penrith (22-12) a match they led 18-0 and should have been more comfortable than it turned out to be. Certainly it was concerning to see them so inept at shutting the game down late on.
Canberra welcomed back Hodgson and Austin last week and both turned in solid performances suggesting they will be better again for the run.
Minor Premiers Melbourne lost 5 matches this season, one was without their Origin stars. Of the other four losses, two came late in the season at home to Brisbane 16-26 and away to Canberra 8-22. Both these matches were significant in that their opponents played an expansive game moving the Storm defence around and exposing plenty of holes (something Cronulla did again in Rd 26 albeit in a 26-6 loss).
One final historical statistic of some note is that in the eight seasons from 2008-2015 only nine teams that had the week off have won their preliminary final.
I’m not terribly confident but happy to have a small play (about 33% of my stake on the 1st preliminary final) on Canberra at the head to head and +6.5.