Head-to-head focus: Finals are upon us

Max Bryden gives you his best tips to help you claim the bragging rights in your H2H finals!


Righto. We’re here. Round 23 is upon which is – for the majority of us – the start of Head to Head Finals. Match-ups go a long way towards determining who will win in a H2H and this article will try to help you by highlighting some of the best match-ups on offer this week. We’ll try to avoid the obvious ones and look a little broader.

Now stats don’t always paint the whole picture, but they can help be a great indicator of what could unfold.

If you’re after some broader tactical chat about how to manage your H2H each week, then check-out the guide I wrote last week here.

Credit for some of these stats must go to nrlsupercoachstats.com/ and the Weekly Rub Down boys who track and organise the stuff I usually do in the notes app.

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Finals Draw

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Matchups we like

Knights vs Dolphins – The whole back 5

The red hot Newy Knights are part of a double header in Perth where they’ll take on the Dolphins. Brave early in the season, the Dolphins are now well and truly a match-up you want your players up against. Listen to this:

  • Across the course of the season, the Dolphins are averaging the most points conceded of any side to Fullbacks and CTWs – VC Ponga anyone?
  • In their last game against the Bulldogs, the left winger, centre and 2RF all crossed for tries.
  • Right-edge attackers are averaging 64 points per game against them. Only the Dragons concede more.
  • Left-edge attackers are averaging 55 points per game against them. Only three teams concede more on this edge.
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Pretty compelling right? In terms of who to target, it really is a matter of choice. Marzhew and Ponga are already well owned, but Gagai, Young or Best could all go huge this round. Even Lachie Fitzgibbon – with a five round average of 72 – could be elite. For me however, the one standing out is Daine Gagai. 

With a base + power average of 56 on the year, his floor is incredible. Last week’s score of 97 should also allay any concerns of the Knights being more left dominant with KP at the back as well. With the Bulldogs, Souths, Cronulla and Dragons to finish the season as well, it could be a fruitful run home for the Knights. And only Souths aren’t in the bottom 6 worst left-edge defenses – a huge case for Gags!

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Bunnies vs Sharks – The Bunnies right-edge

There’s no hiding the fact the Sharks have been struggling big time of late and the injury bug could not have come at a worse time. While the Sharks are sitting well on the ladder, the defensive struggles on their left-edge (against right attacks) are well documented. In their last two games since dropping Moylan, that edge has been exposed badly. Here’s what we know:

  • Rd 21, Manly’s right edge attack of Olakau’atu (72), Koula (109) and Saab (83) all went big. DCE pulled the strings at right-half for 109 himself
  • Rd 22, Penrith’s right edge attack again does well with To’o (84) and Martin (61) scoring tries and Cleary (right-half) scoring 109.
  • Only six teams are conceding more points on average to right-edge attacking players all year
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The numbers paint a compelling case for the Bunnies right-edge of Keaon, Graham and Milne. The class on the Bunnies right edge – especially with Latrell back – could absolutely match the output of the Sea Eagles against them two weeks ago. The only caveat I see is the Bunnies propensity to attack down the left which last week – for the first time all season with Trell and Cody playing together – completely outdid the right edge attack. If the Bunnies follow the stats, which clearly highlight the weak spots in the Sharks defence, Graham in particular could be in for his 4th ton of the year.

The Bunnies upcoming draw is nice in general for the next three rounds with games against St George (weak left-edge defence) and Knights however the bye in round 26 is a big reason not to over capitalise in them.

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Eels vs Dragons – Eels right attack

The Eels have had a weird year on the field but have still polled the 5th most SC points for any team this year. At their best they’re an attacking juggernaut with a pretty predictable game plan. Unfortunately injuries and suspensions have changed that plan a bit, but it doesn’t mean they still shouldn’t put a score on against the Dragons this week.

The Dragons have the statistically worst left-edge defence in the competition, giving up 65 points per player to right-edge attackers. Worth noting again that Campbell Graham plays them next week, too!

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For me, this bodes well for Mitch Moses and Will Penisini. Penisini has been a consistent scorer all year with an average of 59. Most importantly, he has few bad scores with a base + power average of 44. The Dragons last week give up a ton to the right winger in Jason Saab, and a try to the right centre in Koula. If Penisini can add some attack to his already impressive base, he could be a difference maker for you this round. Heck, even Sean Russell would be a Super POD if you’re feeling brave.

Just note the Eels face Brisbane next week (second best defence in the competition) and the Penrith (best defence) in round 26, so he would be a one week play or someone you’d need to bench.

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Raiders vs Tigers – Raiders left edge

I normally wouldn’t advocate for buying Raiders (sorry Timmy), but any team playing a bottom four side is worthy of looking at in match-ups. The Tigers give up the 4th most points to CTWs over the course of the season, and that mark moves to the most when you look at just 5RA. Here’s some numbers for you:

  • The Tigers give up 72 points to right wingers
  • The Tigers conceded a hat trick to the left-winger (Alex Johnston) in their last start.
  • The Tigers conceded over 220 points to the left winger and left centre from Souths last week
  • Of the 11 SuperCoach tons the Tigers have conceded to CTWs this season, six have come from right-edge attacking players (wingers and centres), with five from left-edge (wingers and centres).
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Interesting one. The season long stats show the issue is bigger on the Tigers left-edge defence (against Right sided attacks), but more recently it’s been quite even. From the last six rounds, the Tigers are conceding 74 points per players against left-edge attacks and 72 against right attacks – there’s nothing in it. But what it does tell you is that someone in the Raiders attack could go big.

I tend to think the Raiders will target the Tigers new-look left, with Junior Tupou playing only his second game at centre. This could bode well for Timoko or Jordan Rapana. Additionally it could mean a nice POD like Albert Hopoate could pay off. Now, Timoko aside, it does feel a bit rogue to be advocating for players who have had no relevance so far this season, but as the final game of the round, they could be a get out of jail card if you’re chasing late in the match-up.

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NZ Warriors vs Gold Coast Titans

A lot of H2H focused and overall coaches have spoken non stop about the Warriors run home. And it is juicy. But just how juicy is it, and is this the week to move? Let’s have a look:

  • A lot of the focus has been on the Warriors right edge attack featuring SJ, CNK and DWZ.
  • The Warriors play the Titans (away), Tigers (Home), Manly (Home), Dragons (Home) and round 27 against the Dolphins (Away)
  • Over the last 6 rounds, the Tigers, Dragons and Dolphins are all in the bottom 5 defences against right-edge attacks. Manly are 7th worst
  • Over the last 6 rounds the Tigers, Dragons and Dolphins are also in the bottom 5 defences against left attacks. Manly are mid-table.
  • Over the last 6 rounds the Titans conceded more against right-edge attacks, but are conceding 10 points less per player than Manly, and almost 20 points less per player than the worst side, the Dragons.
  • The Titans have only conceded 47 points per game to right-wingers.

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So what this might tell you is that, if you can wait a week for a CNK or DWZ, it might be the move. The Titans did a good job of shutting down what was a red hot Cows attack last round, but right-winger Semi Valamei did get over the line. There’s no doubt that, fresh from the bye week, the Warriors will be ready to rip in and are deserved favourites, but it might not be the dream start to their finals we’d considered. There’s absolutely a world where DWZ and CNK can buck the trend however and if you are keen, I wouldn’t stop you!

And there you have it. Good luck to all the coaches in elimination finals this week! Hope this can give you an edge.

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