Friday, 8 April 2011

Round 9

Unfortunately, I haven't had time to place together my thoughts for this evening's games so I need to resort to listing them in sentence form!

Huddersfield v Warrington. Disagree with the market prices who look to have not factored in home advantage but I do fancy Warrington to sneak home and exact revenge for their first week loss.

Wigan v Catalans. A "justified" 1.1 shot but like last week, there's only one backable team.

Crusaders v St Helens. A fair price all things considered but Crusaders must be the option at the current odds.

Hull v Bradford. A scizophrenic side against a mediocre one. Anything could happen here so probably best to stay away.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Round 8

Last week I all but said that I expected my fortunes to take a downturn and it takes an excellent judge to be able to predict when they are wrong so I can at least take solace from that.

This week appears even harder to review and so I expect this to be the shortest preview yet.

The Friday night game on SKY is Wigan at Leeds and currently sees the visitors trading in the low 1.7s a price which appears fair. Leeds have been nothing short of poor this season and were incredibly unconvincing last week against Wakefield. However, they do remain a side which on paper, is capable of excellent results. One day, it will all click and they will produce the dominant performance they can do. Will it be against a Wigan side who will be desperate to avoid successive defeats. Well, it could be although it would be surprising. As with any SKY game, the value will come in play.

The other Friday night games see Castleford travel to Hull FC and Hull KR travel to St Helens. Hull FC showed their true schizophrenic powers at the weekend when they held a four point lead over Harlequins, conceded three straight tries in seven minutes before scoring four tries in the last fifteen minutes to win. It will surprise no-one then that I have no interest in a game where the market is fairly close.

The other game, Saints v Hull KR, screams out to be a game that I should be interested in. The home side on a good run of form against an away side who have been woeful recently. An over enthusiastic market then drives the price of the home side down too low. However, my stomach isn’t interested in this although my head is. Maybe a small back of the away side might be in order but it isn’t a game that I am overly confident on.

Saturday night sees more of the same when Salford host Crusaders. An in form home side against an away side out of sorts although again, I have reservations. This one is easier to explain in that Crusaders demolished Salford in Round 1. That is therefore more likely to act as a barrier against complacency for the home side and as a roadblock to the market driving the price down irrationally; even moreso when considering that these are two sides who aren’t regularly featured on SKY. Still, the pre match value does lie with Crusaders but I expect the biggest value to emerge in play.

Sunday sees two expected walkovers and a stroll in the park. Will it be that simple?

Warrington v Catalans reminds me of one of my earliest oppositions to home favourites when in 2009 the home side traded as low as 1.06 against Catalans before losing. The fact that 1.06 is likely to be the starting point for this game best illustrates the direction the two teams have gone in since. Certainly, that 1.06 was more valuable than this 1.06, but at 1.06, there can only be one side that can be backed.

Huddersfield v Wakefield is likely to be another 1.0 starting price and whilst the away side is unquestionably where the best value lies, the prices do reflect the talent available to both sides. Wakefield have performed admirably against Warrington, Hull and Leeds in recent weeks but I do wonder whether they may just fail to reach that level of performance this time around. However, there is still only one option available.

The other game on Sunday is where my strongest feeling lies but even that, for my standards, is ten parts water to one part juice. Harlequins are coming off a thrashing by Warrington and a capitulation against Hull whilst Bradford are also haven’t been in the best form recently. However, the Yorkshire side are in the 1.3s which is definitely a price driven by home advantage rather than anything else.

Despite Harlequins recent poor performances, they have shown enough that they are a side at or around the level of Bradford and whilst the Bulls won’t be easing off just yet, they are significantly shorter than the price they should be. I therefore do expect Bradford to win, but I would not expect them to win with the regularity that the market does.

However, that is the issue. All these games are played one time and one time only and anything can, and usually does, happen.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Round 7

Looking back on last week’s predictions were a real eye opener as it seemed that everything fell into place; with nearly all of my original thoughts being correct including predicting a Wakefield victory despite the Wildcats starting the game in double figures! One day I might grow the fortitude to trust my instincts (and remove the painful splinters from my bottom). Of course however, much of my success is down to randomness so I fully expect to have a couple of weeks where I get everything wrong; much like how I sometimes rate a team higher after a defeat than a victory. So without wanting to get everything wrong, let’s quickly look to this week’s games.

The big game of the week is the Friday night televised game between Wigan and Warrington which sees the two best sides in the competition go head to head. Usually in such games, my feelings towards home advantage automatically sways me to the visiting side, but yet again it seems that, contrary to history, the market is underrating Wigan significantly.

Let me make it clear, the best value should be found in play but I cannot understand why the reigning champions who have been very good this season should only be 1.75 favourites. Whilst they are missing some regular players, they have shown the strength in depth to cope with all but the worst injury crisis, and their opponents should not be over-estimated based upon a thrashing of an average side.

It certainly looks like the market is overreacting to Warrington’s impressive scoreline last week but once the match starts, that counts for nothing.

The other Friday night game sees St Helens host Bradford and Mick Potter return to his former club. I have been underwhelmed by Bradford this year whilst St Helens looked a different side last week once they fielded a 13 man team. The market therefore looks right for this game but if I had to choose, I would prefer the potential reward of the underdogs.

That is also true in the Saturday night game in France where Catalans are 1.4 to defeat a Salford side coming off an impressive victory last week. I’m not ready to buy into Catalans just yet and whilst their recent performances have been more impressive than I anticipated, I would not treat them as sub 1.5 favourites for any game.

The televised Saturday game sees two sides who lost as 1.5 favourites last week when Huddersfield travel to Hull KR. My gut feeling is that Huddersfield, at 1.6, are too short. That said, it is hard for me to piece together a convincing reason to back Hull KR. The best I could possibly do is to expect the Robins to look to kick start their season in front of the Sky cameras with a home crowd desperate for their side to live upto the hype but that is a weak argument!

Moving onto Sunday and Leeds v Wakefield looks to be appropriately priced. Whilst Wakefield are coming off a victory, Leeds impressed last week and are significantly the more talented side. Given Wakefield’s young squad, I expect two victories to be too much to string together.

The most intriguing game is Hull travelling to Harlequins in a game where I’d almost favour both sides to lose. Harlequins started the season very well but were woeful when losing 82 – 6 last week whilst Hull have only one victory all season and lost at home to Wakefield last week.

There is no doubting that Hull are the more talented side, significantly so on paper. However, they look to be in free fall whereas Harlequins’ loss was more likely to be a blip and a result of an average squad simply having little more to give. I therefore cannot agree with Hull being favourites, although given the potential variance in Hull’s performance level, whether Harlequins’ price is worthy of constituting value is questionable.

The final game on Sunday is Castleford hosting the Crusaders. I mentioned last week of Castleford possibly doing a Hull and if the Crusaders can produce their form from Round 1, they do have the ability to secure a shock victory. That said, the current odds look about right although like Saints v Bradford, if I had to choose, it wouldn’t take long to decide.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Round 6

After Friday night, we will be thirty eight games into the one hundred and eighty nine games scheduled to be played this season. With time flying by so quickly, I am determined to make these previews more and more concise. (Removing the second more would be a good start.)

There won’t be very many laughably priced games left at this rate. Certainly few as daft as Harlequins’ starting price of 7/1 against St Helens last week.

Friday’s night game is another that I will miss although this one is much more like Warrington v St Helens than Huddersfield v Harlequins. In other words, I disagree with the odds. At the start of the week, Huddersfield could be backed (or in my case, laid(!)) at around 2.0. However, following the suspension of the Tomkins brothers, the Giants are edging towards 1.5.

It is a difficult game to predict because Wigan are missing Sam Tomkins, Martin Gleeson, Pat Richards, Paul Deacon, Brett Finch, Stuart Fielden, Eammon O’Carroll and Joel Tomkins. Especially important is the loss of Tomkins, Deacon and Finch who are undoubtedly three of their most important creative players.

Meanwhile, for two years Huddersfield have slowly ascended into the top class of clubs although their success has been built more on consistency than creativity although the Danny Brough and Kevin Brown partnership is developing into a very good one.

However, I believe Wigan to be the better side and therefore I would make them favourites. Now, with the Tomkins’ suspensions and the lack of halfbacks, it is understandable the market would look to back a Huddersfield side coming off an impressive win but at a price nearing 1.5?

I’d be most confident that this game won’t produce many points, but I would look to favour Wigan who boast a terrific away record and a strong consistency and who have their backs up against the wall. However, whoever wins won’t shock me but at the current prices, there looks to be value with the Lancashire side.

There are three non televised games to accompany the main event and I don’t have much to say on two of them. Catalans and Crusaders are the two sides I feel least confident on and therefore I can’t find any value in this market whilst Salford v Hull KR looks to be priced correctly, although I remain expectant that Salford could, at some point this season, develop into the Top 8 side I thought I saw pre-season and at odds over 3, they do look the better value.

The other game in action this weekend is Hull FC v Wakefield. Likely to be priced in the 1.0s, I fancy Wakefield to win this. From watching last week’s game, Wakefield, whilst extremely limited in attack, showed exceptional character and a solid defence. Meanwhile, despite running Wigan close last week, Hull remain very much the schizophrenic side. Capable of brilliance or disaster and with no middle ground.

This is the type of game Wakefield can win. Now, as with any 1.0 shot, the price is there for a reason. However, returning to the club that he coached to Challenge Cup success, I believe John Kear can motivate his side to a shock victory which could see the end of Richard Agar’s reign in Hull.

On Wednesday this week, I would have made Leeds massive favourites for their mouth-watering tie against St Helens. The latter appeared very much to be a club in meltdown, insistent on allowing sides to play against them with a man advantage. Then however, something has happened to make departing Scrum Half Kyle Eastmond suspended for “Serious Misconduct”. Several will tell you this should be for a series of effortless displays which have to be seen to be believed, but apparently it may relate to the only action he has performed this year, which was giving an alleged V to fans who had the audacity to boo his performance although other darker rumours continue to circle in the background.

With that, I believe St Helens can win. From a market’s point of view, the loss of Eastmond is a blow as he is a central player. However, Eastmond’s sheer lack of effort and the likely increase to team morale that will form as the club bonds together in adversity act as positive factors in my view.

Whilst, as with any SKY game, the biggest value is likely to develop in play, I again have a fairly strong belief in the underdog away side.

Turning to Sunday and again Harlequins look likely to be massive underdogs away to a Lancashire side although given Warrington’s form, the price is more understandable. Surely lightning cannot strike for a third time although again, there is only one price that can constitute any value.

The other game on Sunday is, in my belief, the perfect example of too much being read into one game and an over reliance on form.

Castleford Tigers, who were as long as 1.55 to beat Catalans at home last week are now as short as 1.8 to beat Bradford away from home and given the importance that the markets place on home field advantage, that is an absurdity.

As it is, I do struggle to find massive value in this game due to the fact that I underrate Bradford in accordance to the market so far whilst I have overrated Castleford. Maybe the market is coming round to my way of thinking but maybe, Castleford could end up like Hull last year.

A fast starting side who the market initially views with contempt before jumping in and staying in bed with the side even as they produce woeful performances which belie their early season form.

I believe Castleford are too good to fall into such a situation but it is worth keeping an eye out for.

Back to the game, and I agree that this is one that looks too close to call and one that I can’t see any massive value in. However, here’s hoping to some value being found during the games.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Round 5

I imagine this will be without doubt my shortest work, as this week of Rugby League action looks, on paper, to be one of the most uninspiring that we have been treated to in a while. Although it may just be that any optimism has been dulled by one of my worst weeks trading wise last week which saw a 1.04 reversal in the annual Varsity match last year stick in my mind unduly despite there being an enormous gulf in quality between the two sides. An alcohol strengthened blind judgement call which turned out to be erroneous and a malfunctioning phone which contributed to not leaving a market at the appropriate time.

The total cost was less than my earnings in the World Club Challenge, but being someone who looks to draw arbitrary distinctions on a monthly basis, it wasn’t the best start.

Friday’s three games look set to see the favourites all set off at below 1.2 and the biggest gulf looks set to be in the televised game where Warrington travel to Wakefield. It seems almost absurd that Wakefield were 1.6 home favourites just two weeks ago. However, Warrington look in danger of being hugely overrated if they do set off at the 1.0 price that current looks probable although Warrington are undeniably clear favourites.

Wakefield do have a reputation however for raising their game when it matters and I have to say I actually expect them to produce a competitive performance against a Warrington side which is without Brett Hodgson and Adrian Morley. Still, it is very hard to see Warrington trailing at the final hooter, although I know who I’d rather be backing at the current prices.

But if you merely wanted value, look no further than the sheer absurdity of the price in the St Helens Harlequins game. Now, Harlequins’ bubble may have burst last week with their defeat to Huddersfield but they have proved that they are a competent side. Meanwhile, St Helens look to be a side whose best days have passed and have a lengthy injury list including key creators Leon Pryce and Jon Wilkin and have strong doubts over prop forwards Josh Perry and Louie McCarthy Scarsbrook. Throw in an uninterested Kyle Eastmond and a rookie stand off, and the price of 1.2 looks one that would have been calculated Pre Season and not one that reflects the ability of the teams.

Harlequins have managed one shock victory this year and it is said that lightning doesn’t strike twice. Maybe not, but this price sure looks indefensible.

The other Friday night game sees Leeds host Salford. The Rhinos go into the game with no recognised prop forwards and an injury list as long as most people’s shopping lists. Salford are no mugs and are capable of a victory, their recent performances have not displayed their potential, but you would think that Leeds’ massive desire for a win and a better performance after a lukewarm start under coach Brian McDermott should see them home, but the value would appear to lie with the visitors.

Saturday’s televised game looks set to be overshadowed by an irrelevant competition called the Six Nations which you may have heard about. Castleford have had a great start to the season and do look too long at 1.4 against a Catalans side that are yet to display any of their traditional flair but one could question whether Castleford could sub-consciously ease off. However, the key for this game is to get a second opinion on Scott Dureau, the Catalans halfback who looked dire against Harlequins in the season opener. A team can only go as far as their halfbacks will take them and Dureau’s performance could indicate how the Catalans will fare until Thomas Bosc returns.

Amazingly, Sunday also sees a further three games with very strong home favourites.

Wigan host Hull and whilst Hull are coming off an impressive display last week, it is hard to see Hull gaining something from the match. Certainly, 1.25 looks as fair a home favourite price but the more this slips, the more the value edges towards a Hull side who, on their day, could compete with any side in Super League.

Huddersfield host Bradford and again, their starting price of around 1.4 looks fair although this may be due to the fact that I seemingly have Bradford rated far, far lower than anyone else which is something to factor into any equations. Certainly, Bradford are far from no hopers but I don’t see value screaming out to me at the current prices.

Lastly, Super League looks set to welcome Willie Mason as Hull KR host Crusaders. I’ve wrote previously that I haven’t been able to get a hold on Crusaders but with Michael Dobson missing for the hosts, this match looks to have the most value for away backers. You would expect that the frenzy created through Mason’s introduction should see the Robins home, but they still need to create the tries and if the price is in the 1.1s, I would be very careful as the Crusaders have shown this year that they can score points.

After a bad week, the tendency is to go conservative and there are very few high value opportunities this week. However, if you put your head away totally you miss everything, and I would be more surprised if there was not two games that go against the grain this weekend. Which two? Well, if you know, please let me know!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Round 4

It’s fair to say that the next few weeks of the season can offer the highest risk / reward of the year. With most teams now having been televised twice, and three games played for all teams but Castleford, most have been able to build fairly solid opinions of all teams.

However, in my opinion such opinions can be prematurely formed and can occasionally not be fully reflective of a team’s abilities but rather an indicator of form although it can be very difficult in separating the two.

The Friday night SKY game is the prime example of this where Harlequins host Huddersfield and a fairly significant amount of money was matched in the mid 1.6s before the price crashed to below 1.5 and it is a game which I would struggle to price up.

At the start of the season, Harlequins looked like being one of the weakest teams in the competition; devoid of strength, skill and speed. However, coach Rob Powell has the Quins playing out of their skins, with victories over Catalans, Crusaders and Leeds this season. Meanwhile, Huddersfield have not been particularly impressive and since their opening victory, have appeared to be rather overrated considering starting prices.

I am not sold on Quins however who appear to be a side playing to their maximum rather than turning out to be a significantly better team than advertised. That said, I do think that Huddersfield appear significantly on the short side at below 1.5 although as per usual with SKY games, I would expect the biggest value to show itself in play, even if this is another game which I will miss.

Another game on Friday night sees Hull FC take on Crusaders. Hull are the only side to have not won this season and they have carried on their awful 2010 end of season form. I say form, but I strongly believe that Hull are an incredibly overrated side who appear to be poorly coached. I had Hull rated significantly below their average prediction and the current price in the 1.4s appears incorrect.

However, I have not been able to get a handle on Crusaders. Last year, I continued to hold a belief that they were a woeful side even as they scraped a playoff place. Being a side largely made up from Australians, I may have difficulty in establishing their baseline but having seen them twice this year, I have been suitably impressed. More so in Cardiff than in Wrexham but they look a team capable of scoring frequently.

That is in direct contradiction to Hull who, especially with Sean Long out, look stifled for creativity and lack that little bit of magic out wide. I would not be surprised if Hull win. They should be favourites, and they could canter home but it’s fair to say that I far from agree with the starting price.

The other Friday night game sees Wigan travel to Salford. The Warriors will surely be extra keen to rebound from their WCC defeat whilst Salford will play hosts without their top two coaches, with Assistant Phil Veivers in Australia and Head Coach Shaun McRae having been placed on a month’s leave due to an unspecified illness. Whilst you could usually look to expect a club to pull together in such circumstances, the ability and professionalism of Wigan should see them through although my thoughts on low odds are well known.

Saturday night sees Warrington host Leeds Rhinos on SKY in what could be a cracker. As with any SKY games, the main value will lie in play and this is a difficult game to call. Whilst I feel safe with describing Warrington as a top team, Leeds have been incredibly poor this season. Whilst they have missed key players in Danny McGuire and Jamie Peacock, it has been the basics that they have struggled with.

However, I can imagine that the Rhinos will be extra fired up to set things straight and kick start their season. So whilst the current prices would look to favour Warrington on paper, I could easily see the Rhinos coming out all guns firing and securing what would be a surprise victory.

The other Saturday game sees St Helens travel to Catalans where, hopefully, they can leave Kyle Eastmond – sans passport. Eastmond’s performance against Warrington may have been one of the worst I have ever seen in Super League – certainly the worst if you were comparing ability against performance. Whilst nearly all Saints fans wanted to release Eastmond immediately, one can only hope that with the news now being made public, Eastmond can produce a performance like he actually wants to play. That said, with Saints set to recall Leon Pryce, they should be able to defeat a Catalans side who produced an excellent victory last week but, unless Scott Dureau is capable of replicating Michael Dobson’s impact on the French outfit, should continue to struggle for the majority of the season.

On Sunday, Bradford host Wakefield and the Wildcats return to being heavy outsiders from the favourites they were last week en route to a 32-6 mauling from Salford. Wakefield will struggle this year, but coach John Kear is at his best with his back against the wall, and Wakefield’s young side are capable of springing the odd surprise this year. Therefore, if they continue to be heavy outsiders, there will certainly have been worse shouts this year. Especially as Bradford are yet to impress this year and with their first choice halfbacks out injured, may lack for organisation and creativity.

The other Sunday game sees Castleford take on Hull KR and sees a price which baffles me.

The Tigers have been excellent this season although one may wonder how their week’s break will impact any momentum they had built up. Meanwhile, Hull KR are without their key player in Michael Dobson and also have Jake Webster suspended. I expected the Tigers to be around 1.5, especially given the “home advantage” but bizarrely, the initial prices see the bookmakers unable to separate the two clubs.

I have been higher on Castleford than most this season and it would not shock me if the Tigers did lose, especially given my thoughts on home advantage. However, from an odds point of view, the price appears staggering especially when Hull KR are without their key player who for the past two seasons, has been their dominant controlling force. It is just such a rarity that I consider a home side to have been overpriced; usually I can’t even agree any home price!

A quick note as well that National League rugby returns to SKY next Thursday which sees an additional televised game per week which can be traded. Hopefully this will be competitive than the one sided Varsity match that was televised tonight which again resulted in a maximum loss. Maybe last year’s memory of a 16-0 turnaround stayed strong! However, the gulf between the two sides was as large as any that I can recall seeing and Oxford eased home to victory so comprehensively, that even the largest handicap was traded at 1.01 after 25 minutes!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Super League - Round 3

Another week has passed without a blog post; the truth is that finding time is proving as difficult as finding something to write about!

However, it’s Thursday evening and so it is time to look ahead to the upcoming Super League weekend, although time dictates that this post should be sort, not even by my standards but by general standards.

A quick word on last week which proved to be the exact opposite of the first weekend, and my trading was pretty woeful. On the Friday night game, I found myself struggling to find an opening until the 1.1 rule was deployed. The problem I have always had with this approach is finding the right point to trade out. At first, I would trade out in the mid 1.1s, which would give me a very small green and proved highly aggravating when a comeback was completed, so I switched to letting it run – which proved highly aggravating when a comeback wasn’t completed.

However, as the whole purpose of the trade is to find value, I have decided to trust my judgement on when to trade out, although the size of the potential green is still ensuring that I take a medium approach to risk.

In this game, the opportunity never realised itself. Now, Hull are without doubt a side who are woefully underperforming and who are poorly coached. However, on the back of some 50/50 calls going against them and with Leeds down to one substitute, I always felt that with just one or two bounces of the ball, they could mount a serious comeback. Sadly, that never quite happened – leaving me with a maximum loss which was quite frustrating as the opportunity had been there briefly to take a reasonable profit. As someone who tends to be risk averse, the loss in the profit was felt more than the no score draw on the net scoreboard.

As a result, I then traded the Castleford Huddersfield game rather more conservatively and backed out of my initial bullish opinion to a more moderate one. In fact, I owed more of my profit to a crazy first half draw price than to my pre-match thoughts. It is wise not to overcommit before a SKY game as opportunities do present themselves during the game, but when you do have an opinion, you should look to utilise it.

Onto this week and the televised game on Friday is between St Helens and Warrington and despite this being not only an excellent game and myself being a Saints fan, this is one game that I am set to miss which is more than a bit gutting.

Usually, I prefer to look for value in play but that will be quite hard. However, the market has been extremely generous in giving me a pre play value.

I’ve discussed my main reasons for this on the Betfair forum, but suffice to say I had expected St Helens to start around 1.8 – their current price of 1.5 is one that baffles me. I won’t go over old ground, but I will say that this appears to be an overreaction based upon results and form, not ability, and a nod to “Home advantage”.

My view, on a very basic level, is that Warrington are the better side and therefore Warrington should win. Now, I won’t be shocked if Saints win and I wouldn’t look to overly commit before you see how the game is playing out, but 1.5 is a price which looks to be too low, massively too low although usually the best value can be found during the game.

The other two SKY games this week look to be fairly even games and I definitely will be waiting to see how they evolve before taking a position; with Sunday’s World Club Challenge especially true of the above comment – you really need to see how the Australians are treating the game.

That leaves us with four non televised games this week, and all games seem to produce a potential opening.

Leeds v Harlequins will see the home side start in the 1.1s. As a general rule, that is too low a price. Now, Harlequins’ good form should come to an end soon and they are a very limited side. However, Leeds have not been producing superb displays this year and whilst they are strong favourites, their current price is much too short for my liking. The Wildcard in all this is that Leeds’ coach is Harlequins’ former coach and their coach is the former assistant so both sides will know each other well. So whilst I’m not sure Harlequins are great value, if I had to choose one, it wouldn’t take me any time to answer.

The same approach should therefore be taken in Hull KR v Catalans. Now, whilst I have said I don’t take much stock in form, I do take stock in performance and Catalans’ two games this year have shown a real dearth of talent at halfback which is the most crucial position in Rugby League. Now, I am not convinced that is a large enough sample to write Scott Dureau off, but the Australian quickly needs to considerably up his performance levels. Meanwhile, Hull KR have impressed so far this season and in Blake Green, look to have a creative outlet to support Michael Dobson. Still, a price in the 1.1s should practically never be backed in Rugby League.

Huddersfield v Hull FC is another similar game where the home side do look too short. However, both sides are coming off disappointing results which can look to improve a team’s focus and so Huddersfield should be able to guard against complacency and ease home. 1.3 should be too short for Huddersfield given Hull’s natural skill levels, but they have so far shown nothing this season to suggest that they should challenge Huddersfield. However, again, I feel that Hull would be the better value here, although I won’t be running to back them.

Finally, we have last week’s 1.1 winners, Wakefield, hosting Salford. And Wakefield are currently trading in the 1.5s. This reminds me of a series of games in 2009 where Bradford hosted Harlequins at home and were around 1.3 to win. They lost. The very next weekend the game was played at Harlequins, and the Quins were the favourites. They lost.

One result does not necessarily make a team any more or less likely to win the next game. It can show indicators of why a team may win, it may even help to improve confidence but it should not produce the swing that it does.

A quick look at Wakefield’s squad listings show several young players who do not have the talent to consistently play at this level. Yes, they do have the ability to win and yes they do have a coach who is excellent in the underdog situation and historically gets his team off to a good start. However, when the whistle is blown, it comes down to the 17 individuals taking part in thousands of random events and whilst anything can happen which is why the underdogs are usually a good blind position, more often than not, it is talent that shines through.

As for Salford, they have been dreadful this season, conceding 96 points. However, it is too soon to tell whether this is as the coach does not have the dressing room (which would be a massive factor) or whether they have just had two bad games, which can happen.

On paper, Salford are the far better team and therefore I would make them favourites although the wildcard of Wakefield’s new owners and an expected bumper crowd would usually make this game one worth avoiding. However, if Wakefield can be laid in the region of 1.5, then that is a price which screams overreaction and usually, that is where money can be made.

So there are my quick thoughts on the upcoming weekend of rugby league. As always, there’s a chance I could be totally wrong, and I would not be surprised, but if you throw enough mud, sometimes something can stick.

Thursday, 17 February 2011


Something I have noted over the past three seasons of trading Rugby League is a tendency to overreact. Be it from a try, a penalty, a refereeing decision or a run of form, a blind opposer of the market would be in a pretty healthy position I suspect.

For me, that is what makes Rugby League so tradable and there are few greater examples than the second week of a season where prices more than ever are set by the performance of the team on opening weekend. The fact is however, performance in the last match is often a factor which I negatively rate. No side can perform at 100% every week and with alarming regularity, a team can mentally ease off after a great performance or find an extra 5% after a poor performance. Of course, that is not always the case – every event is dependant upon thousands of random stand alone events.

After last weekend, I immediately noted that I would look for Salford as a potential proponent of the above theory but the odds haven’t quite gone as expected. The City Reds were highly rated going into the season and considering Saints’ dire performance for 65 minutes at Millennium Magic, the Reds are available at around 4. A price which I consider fair and not offering too much value either way.

However, there is most definitely a candidate if you look hard enough. Going into the season, many people believed Huddersfield could take the next step and they delivered in Round 1, defeating a highly rated Warrington side.

However, I am very surprised to see them below 1.5 when they travel to Castleford Tigers at the weekend. Home advantage is usually a concept I look to oppose but in this case, it feels like the market has forgotten who the home team is.

Now, I have Castleford rated much higher than most and have them solidly as the 7th best squad in the competition and whilst the first performance is never conclusive, it can help to affirm or reject some initial thoughts about how a team could perform and I believe Castleford’s performance strongly affirmed my key thought on them. That being the addition of Danny Orr will sufficiently free up Rangi Chase to enable the halfback to return to his form from 2009 when he was one of the best players in the competition.

Obviously, in Super League anything can happen and with this game being televised, it is quite likely that the best value will be found in play. Huddersfield do remain the better side on paper as well so a Giants victory would not be a shock, but at 1.5, this is a price which I find utterly incomprehensible.

As for the remaining games this weekend, Hull v Leeds is the Friday night televised game and as per usual, I won’t look to take a position until the game kicks off. Hull have one of the greatest ranges in performance ability and it would be unwise to take a view until you see how they approach the game.

Alongside the Saturday night televised game is Catalans v Wakefield and this has the potential to cause an upset. Wakefield’s administration saga, which included rumours of the entire squad being made redundant, appears to be over and they are facing a side who against Harlequins, looked likely to never score. Of course, Wakefield’s squad however is severely depleted and they are understandable heavy outsiders. However, unless Scott Dureau can produce a considerably better performance, the Wildcats could be celebrating a most unlikely victory and if the price does drop to around 1.1, then that would be a position well worth taking.

Sunday sees three games with Harlequins v Crusaders looking to be a potentially even game. Having only one performance to consider is insufficient to form an opinion on either side and so this is one to avoid – although the Crusaders did look the better team last week.

Bradford v Wigan has the potential for an upset if the Warriors were to divert their eyes towards next week’s World Club Challenge. However, their capitulation against Saints last week should result in a more determined focus for this week’s game whilst it is difficult to see Bradford repeating their mammoth effort from last week although the sour taste that will exist from their late defeat could serve as sufficiently strong motivation; especially if the crowd can get behind them.

The final game of the weekend is Warrington v Hull KR where overreaction seems to be setting in slightly following Warrington’s injuries and generally lacklustre performance from Millennium Magic. However, even at 1.5, I don’t see sufficient upside to back the home team, although it does rule out Hull KR as having potential value.

Therefore, it appears another weekend where the best course of action is to follow the games and look for further trends in teams’ performances. There is no Leeds v Castleford or Warrington v Catalans this time. At least, not one that is obvious yet…

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Returning to Action

When I commented on the need to be bold and consistent in trading yesterday, I did not expect it to be tested so early on in the season as it was following St Helens’ stunning comeback against Wigan to cap an excellent first day of the Rugby League season.

At 16-0 down, I had developed a very green position on both St Helens and the draw – at the maximum my green was showing four figures for a very small liability on Wigan. However, this was very much an unintended position. Unintended in so far as I was not entering the trades with a view of Saints making a miraculous come back but rather looking to trade the market to keep building profits.

Now I am a firm proponent that anything can happen in Rugby League, and St Helens have more form in this area than any other side in Super League. However, that form is based on the magic of Sean Long, the incision of Paul Sculthorpe, the brilliance of Jamie Lyon and the endeavour of Keiron Cunningham. However, with all those players having departed the fact was that St Helens looked dreadful and even at 1.02, Wigan looked to be good value given the proceedings of the previous 60 minutes.

Therefore, I did not keep the green solely on St Helens but rather kept trading building small gains whilst keeping the green relatively level. Obviously, the game ended as a draw and my profit, whilst still pleasant, was nowhere near as large as it could have been.

However, I believe it to have been Green All Over who said it best when discussing 1.01 and value in his Goal Famine post. A price is and can never be value in isolation. Therefore, despite being Mr Hindsight at the best of times, I am more than happy with the approach I adopted and even happier with the results – for once I feel ahead of the net scoreboard.

In all the games that I traded today as I traded with a conviction and fluidity that, whilst far from perfect, was much lacking in 2010 but more akin to my 2009 performance. Of course, with only four games having been played it is far too early to make any sweeping statements about the performance of either myself or the teams involved.

The markets, the late game excepted, were not overly liquid but were certainly tradable which was far better than I had been expecting and offers hope for the remainder of the season.

As for the games played today, it is more than fair that some of the games may have been of a reduced quality and could have caused much frustration if watched during the middle of the season. However, and maybe because Super League has been a large void for the past four months, all the games were immensely enjoyable.

Huddersfield and Warrington kicked the season off as the Giants completed a victory that was unexpected. However, the major cost for Warrington could be that Matt King, Lee Briers, Chris Bridge and Simon Grix all left the field injured which could test Warrington’s strength in depth should any of the injuries prove to be significant.

Next up was Harlequins who looked to play an expansive game on their way to an 11-4 victory over Catalans. However, despite Harlequins looking solid and providing much endeavour in defence, the Catalans looked toothless in attack and in desperate need of some creativity. It is especially harsh to judge a player on debut, but Scott Dureau was particularly underwhelming and will need to significantly improve should Catalans look to make a trip to the playoffs this season.

Following that was Wakefield v Castleford, where Wakefield’s spirited efforts were no match against the class of Castleford. The addition of Danny Orr in particular freed up Rangi Chase to display the form that made him such a hot commodity in 2009.

Sadly, the main talking point of the match was referee James Childs whose whistle appeared to have got lodged in Mr Childs’ mouth. Personally, I am a big fan of clamping down at the play the ball early in the game, but most of the penalties awarded were little more than pedantic involvement. It is true that you can penalise nearly every play the ball or tackle for something and Childs seemed to be on a mission to do so, calling 37 penalties and ordering 3 sin binnings. One can only hope that he is advised to show more restraint in the future.

Saints v Wigan proved an exceptional ending to the weekend and whilst there were obvious flaws with the scheduling and issues with the seeming decline in quality, there is little doubt that starting the season with such an event is a welcome idea and is an excellent return to action for league fans who have been sober for a very long time.

I can only hope that the rest of the season is as entertaining and that trading wise, my judgement is as sound tomorrow and for the season as it was today.

Super League - Round 1 Preview

My blog posts are kind of like buses; you wait around for ages and then two appear at once. Only, I hope this blog post is of more use than a trailing bus.

And whilst I won’t be loaning anyone £250 in the imminent future, hopefully the below might help you to earn £250 in a more cost efficient way than visiting a loan shark.

So with the first slate of games due to kick off in around thirteen hours, I thought it may be useful to do a general preview of the upcoming games although obviously such previews will be “blind” – this is the opening game of the season and you never know what will happen.

I would also note that there is much to be gained from just watching. Seeing all 14 sides in action in the first week will offer valuable clues and every year, the operation of the market changes a little. Whilst liquidity is likely to be low due to competing events, there could also be some clues as to how it will operate throughout the season.

It all starts at 1 PM with Huddersfield v Warrington, which has the potential to be an outstanding match with the added spice of former Huddersfield fullback Brett Hodgson set to make his Warrington debut. Currently, Warrington are the favourites on Betfair, trading in the 1.5s, and with neither side having significant injury concerns, such odds are to be expected.

Previously, value in the first week has been readily apparent, but with all games set to be televised and with home advantage having been wiped out, pre play value may be tough to spot. However, liquidity is to set to be a major question mark this season. It dipped significantly last year and with this game being played at the same time as Manchester United v Manchester City in the football, it may be practically non existent.

However, if there is sufficient liquidity, then I would probably look to lay Warrington. With no form to speak of, 1.5 looks slightly too low. Yes, Warrington should be favourites and they will be keen to avenge last season’s playoff loss to Huddersfield but if Huddersfield can beat Warrington at Warrington, then with just Brett Hodgson switching sides, is 1.5 a fair starting price?

Following this, Rugby League adopts its own 6 Nations game as Harlequins take on Catalans. Again, with football matches in full flow and with England playing Italy in Rugby Union, liquidity may be sparse. With both sides having new coaches, much will be unknown in this game and identifying value before the match may be difficult.

That said, it says a lot that I would be reticent to lay Catalans from the off. On paper, the French outfit look a far superior side to the English team but the first twenty minutes will provide much information and it may be worthwhile keeping out of the market until then.

Two hours later there is further conflict as Sunderland take on Tottenham in the football and Wales play Scotland in the Six Nations. Of course, my eyes will solely be focused on the spectacle that is Wakefield v Castleford.

On paper, this looks a knockout and at 1.3, Castleford’s odds reflect that and may even appear generous. However, there is much to suggest that this local derby could go the other way.

Firstly, Wakefield are traditionally quick out of the blocks before stumbling pre-season. Indeed, they have won their last three opening matches. Add in a “backs to the wall mentality” and a lift from the takeover of the club, and an upset is not a too unrealistic possibility.

However, every time my eyes are brought back to the squad listings, the sheer gap between the talent levels of the two teams looks too big to be bridged. However, this is rugby league – where anything can happen.

After this, comes Saturday’s main event, and Grand Final re-run as Wigan Warriors take on St Helens. Wigan look set to field a settled squad and the only changes are likely to boost their already strong forward pack whilst Saints are without stand off Leon Pryce, who controlled their attack in many games last season before a late season injury ended his campaign early.

1.6 for Wigan would therefore appear to be fairly generous. They were by far the dominant side in the Grand Final and despite the return of Kyle Eastmond, there is little in the Saints side to suggest a dramatic improvement. That said, with a new coach in Royce Simmons – as I am keen to say, you never know.

As someone who only focuses on the match markets, my strongest feeling on this would be to take the unders on the points market. Neither side have dynamic pace out wide and both have strong forward packs. It is very easy to see the game developing into an arm wrestle type affair where points are at a premium.

Moving onto Sunday and whilst some will be waking up with a Rugby League hangover, I’ll be rooted in my chair waiting for the games to begin.

At 12, Crusaders take on Salford which, in fairness, is unlikely to be a mouth watering prospect for most, although locals will be interested in the return of Gareth Thomas. However, Salford have made several off-season acquisitions and it will be interesting to see if they are able to gel as a side. Certainly, their acquisitions look better on paper to the declining players that the Crusaders have been able to sign.

1.7 for Salford does appear to be a good price, but given the number of off-season signings, there is a possibility that they may take time to gel and consequently, the best approach could be to just watch the first twenty minutes.

The next game – Bradford v Leeds is likely to go one of two ways. Either the Bulls come out fired up and play with the intensity that you would expect in a derby match when debuting for a new coach, or Leeds’ superior skill levels shine through.

I have been unimpressed by Bradford’s off-season recruitment in general, and with halfback Marc Herbert missing, there will be enormous pressure on the talented but inexperienced Kyle Briggs who will be trusted with the duty of controlling the Bulls against a side who has won three of the last four Super League Grand Finals.

It should be too much, but the odds of 1.5 represent that Leeds are without star players Danny McGuire and Jamie Peacock and that the Bulls should have much motivation for the clash, although Leeds too cannot rest on their laurels with a new coach to impress as well.

Finally, the weekend ends with the match that looks the toughest to call as Hull FC take on Hull KR and despite my criticisms of FC in my season preview, I would agree with this game being an even one as the criticisms related to FC’s lack of strength depth.

However, everyone will be raring to go in the first week and so it is really difficult to compose a starting position for this game. Indeed, after the previous 8 hours of Rugby League, I don’t think anyone would blame you if you took this one off.

Obviously there was a lot of indecision in the above, but that’s to be expected in Week 1 and one of the strengths needed when trading Rugby League is the ability to hit reverse gear instantaneously. The bounce of the ball, the ball of the referee’s whistle, slipping on the turf, taking your eye off the ball as you make a carry, and misjudging a tackle are all so important. It’s no overreaction to say that such events are what decide rugby league matches these days, and if you know that No. 16 is going to knock on at 69:23, well, congratulations on your lottery win.

So that is how I see, or fail to see, this weekend developing. However, what of my aims for the year?

If liquidity continues to decrease, then my trading style will have to become less frenetic and more managed – with longer term positions adopted which I can struggle with given the random sequence of events which make a rugby league match.

More than ever however, I need to be more consistent. Where I identify value, I must be bold. I must hold onto value – even if means I am wrong for the feeling of losing £50 is far better than the feeling of missing out on £500. Being right 100% of the time is meaningless if you are merely adding 1 + 1. It is far better to be right 63% of the time when trying to multiply 42 * 33 * 6 * 12. The problem is, that for a perfectionist, the trend is to add 1 + 1. However, there can be no more “What If” posts even if hindsight is a beast that never sleeps.

So I hope my earnings to have a higher range than before but to provide the highs and the lows. And if I can do that, maybe I can get back to the approach I adopted in 2009 which resulted in a huge enjoyment of trading as opposed to the constant feeling of regret and annoyance which was the mainstay of 2010.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Super League XVI Preview

Today is a bit like Christmas Eve for me. Only, instead of getting ready to open presents tomorrow, I am getting ready to watch 7 Super League games on SKY as the 16th season of Summer rugby league commences. For all the faults of the event, having seven games shown on the television over two days is fantastic for a league nut like myself.

To celebrate the start of the season, I have written a very quick preview. It may read more as a collection of thoughts than a structured article so to speak but even my quick writes are fairly long so excuse me if I don’t dwell over the editing as I usually would.

It’s fair to say that these days, I don’t have the time to follow the game as intensely as I used to in the off season and I keep no eyes on the NRL but I have decided that neither of those factors shall stop me going on record with some season predictions – even if such long term predictions have never been my forte. Anyway, onwards I shall go, starting at the floor of mediocrity before rising to the ceiling of excellence. (Yes, my analogies are as bad as my prediction powers.)

And starting at the bottom are the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats who for the off season have been a club in turmoil although the takeover announced today will offer a glimmer of hope to their long suffering fans.

However, the turmoil off the field has definitely affected their squad recruitment and the Wildcats line up with one of the weakest squads in Super League history. At least unlike the 2008 Crusaders however, their squad is full of British youth and if one or two of these players take their opportunity the Wildcats could surprise.

Certainly, in coach John Kear, Wakefield have a man who knows how to get the best out of his squad and who can coach and motivate a team to a higher level than paper suggests.

That said, the Wildcats problems start up front where apart from journeymen props Paul King and Michael Korkidas, Wakefield lack the grunt needed to provide foundations for their halfbacks to succeed although the endeavour provided by Ben Jeffries and Sam Obst can never be questioned. However, Wakefield’s backline does look full of pace and finishing ability and for that reason alone, I don’t think you will ever be able to count the Wildcats out.

However, at the end of the day the Wakefield squad does look to be paper thin and most of their youth talent is that which has been discarded from other clubs and in all honesty, given their impending points deduction, finishing 13th would be a significant achievement.

Next up is another side who have to start the season on negative points, the Crusaders. Massive favourites for the wooden spoon last year, the Crusaders overachieved in a large way making the playoffs for the first time. However, with Brian Noble having departed and with their only recruitment consisting of veterans whose careers are entering the twilight zone, the odds of a repeat performance are small.

Rookie coach Iestyn Harris was an excellent player in his prime, but that is no guarantee of success as a coach and with three players still stranded in Australia due to visa issues, the Crusaders are sure to start the season in a difficult way.

Last year I struggled with the Crusaders all year – I always seemed to underrate them and there is a distinct possibility that I may make the same mistake this year. Certainly their halfback pairing of Michael Witt and Jarrod Sammut is one that can unlock any defence. However, the standard of the middle clubs in Super League has improved so much that their points deduction will likely be a key factor in their ultimate league position.

The next stop on the line is at Harlequins who, for me, complete the “back three”. The Quins are continuing to blood young talent but their squad size indicates a small budget and with the exception of Rob Purdham, who is entering a well deserved testimonial year, they do look short of sheer quality. When your first choice halfback pairing is an Australian hooker and an inexperienced Luke Gale, you may find chances hard to come by.

That said, when they do, in Mark Calderwood and Karl Pryce, they do have two outside backs who are amongst the best finishers in the league when they are at top form whilst for all Luke Dorn’s inconsistencies, his finishing ability has never been questioned. Sadly, neither have approached such a level for quite some time.

The fact is the more I look at the Quins squad, the less I like what I see and am tempted to rank them lower. However, I have a gut feeling that coach Rob Powell could turn out to be a great hire. At 30 and with no Super League playing experience, to have even made it as an assistant coach is a great achievement and the noises coming out of London quietly support this although I do think the Quins have the least chance of securing a playoff spot.

Next up is a team who I have rated significantly lower than everyone else and that is Hull FC. If the title was decided on paper and was held in 2005, then Hull FC would walk away to the title. However, it is decided on grass in 2011.

The first thing that screams out to me is the weakness of the squad. Aside from their first 19, I think the remainder of the squad have 5 -10 Super League games experience. Now, that is not to say that the youngsters named in the squad will be poor, but it takes time for any young player to find their feet and that could hurt the black and whites.

Indeed, given the age of some of the Hull squad, durability is a major concern. Hull looked a massively different side last year depending on whether Sean Long played and that reliance looks set to continue, especially with Richard Horne showing no signs of regaining the form from the peak of his career.

Add in a coach who is almost uniquely unpopular amongst the club’s fans and has shown limited ability so far and it’s easy to see why, over a 27 round season, they could struggle. However, make no doubt about it, Hull are capable of beating any team on their day. It’s just that day may not come around all to often.

For the next spot, we need to travel to France as Les Catalans look to rebound from a disappointing 2010 season. The Dragons look to have had amongst the most turnover from their 2010 squad but the key move could be in replacing Kevin Walters with Trent Robinson. Robinson, who has playing and coaching experience in France, was highly regarded as an Australian assistant and could provide a major boost to the Catalans fortunes.

Sadly, his recruitment appears underwhelming with much set to stand on halfback Scott Dureau who I must confess to being in the dark on. However, his pedigree does not suggest that he will be the force at halfback to make defences account for someone other than Thomas Bosc.

However, the rest of the squad does look strong enough to pose a strong challenge, especially at home although they will need someone to produce the form of their lives if the Dragons are to make the end of season playoffs.

In ninth and therefore just set to miss out on the playoffs are the Bradford Bulls who welcome former Saints coach Mick Potter to the Grattan Stadium. The Bulls look to have developed a completely opposite strategy to 2011 than which they adopted in 2010 and in particular deserve massive congratulations for their season ticket policy which has seen over 10,000 sales. Bullmania defined Super League in the early years and on that level alone, it would be nice to see resurgence with the Bulls running wild.

Sadly, they won’t do so on the field in 2011 as whilst they boast a very deep squad, they also boast a very weak squad with only Andy Lynch having the sure quality that would be needed at a top 4 club.

The Bulls side looks to be taking on the mantle of Mick Potter in so far as they will be workman like, solid and go about their business without any fuss. However, it is hard to see any out and out brilliance which every club needs at some level. I have no doubt the Bulls will cause an occasional upset but they will either need relatively unknown halfback Marc Herbert to produce like Michael Dobson or Willie Peters or Kyle Briggs to be able to display the same performance level as he did in National League 1 against a much higher standard of opposition.

As we move into the playoffs, we first encounter a side who has been nothing short of consistent since their return to Super League, achieving 13th twice in succession, Salford City Reds. Like Harlequins however, I am less fond of this placing the more I look at the team with the Reds looking to be reliant on declining players who may have durability concerns.

However, at the very least Luke Patten should be able to link up well with 2010’s marquee signing of Daniel Holdsworth whilst the Reds are able to rely on Super League talent with upside from 1 – 13 across the park and if key players can remain fit, the Reds should challenge strongly for a spot in the end of season party.

Unlike Salford, the team I have ranked 7th is one I want to rank higher the more I look at their squad but I don’t think I can place Castleford Tigers any higher yet. That said, I believe that the Tigers could provide a return to the form of their 1998-2000 years having made some impressive signings in Richard Mathers to patrol the back and Danny Orr, whose return to his home-town club will offer some much needed alleviation to the pressure defences applied to Rangi Chase in 2010.

With some highly promising youngsters in Adam Milner, Jonathan Walker and Joe Arundel the Tigers should be able to withstand the loss of Joe Westerman, who never looked like replicating the form from his first year, and Michael Shenton, whose strike powers were largely unused in 2010 in any case.

The biggest question mark however remains over coach Terry Matterson. The man whose right foot effectively clinched St Helens’ league triumph in 1996 has never, in my opinion, looked like a top class coach although maybe he has never had the playing talent that he does now. Either way, in a contract year, this looks set to be a year which could decide not only his future, but that of the Castleford Tigers who are locked in a battle for a 2012 Super League franchise.

Occupying the sixth spot are Hull KR. Whilst most cannot separate the two Humberside sides, I obviously have placed them well apart. The Red Robins, for mine, have developed superbly since their introduction to Super League and in my opinion, also have the best young coach in the British game.

The big difference for Hull KR in my opinion this year will be the signing of Blake Green. Whilst he may not be a household name, Green who already knows Michael Dobson, should help to take the pressure of the Rovers’ number 7 whilst also freeing Scott Murrell up to return to his more natural position of loose forward.

Obviously, the wildcard in all this is whether Willie Mason will arrive and if he does, what form he will bring. However, even without Mason, KR definitely have the ability to cause problems to any team in the league even if their three quarter line is without a true game breaker.

My choice for fifth may appear odd at first. St Helens are my hometown club and did overachieve last year in an injury hit season but I keep thinking that the dismantling of the squad that achieved so much success in the 2000s must hit them eventually, and that this may be the year.

Certainly, the appointment of Royce Simmons as coach bucks the usual trend of hiring younger coaches and whilst this may raise queries, it would be folly to dismiss it at such an early stage.

Personally, I just worry about Saints’ speed out wide. Michael Shenton looks more of an accompanying piece than the true star that Saints have been accustomed to in that position. Add in doubts over the durability and long term future of their halfbacks and the possible second season syndrome of the young players that performed so well last year and it is easy to see a situation where Saints, homeless for 2011 and playing at Widnes, could underachieve by recent standards.

That said, placing them 5th probably has more to do with my faith in the side I want to place 4th. Nathan Brown received a lot of criticism in Australia as a coach, but he has done a terrific job at Huddersfield turning an average side into one of the most consistent squads in Super League.

That’s where Huddersfield have failed previously. At times over the past two years they have resembled a schoolyard bully who picks on the smallest guys but avoids the tougher ones but last year’s playoff success was an indication that they could challenge the very top teams.

Their squad from 1 – 19 is bursting with talent whilst they have also shown that they have plenty of talent in the youth ranks. If they do want to reach the next level though, they will need to fit Danny Brough into their system. Whilst I do not see a great player in Brough, there is no doubt that he is a player who can compete at a high level and if he can form a halfback partnership with Kevin Brown, who is finally displaying the talent he showed as a youngster, then the Giants could walk out at Old Trafford on the final day of the season.

At three, come Leeds Rhinos who seem to be being overlooked this year. The late coaching replacement of Brian McClennan with Brian McDermott does look a negative, but McDermott is a widely respected figure at Leeds, and if you look over the coaching history of Super League winners, most tend to have a new coach.

They are another with tremendous strength in depth with 1 – 24 all capable of playing in Super League on a regular basis whilst Zak Hardaker could eventually turn into everything that Kevin Penny was thought to be.

Yes, the early season loss of Danny McGuire and Jamie Peacock will hurt, but if Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield can find their form, and there is no reason to suggest they won’t, then Leeds have the strength in depth to cope with such losses and after all, it’s the end of the season that really counts.

And now for number two and believe me, this was a placing that I kept changing my mind on and in the end, maybe to make a statement and maybe because I am a St Helens fan, I am placing Wigan here.

My main issue with Wigan is their outside backs. Darrell Goulding was a fringe player until he started walking in tries, Amos Roberts is a confidence player and that shattered at the same time as his leg whilst Man of Steel Pat Richards is out for two months. At centre, Martin Gleeson, whilst an excellent player, is a shadow of when he was at his best whilst George Carmont is primarily a defensive centre who is more solid than spectacular.

All of the above is one sided and on a balanced viewing, Wigan’s backline is very good but it is by far the weakest area of their squad as their forward pack is as good as any I can recall seeing in the Super League era, bar hooker where there could be a slight weakness if Thomas Leuluai has to move back to the halves for long periods.

That said, with Wigan and Warrington it is more 1a and 1b than 1 and 2 but I have long championed the Wolves as being a side capable of being excellent so why stop now. Especially when Warrington have somehow managed to improve their squad more than Wigan have, in my opinion.

Brett Hodgson may be aging, but he offers a solid defensive presence despite his size and his goal kicking will be a major boost to the Wolves whilst Joel Monaghan is more skilful than Chris Hicks even if he will be less reliable. The Wolves also have some very good young players in Tyrone McCarthy, Lee Mitchell and Rhys Evans who will all prove worthy Super League players if afforded the chance.

If the Wolves do have a concern it would be that they will need Richie Myler to improve on a disappointing first year and to justify his price tag whilst Garreth Carvell was another who disappointed last year but kept his place over Mike Cooper, despite Cooper showing the talent to become as good as James Graham.

With both Wigan and Warrington, when fully healthy, there will be two or three guys in the stands who could get a game for almost any team and over 27 rounds, that quality should shine through.

The playoffs however, are another thing.

As for pre season bets, it’s hard to find any that I love. I was all set to place money on Adam Milner as Rookie of the Year at the 33/1 price displayed in Rugby League World but he is only 10/1 (and has never been anything but according to Oddschecker!)

Salford or Castleford at +20 at 10/1 in the handicap markets look appealing but they don’t scream value.

Some outside bets for Man of Steel look nice including Daniel Holdsworth at 66/1 (If Salford do make the playoffs it will be on the back of some individual performances and Holdsworth at 66/1 is better than Patten at 25/1), Danny Brough or Luke Robinson at 50/1 (If Huddersfield do as well as expected, then they could have a contender) and Michael Dobson or Jon Wilkin at 33/1 (Dobson is likely to be a stand out performer again, and Wilkin has been played at loose forward in the Pre Season and I have always championed Wilkin as being potentially as good as Paul Sculthorpe – although that looks unlikely now.) However, there is nothing to scream value and so I think I may leave these alone.

So that’s my quick runthrough of the season. Now, what do you think?

Monday, 7 February 2011

Millennium Magic? More like Millennium Madness

Decision to start the season alongside the 6 Nations is symptomatic of the issues facing the game.

The curtain is raised on Super League XVI this weekend with all fourteen teams in action to kick off the sixteenth season of the top British rugby league competition – a welcome alternative to the launch of the previous two seasons which have both seen Leeds v Crusaders start the year.

If you were unaware of this fact, then you will have plenty of company for the event has been scarcely publicised and has drawn even less media attention. However, unlike other Super League seasons, the opening also has the disadvantage of being entirely localised in an area even smaller than the M62 corridor which the game is often parodied as belonging exclusively for all seven games are being held in Wales’ fantastic Millennium Stadium.

The concept of a Magic weekend was born in 2006, when the clubs elected to hold one weekend where they would all play in the same stadium from 2007 onwards. Initially scheduled for the May bank holiday, the clubs elected to hold it at the Millennium Stadium. Partly as an attempt to raise the profile of the game in Wales and partly to afford the possibility of a Challenge Cup style weekend away in the Spring at a venue which fans had taken to their hearts following the Challenge Cup being held there in

From 2009, the venue was switched to Scotland and Murrayfield stadium. However, the somewhat antiquated venue never proved to be popular amongst fans and with little local public interest alongside derby games being replaced with a seeded draw,
the event lost momentum and the 2010 spectacle ended with complaints from players and fans alike.

Back to the drawing board the RFL and Superleague went and the concept of kicking off the season at the Millenium Stadium was born.

A great idea in principle but it has one fatal flaw. For Wales’ national sport, Rugby Union, and their national team, are also playing on the same day, at the same time. And this is no ordinary fixture clash.

For this opening of the Super League season is in direct competition to the Six Nations. A competition which, helped by the BBC and the Southern leanings of the national press is publicised to the high heavens, all but taking over the sporting media. Let alone in Cardiff, where the entire city can seem to stop as one and tune into the game.

It need not have been like this. For the Six nations does offer respite and the next weekend would have been free. Not only that, but even the insatiable football Premiership takes a break that weekend, albeit for the FA Cup quarter finals but with a fairly limited sporting schedule that weekend, the RFL could have capitalised on a comparatively empty sporting press agenda and used this to effectively promote the Super League season and get the season off with the bang that it deserves.

And whilst it is undoubtedly true that the season schedule is packed more tightly than ever, surely the benefits that would be created by delaying the season by a mere seven days, could have lead to finding room for an extra week.

However, even if at the end of the day, Super League has missed an empty goal to promote itself, then at least this is what the fans were wanting and it is they who count.

If only it were that simple. In the middle of an inflationary recession, how many fans are able to afford the approximately £70 round trip. Even with ticket prices a reasonable £35 for the weekend, given the cost of accommodation and general living costs for the weekends, this is one weekend get away that most families could like to do without. After all, even with the roof closed for the matches, the Welsh weather is unlikely to be hospitable and provide a welcoming weekend to its guests.

Indeed, given all this, it is no surprise that at least one English based club has reportedly sold less than 100 tickets and that, in all likelihood, less than 33% of the teams will make up more than 66% of the total attendance.

In my opinion, the best bet would have been to attempt to launch Super League XVI with a Magic weekend, but in the North of England. Whilst such an event does not provide fans with a weekend get away, the present recession should not be underestimated and fans that do want to get away will still have the prospect of weekends in London and France to look forward to.

Whilst hiring a stadium in the midst of a football season could prove to be nigh on impossible, the thought of 70,000 Rugby League fans over two days, packed together, cheering on seven competitive matches is too appealing to overlook.

However, in fairness to the event organisers, they were definitely in a difficult situation. The Millennium Stadium could have been made unavailable for the next weekend, there could have been no viable alternatives.

Yet, we have ended up with an underwhelming sporting event which has been effectively crowded out from the public’s imagination by the sporting media and which runs the risk of being little more than an embarrassing footnote.

Still, at least it’s not Leeds v Crusaders again.

As for what this means to the betting markets, well it won’t be good news. Liquidity in 2010 was hugely down from 2009 and I suspect that’s a trend that will continue in 2011. As for this particular weekend, most of the money is bound to be traded on Rugby Union at the expense of Rugby League. I would guess that the St Helens v Wigan and Bradford v Leeds games should be good but I certainly don’t hold out much hope for the rest of the games.

It’s also disappointing that the advantage from the first game of the season is likely to be missing. Usually, there are some massive opportunities in the market as home advantage and team strength is massively overrated. However, with all games at neutral venues and having a derby element, the chance of these is low. Still, hopefully there will be sufficient in play liquidity to make a reasonable profit.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Put the kettle on. An unintended 2011 Formula One Preview

I know I committed to re-starting the blog last week, but it has been difficult to find something to comment on since then. January is my “hibernation” month. It’s a month where quite frankly, very little happens that interests me on the trading front. I simply plug myself into the re-charging unit to recover from a busier than expected December and to prepare myself for the upcoming Rugby League season.

From a sporting point of view, I enjoy the NFL Playoffs but that’s it. I enjoy the NFL playoffs. After 17 weeks of trading, I like to actually sit back and watch the twelve best teams go head to head. Of course, I might dive in during the games if I see a price which appeals to me, but I certainly do not study the markets and the games as I would during the regular season.

In fact, aside from one or two miniature forays into the Correct Score market on football, my only interest has been in studying the Formula One Drivers’ Championship market – a market which aside from a fruitless back of Fernando Alonso during the Abu Dhabi race I have never studied.

I have commented extensively in the past about the discrepancy in prices between a team’s number 1 and number 2 during races but this discrepancy seems even larger in the Championship market. Indeed, whilst I didn’t study the market last year, I would be nothing short of amazed if, at some points, a team’s number 2 driver traded at a lower price than their number 1.

Most noticeably, Ferrari’s perceived Number One driver – Fernando Alonso – is the favourite at 4 on Betfair. His team-mate, Felipe Massa, is eight times that price at 32. This is a gap which belies my understanding of the market.

The first issue is that Fernando Alonso is a ridiculous price. Last year, Red Bull had the greatest car advantage for quite some time, but it took the last race of the season to deliver the championship. Whilst the greatest cause of this delay was Red Bull themselves, it served as a poignant marker that having the fastest car, or the fastest driver, does not automatically provide a World Championship coronation.

Secondly, even at a time savings account are scarcely providing a nominal increase in the balance, I struggle to comprehend who would want to tie up money at 3 to 1 for eight to nine months. If this is considered the best value bet that you can find on Betfair throughout this period, then I would consider withdrawing whatever money you have left in your account.

As for Felipe Massa’s price – let us not forget that 2011 starts anew. 2010 performance is no more of an indicator than 2008 performance and this is especially true with Massa. 2010 was without doubt a comeback at 95% year as Massa fought to regain his confidence which had been understandably shattered following his 2009 Hungary crash. However, there were enough signs throughout the latter part of the year that Massa could regain the ability which took him to within 20 seconds of the 2008 Championship.

Fourthly, whilst there is little doubt that Ferrari are more likely to build a “Fernando Alonso” car than a Felipe Massa one, Ferrari equally will not be looking to put all their eggs in one basket at the start of the season. Team Orders will play a part in the second half of the season but this is no Michael Schumacher – Rubens Barrichello situation. Both drivers start on equal footing.

Fifthly, and finally, another reason for Massa’s struggles last year was the Bridgestone tyres. Well, they are gone in 2011 and the new Pirelli’s seemed to suit Felipe pretty well in the Abu Dhabi test after the last grand prix when Massa outpaced both Alonso and Sebastien Vettel. Of course, testing times can never be taken at purely face value but this was encouraging.

So – to sum up – the price on Alonso is too low. The price on Massa is too high. Yes, Alonso should be favoured, but by nowhere near as much as he currently is.

Two of the other big teams – McLaren and Red Bull also have sizable gaps between their drivers.

Again, at 4.1 Sebastien Vettel seems too short although given the World Championship in his back pocket, it is understandable. However, with Adrian Newey in the back pocket of Red Bull, the real value lies with Mark Webber. No designer has done more with less recently, and Webber will approach 2011 with the same fearlessness as in 2010 but with a greater knowledge base to support that. Of course, Vettel is the fastest driver but we have frequently seen that is only one variable in the Championship.

As for McLaren, I struggle to understand why their base price is so much higher than Ferrari and Red Bull. The re-introduction of Kers should help as that was the area they excelled at in 2009 whilst I think that Lewis Hamilton could strongly benefit by the move to a different tyre given that Hamilton frequently found himself in conflict with the Bridgestone tyres.

Hamilton, for mine has unnecessarily taken a bad rap in recent times with Alonso and Vettel appearing to be the “head boys” which is odd when you consider that as a rookie, Hamilton was more than a match for Alonso and that Vettel’s race craft, much like Hamilton’s admittedly, needs significant refining.

Again, it is hard to see Hamilton’s price representing value so to speak – but his current price does appear significantly too large in comparison to Alonso and Vettel.

If McLaren stands to benefit from KERS, then so should Mercedes and with both of their drivers in double figures, they could also be a good shout. We do have evidence of what Ross Brawn can do when his team focuses development on their car earlier than other teams.

The change in tyres and reputation probably explains Michael Schumacher being shorter than Nico Rosberg, although Schumacher has himself admitted he will never be what he was and I would look to price them the same.

However, all of this is pure speculation until the cars actually complete some laps and show how they have adopted the new 2011 rules into their cars and if you are looking for a high priced outsider, you could do a lot worse than Force India.

Of course, the gold standard in this area is the 2009 Brawn car which emerged from being a backmarker in 2008 to an unmatchable demon in the early stages of 2009. I’m not so sure that this will happen this year but it would be more than possible for a team to try to generate publicity (sponsorship) by running with minimum fuel like Sauber did last year.

With Williams and Sauber now having lucrative tie ups with Venezuela and Mexico respectively, the most likely candidate for this would be Force India who with the Mercedes engine and Adrian Sutil in particular, have the raw speed to pull off such a manoeuvre. At 250, they definitely look the best of the outside prices.

And to complete what has unintentionally become an analysis of the pre testing market, I would consider Robert Kubica’s price to be significantly too short. Kubica earned several plaudits for his performances in 2010, but I always wondered how well he was really driving. It is difficult to gauge one’s performance when their immediate competitor is a Russian rookie who would probably not be in the sport but for his nationality.

A key aspect to also consider is that even if Renault develop a superb car which seems unlikely – for all their front wings in 2010 they won’t have the most resources to build their 2011 car – Kubica is unlikely to have the consistent support any driver needs to win the world championship. Although just like Ferrari, the gap between Kubica and Petrov does appear to be overstated.

For Williams, Rubens Barrichello will provide excellent technical support in building their 2011 car but it is likely to be a season too soon to make the most of their Venezuelan money whilst the same is likely to be true with Sauber. Both teams also have one rookie driver and I believe that it is more likely that Sergio Perez will run his teammate close. For one, I have never gotten the Kobayashi hype. Indeed, he looked out of his depth at the start of the season until he then started passing cars on fresh tyres which was not as difficult as was made out.

Toro Rosso form the last of the experienced teams and that is likely where they will finish. Red Bull’s sister team seems nothing more than a breeding ground for young drivers but given the lack of progress made by Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguesuari, I wouldn’t be too surprised if one was unceremoniously dumped throughout the season.

As for the new teams, hopefully Team Lotus and Virgin will be able to catch the back of the midfield by the end of the season as they look to become established forces. Sadly, it is no longer as easy as it was back in the early 1990s when the Jordans and Saubers appeared on the scene. As for HRT, their hire of Narain Karthikeyan is only inspiring in so far as it is not Sakon Yamamoto and their presence remains a mystery.

Now watch them have the fastest car on the grid. Although as earlier advised, most of this is subjective nonsense – no-one knows how the teams will perform until testing and even during testing things are likely to be the British weather; cloudy and misleading as teams promote their own agenda.

Finally, no write up of the 2011 season can be complete without a comment on the 2011 regulations. Whilst the re-introduction of KERS is far from disastrous and has undeniable business relevance, the adjustable wing idea seems to be one which could have far-reaching consequences.

Quite frankly, I loathe the idea and suspect that other Formula 1 fans will also hate it. Likely, gone are the days of superb defensive driving and thrilling overtakes. Rather, the race is likely to be controlled more than ever by car quality than driver skill as faced with a difficult opponent, a faster car can just hit a button and artificially move past. This may appeal to more casual fans but could cause significant resentment amongst more hardcore fans. Let us not forget, such an add-on would have almost definitely created a different end to the 2010 World Championship and 2011 races could present a situation where it is better to be second on the last lap – and just pass a helpless opponent on the last straight.

I only hope that turns out to be hyperbole. I felt similarly, but nowhere near as strongly, about the refuelling ban in 2010 but last year wasn’t too bad eh.

P.S. – Another reason for not updating the blog is the fact that what was meant to be a simple update has turned into a two hour writing session which has gone on and on and on. It may have been quicker however, but for my attempts to look for the television remote whilst stabbing myself in the eyes. Yes, that’s what Dancing on Ice can do to you.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Coming off Life Support

Like a 1990s Pop Music band who have recently fallen on hard times and who need some cash, I have returned.

When I first started blogging, I never imagined it would be so difficult to maintain but it really is much harder than it looks. From past experience, I may return in a blaze of glory only to then flicker for a while before being removed by the rain which masquerades as the British summer. (The end of the Rugby League season is surely little more than a co-incidence.)

Anyway, enough of me. How have you been? From the looks of things, pretty bored if
you’re still checking this out. I’m not sure I can change that but I can try.

As I enter my third year of trading seriously on Betfair, I continue to be astounded by
the events of the past two years. For all my diatribes and rants, and having looked over this blog there have been many, I have earned far more than I could ever have expected although I remain a small fish who continues to focus on avoiding the great whales more than anything. Quite frankly, earning anything from watching sports which I did for 22 years for my own amusement continues to astound and bemuse me in equal measures.

A quick recap of the events of the past five months which I have been absent from would read trade Formula 1, made some money, traded Rugby League, made some money, traded American Football, made some money, traded the X Factor, poked my eyes out with sticks, filled my ears with cotton and made some money and traded Cricket and lost some money.

But that sums up why the blog became quiet. No one cares in a Profit and Loss blog and no one would really want to say I did A, B and C and earned £1,000,000 because why would you want to give up £1,000,000. (Ed – Writer does not earn £1,000,000.) Sure, it might be nice to follow someone’s story but that can be followed without a I backed D and laid E factual analysis.

The blog also became quiet because well, quite frankly, it usually takes me pretty much in the region of somewhere approaching fifty words to merely illustrate a point of such basic simplicity that the length of time it takes to make said point irritates me greatly.

So that leaves the dilemma of what to do with the blog and the options are plentiful.

The first option would be to simply delete the blog and give up blogging. However, if I were to do this there would be little reason to make this post in the first place so that can be quickly dismissed. (If that disappoints you, click that little X in the top right corner of your screen.)

The second option is to make this blog a Profit and Loss one but I’ve ruled that out so if you want to know how much I’ve earned you will need to develop psychic powers.

The third option would be to make this a poor version of Cassini’s blog – Green All Over – a blog that is without compare (Unless it’s actually a meerkat in disguise). This option appeals but I’m not sure I have the imagination or inspiration to find so many diverse topics to write about. Still, it is an option that intrigues me and ideas permitting, I will certainly be looking to make general comments about topical issues

The fourth option is to make the blog much more of a sport orientated blog and when I say sport, I mean Rugby League with a dash of Formula One where the posts are more analytical of issues not directly concerning themselves with trading. This is another possibility. I am fairly au fait with writing extensively about Rugby League as my irregular previews which can be found in the archives attest to. The slight down side to this however though would be that such posts would pretty much be of limited interest to the current target audience whilst the presumed audience would similarly be put off by the more regular trading posts which would appear so whether this would be a worthwhile approach is unlikely.

The fifth option would be to take a combination of three and four, add in some one when I can(‘t?) be bothered.

The sixth option? Well, I don’t so much write this for me as I already have these thoughts on my mind, so I would love to know what you think.