NRL Primer: Things To Know, Handicapping Tips

Rugby league holds many similarities to football, a fierce and fast game that’s both entertaining and easy to pick up for all football fans. The National Rugby League (NRL) is not only the premier competition in Australia, it is the top competition in the world.

The NRL season officially got underway the second weekend of March, so let’s dive into a quick NRL crash course for bettors.

Rules & Play Overview
The premise is simple enough. Two teams of 13 starters and four bench (aka “interchange”) players square off against each other in games that last 80 minutes, with two 40-minute halves. Teams attempt to score a “try” (similar to a touchdown) that is worth four points. They can also score via a “conversion” (similar to an extra point) worth two points, a penalty kick (the rough equivalent of a field goal) worth two points and a drop goal (a drop kick) worth one point. 

Teams get a set of six “tackles” (equivalent to four downs) to score. If they don’t score in the first five tackles, they typically kick (ie punt) the ball. Kicks can be either long kicks for field position or attacking kicks — grubbers that roll along the ground or high kicks called bombs — where the team is looking to either force an error or get the ball back to score. 

5 Things To Know
1. The Sydney Roosters have won the last two titles (called “premierships”) and are the favorites to make it three straight. Since Trent Robinson took over as coach in 2013, the Roosters have won three premierships and finished the regular season in the top two in the standings in all but one year. 

2. Actor Russell Crowe is the majority owner of the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Souths have won more premierships than any other team (21), but they have won just one since 1971, a famous win in 2014. 

3. The Melbourne Storm are the team that is roughly equivalent to the Patriots — wildly successful and widely disliked. The Storm have missed the Top 4 just twice since 2006, with eight Grand Finals in the last 14 years. Like Bill Belichick in the NFL, Craig Bellamy is arguably the most successful coach in NRL history. Cameron Smith represents the closest comparison to (now Bucs quarterback) Tom Brady, as the Melbourne captain is a tried-and-true winner and holds the record for most first-grade games ever played. 

4. The Wests Tigers have the longest playoff drought. They last made the playoffs (known as the “finals”) in 2011. They have had just three winning seasons in their 20-year history. 

5. The most important positions on the field are halfback, fullback and hooker. The halfback acts as the quarterback and is the primary playmaker and play-caller. The fullback is typically the most dynamic player on the field. The hooker touches the ball more than any player on the field. They wear No. 7, No. 1 and No. 9, respectively.

3 Handicapping Tips
1. Big home underdogs early in the season are money. Home underdogs getting four or more points in the first four rounds of the season are 46-18 against the spread since 2008. Home underdogs of four-plus points have cashed at 58% overall in that period.

2. Defense is the key to victory. Since 2006, the premiership winner has ranked among the top two defensive teams all but two years. The good teams win on the back of a strong defense.

3. The Brisbane Broncos are the most supported team in Australian sport, and points tend to come in droves when they play on their home ground of Suncorp Stadium. The over has hit in 63% of their games at Suncorp Stadium since the start of 2017.

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