NRL 2017 - Semi-Finals Preview

As the Australian rugby league season reaches the business end, the omens are good for Brisbane Broncos and Parramatta Eels, the two home clubs in this weekend’s semi-finals.

Five of the last six NRL semi-finals have been won by the home team, with only three clubs progressing to the preliminary finals from this stage in the last six seasons. Plunging deeper into the statistical analysis gives more confidence for siding with the hosts.

Brisbane Broncos v Penrith Panthers

Penrith have lost on two of their last three visits to Suncorp Stadium and this match-up will see the hosts powered by emotion as well as desire to earn a date with minor premiers Melbourne Storm. The occasion will provide a Queensland farewell for five Broncos from Wayne Bennett’s named 17-man squad, although skipper Darius Boyd will not play in the party atmosphere due to injury.

Brisbane only slipped up three times at headquarters during the regular season, which helped them to third spot on the league ladder, four places higher than their opponents. Heavy beatings at the hands of Melbourne and Parramatta were allied to a golden point extra-time loss to North Queensland Cowboys but in their other nine home games, Brisbane were imperious. Penrith were far from the worst team on the road with five Telstra Premiership wins but all came against opponents who finished outside of the top eight.

Both the attack and defence stats for Brisbane eclipse those of their opponents too, with Brisbane’s average of 24.88 points per match comparing favourably to the Panthers’ 21 and a marginally meaner defence, shipping 18.04 points to Penrith’s 19.13 during the regular season. All of those statistics shows the scale of the task facing the New South Wales outfit on Friday.

Parramatta Eels v North Queensland Cowboys

Some of the Eels players were in tears last weekend when losing a nail-biting qualifying play-off 18-16 to Melbourne at AAMI Park, but there’s enough evidence to side with them to come back strongly as they entertain North Queensland Cowboys who scraped into the play-offs four places and six points shy of their opponents.

Parramatta were arguably the form side in the run-in to the regular season, winning nine of their last 10 matches to finish in fourth spot. Some of those successes were particularly eye-opening, inflicting a rare defeat on Melbourne and putting 52 points on Brisbane at Suncorp. By contrast, the Cowboys limped home with five losses in their last six regular season fixtures after the Round 20 win against New Zealand Warriors in Townsville.

There are more crumbs of comfort for the cowboys than for Penrith, as these two clubs exchanged comfortable away wins during the main season. They have struggled to score points of late though, averaging almost 1.5 points per match fewer over 24 matches albeit with a defence tighter to the tune of just over 0.6 points per match.

North Queensland pipped Cronulla on the road 15-14 to keep their dreams alive last week, but heading to Parramatta is a sizeable step-up in class. The data points us to the favourites.