NRL Season 2012 – Gambling Manifesto

"I backed us at $7.00!!"

With less than two weeks to go until the first kickoff of the 2012 NRL season, many fans are eagerly anticipating not just following their team from week to week, but also punting on the footy and winning a little extra cash on the side.   Due to its even nature, the NRL is an unpredictable competition and while this makes picking winners difficult, it also means the opportunity is there for the astute gambler to make some money at good odds.

To (hopefully) assist in that process, I’ve taken a look at the results of the 2011 NRL season from a gambling perspective, to highlight where some value might be found during 2012.

My method has been to examine the different returns that would have been achieved in 2011, from alternatively backing:

–          Heavy favourites/outsiders vs Slight favourites/outsiders

–          Favourites or outsiders at different times during the season

–          Individual teams over the season

Returns by Odds Category

The below table splits the 2011 season into four categories

  1. Matches between a Heavy Home Team Favourite and Away Underdog
  2. Matches between a Slight Home Team Favourite and Away Underdog
  3. Matches between a Slight Away Team Favourite and Home Underdog
  4. Matches between a Heavy Away Team Favourite and Home Underdog

and presents the results of these matches, and the return on outlay over the season for someone who’d bet on every match in that category.

The lesson here is to avoid the heavy favourites, and back the big outsiders.

In the 22 matches during 2011 in which the Away team was paying 3.80 or higher, the long shot away team underdogs won 7 times[1].  While this may not seem a successful result, because the Away teams were at such long odds, backing all 22 of them (with equal stakes) would have returned a 53% profit.  By comparison, backing all the heavy home team favourites would have returned an 18% loss.

Similarly, in the 9 matches where the home team was paying $2.95 or more, the home side underdog won on 4 occasions[2], yielding a 55% profit, compared to a 28% loss from backing the heavily favoured away sides.

It seems that the chances of a long shot underdog winning the match was underestimated by betting agencies[3] – either that or they were deliberately underpricing the heavy favourites to discourage punters from backing them.  The goal of betting agencies is to have an even payout for either result.  This way they make their commission regardless of the result and minimise risk.  Winding in the prices of heavier favourites can on occasion be a deliberate ploy aimed at achieving this goal, which may explain why the returns from backing the underdogs was so high.

The second conclusion to draw is that in matches when the odds are more even, look towards the home favourites for best value – the return of 15% is clearly superior to that from backing the slight away favourites, or either the slight home or away underdogs.

There is a large opportunity to bet on slight home favourites (ie home favourites paying more than 1.28), with over half the matches in the NRL last year fitting this description.  While a 15% return may not seem large on an individual bet basis, it is a considerable achievement over the length of a season, especially in light of the fact that betting agencies frame markets in order to achieve a 5% return, meaning the expected result for the average punter is a 5% loss.

Returns at different stages of the season

It makes sense that the largest opportunities are going to be found early in the season, before betting agencies or punters have had a chance to properly evaluate the teams.  This theory is borne out by the 2011 experience.

The first chart shows the returns achieved over the season if you had backed every winner individually each week.  Clearly this is not a realistic scenario (and if you achieved this, you’d hardly be concerned with any trends in the amount of cash you were winning), however it does provide a good measure of the ability of the betting agencies to frame their markets accurately.  If more favourites win, the ‘Winning Teams % Return’ will naturally be lower, and if heavier favourites win the returns will also be lower.

The decreasing trend indicates that as the season wore on, more favourites and shorter priced favourites were winning, meaning less value available for the punter.  This result is expected, and is no doubt due to the betting agencies and fans in general getting a better read on teams ability and form as the season rolls on.

This trend is further illustrated when we examine the returns from backing every favourite vs backing all the underdogs over the season.

The best returns from backing favourites came late in the season, and the best returns on underdogs came in the early rounds.

We have already seen that backing the heavy underdogs yielded the best returns, and now we see that backing underdogs early in the year is recommended.  The combination of these findings is also true.  The heavy away outsiders won 7 of 22 matches in total, and that record stood at 4 win out of 5 in the first 10 rounds, and then 3 from 17 over the remainder of the season.  Likewise the heavy home outsiders won 4 of 9 in total, with the record in the first ten rounds being 2 out of 3, and 2 out of 6 post round 10.

The NRL gambling manifesto based on the 2011 NRL season is essentially

–          Back heavy outsiders early in the season

–          Back slight home favourites, especially later in the season

Returns by Individual Team

The reliability of the betting performance of each team in 2011 as an indicator of how to invest in 2012 is limited for two obvious reasons:

–          The teams themselves have changed and will no doubt perform differently

–          The betting agencies views of the teams will have changed

Regardless, there are still some interesting results to highlight in the above table

Unpredictable Tigers

As seen above, the Wests Tigers had the worst return as favourites of any team in the top 10, the best return of any team as underdogs, and were the team that the betting agencies found most difficult to predict, with a ‘Total Accuracy’ of only 54% (Total Accuracy is defined as the Number of times a team won as favourites, plus the number of times it lost as underdog, divided by the total number of matches played)

The Tigers have been pegged by most agencies as the favourites for the 2012 title, but their recent history has shown them to be unreliable favourites.  I’d be cautious in backing the tigers too often when they are favourites to win.

Reliable Favourites

It is no surprise to see that 20%+ returns achieved from backing the Storm, Sea Eagles and Broncos when they were favourites.  All three clubs were reliable performers which remained in the top 4 nearly all season.

Two other clubs lower down the ladder were also reliable when favourites.  The Cowboys won 9 of the 11 games they were favoured in, while the Knights claimed 7 of 9 when favoured.  For both these regional one team town clubs, this reliability was built on a strong home record.  All 9 of the matches that the Knights started favourite in were played in Newcastle.  Of the 9 matches that the Cowboys started favourite in at Dairy Farmers Stadium, they won 8.  Both of these clubs are likely to receive more respect from the betting agencies this season, and should be favoured more often.  Getting on them when they’re favourite to win and at home should be a fairly safe bet in 2012 as well.

Overachiever and proud of it

The Storm, Broncos and Sea Eagles were all tipped to finish outside the top 6 by betting agencies at the start of last season.  It’s easier said than done, but if you can identify a team which is under rated by the betting agencies at the outset and jump aboard them early, the returns are sure to be healthy.

In Round 2 2011, eventual premiers Manly started 4.00 outsiders against the soon to be also ran Roosters.  That sort of value will again be available in early 2012, for those who are perceptive enough to understand the true quality of the teams before the betting agencies and the media catch on.


[1] The seven upsets – Sea Eagles def Roosters R2, Titans def Raiders R4, Warriors def Storm R7, Raiders def Storm R10, Cowboys def Knights R18, Rabbitohs def Dragons R21, Roosters def Dragons R23

[2] The four upsets – Sharks def Dragons R2, Rabbitohs def Tigers R10, Raiders def Dragons R20, Roosters def Storm R26

[3] For the statistically inclined, I calculated that if the betting agency prices were correct, the probability of 11 or more upsets occurring out of those 31 matches is only 6.5%.  That is pretty strong evidence to suggest that the agency prices were not correct, and that they’d underestimated the underdog’s chances of victory

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Posted on February 21, 2012, in league, on the punt. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Loving your work Trav!

  2. Thommo …Great Stuff…You put a lot of work into this research paper which has not gone unnoticed…I would like to fund a similar analysis of the ASX stock market from my recent Nigerian Lottery winnings, soon to arrive…will keep you posted.

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