Punters are eagerly awaiting Round 1 of the 2018 NRL season, desperate to put all their research into practice. However, while we might know the teams inside out, there’s one trend that has produced consistent results over the last ten years that everybody needs to know.

The popular play for square punters is to side with the favourites.

It’s a natural choice.

Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cameron Munster and that Storm forward pack against the Bulldogs in Round 1?

“I’ll take Melbourne at -8.5,” they’ll say.

What gets lost amongst these great teams playing near-certainties to miss the eight, is the fact underdogs have been the more consistent money-maker over the last ten NRL seasons.

Favourites have covered the spread at just 48% since 2008 and only cracked 50% five times.

It’s the underdogs that cash-in throughout the season with the opening rounds proving the most profitable.

Over the course of a full season, underdogs have covered the spread at 52% over the last ten years. However, through rounds one to five, that number jumps up to 56%.

The magic number for becoming a profitable punter against the spread is roughly 53.8%, so siding with the dogs in the first few rounds of an NRL season is a good place to start.

Fade the Roosters

As punters get excited about teams with a flash new roster, they forget it takes more than a preseason and a few trial matches to form combinations.

This season, it’s the Roosters that everybody is desperate to see.

After finishing 15th on the ladder against the spread in 2017 with a 10-16 record, the chooks are already a team to be cautious of tipping. Add the uncertainty of how Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco will go in their first few hit-outs, and they are one to fade early.

The Roosters are heavy -10.5 favourites against the Tigers in Round 1, and with Bulldogs, Knights, Warriors and Sharks to follow, there’s a good chance they start all five games giving up points.

With the public pushing up the line and perhaps being a little too excited too early, there could be value in going against the premiership favourites to start the season.

Poor performing defending premiers

Another trend to watch out for is that of defending premiers.

They’ve historically struggled against the spread when backing up a premiership-winning season covering at just 44% in rounds one to five.

In a combination of players and punters failing to shake the premiership hangover, only four of the last ten winners have covered the spread at over 50% throughout the first five rounds.

YearDefending PremiersRecord ATS rounds 1-5YearDefending PremiersRecord ATS rounds 1-5
2009Sea Eagles20%2014Roosters20%
2012Sea Eagles40%2017Sharks40%


Melbourne is expected to be in the top four ($1.95) by the end of Round 25, but they might struggle to replicate their 16-11 record against the spread after a rough start.

They’ll be up against the Bulldogs, Tigers (twice), Cowboys and Sharks in the opening weeks. Provided the Storm isn’t upset in the first two weeks, we can expect them to enter all five games as favourites.

With the history of underdogs coupled with the early struggles of defending premiers, keep an eye on the start given to Melbourne’s opposition during the early rounds.

Update for Round 2

Swallowing 10.5 points, the Roosters never looked like covering the spread in their Round 1 loss to the Tigers. The teething issues were evident while the attack didn’t pose the threat many expected.

In Round 2, there are 9.5 reasons to go against the Roosters.

The expectation is they will improve. With Cronk and Tedesco having 80 minutes playing together under their belts, how could they not?

However, coming up against one of 2017’s best defensive teams in the Bulldogs, improving won’t necessarily translate into a big win.

With underdogs covering at 56% over the last 10 years, the Bulldogs at +9.5 is hard to pass up.

Likewise, the giant-killing Tigers at +15.5 against the Storm is worth a look.

Defending premiers are no strangers to an inflated line, and with all the hype surrounding Billy Slater’s 300th game, this one is getting plenty of attention.

As good as the Storm looked last week, Ivan Cleary has the Tigers ready and willing to defend.

Melbourne is a huge $1.15 favourite head to head, but history and a large line are going against them covering the spread on Saturday night.

Keep an eye on…

The Panthers and Warriors are two -8 favourites that you’d struggle to back with any confidence.

Following their performance in Perth, the spirits in the Warriors camp are high.

How many times have we seen this club look like world beaters one week and wooden spooners the next, though?

They may have beaten the Titans in 13 of their last 14 games, but the Warriors haven’t won any of their last four following a visit to Perth the week before.

The Titans only need to be competitive to cover their +8 line this week.

On the receiving end of that brilliant Warriors performance, the Rabbitohs enter Panther Stadium as underdogs this week.

While the Panthers have a good home record of late, the Rabbitohs have won seven of the last nine games between the two.

Similar to the Titans, the Rabbits are capable of running the Panthers close to cover the +8 spread.

The trend over the last 10 years points to underdogs and there are plenty of appealing options in Round 2.