Well the NRL finals train has arrived and for many rugby league fans it’s the most exciting time of the year as they cheer their favourite team towards a grand final appearance. It took right up until the second last game of the minor premiership to sort out the eight teams advancing to this week’s opening round of finals with the Brisbane Broncos gsurviving a last round loss to the Bulldogs to grab the final spot after the Sharks finally found some impressive form with a 25-8 win over the Wests Tigers.
Like most people, I find it hard to see the 2019 premiers coming from anywhere but the top four, which means come October 6, either Melbourne, the Sydney Roosters, South Sydney or Canberra will be crowned the champions. In the next month, many factors will come into play, injuries, suspensions, refereeing controversies and the thing every team needs at some time along the way to win the grand final, lady luck.
All eight teams are banged up. Manly coach Des Hasler has gone to the bizarre length of pulling former Manly forward Tony Williams from the Blacktown Workers club to play his first NRL game since round 8 of 2018 to cover for a shortage of players. Desperate times call for desperate measures but one has to question Williams’ ability to play NRL although Hasler has a close association with the 120kg giant and would probably only need him for limited minutes in their clash with the Sharks at Lottoland.
The Sydney Roosters and South Sydney will back up against just a week after smashing each other in a “nothing” game. Imagine how intense this clash will be.
In the other battles, Melbourne will host the Storm at AAMI Park while the Eels will host the stuttering Brisbane Broncos who need to quickly find some answers after an insipid display last weekend going down 30-14 to Canterbury in a performance which hardly instilled any confidence in the camp.
If there is to be an upset, I like the chances of the Raiders to ambush Melbourne.
I know the Storm walked away with the minor premiership and they are at home, and they have a great finals record, but I also like to style coach Stuart is backing and the momentum the Raiders are building despite last week handing over a win to the Warriors. They are a side who play “heads up” football, a side prepared to take a few risks for a few rewards and they showed a few weeks ago they can come from behind and win against quality opposition.
Good punting and enjoy your football.
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Friday, September 13, 2019
Sydney Roosters vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Venue: SCG | Start: 7:50pm
They don’t get much more appealing than this clash between two great clubs with a rivalry which dates back for than 100 years. Souths hold a slender 6-5 edge in finals. Surprisingly though. these two foundations clubs have only met in finals twice in the last 60-odd years.
Manly people a month ago were declaring the Roosters the side to beat and South Sydney a spent force. But things have changed and the Rabbits finished the minor premiership with three wins in a row, including the scalp of the Roosters a week ago which will still be fresh in their minds, coming from behind to do so. Big news for Roosters’ fans is they will have the services of enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in the middle after he was exonerated by the Judiciary through the week. The return of livewire No.6 Luke Keary, who missed last week’s game to attend the birth of his first child, will assist the flow of ball to the likes of Latrell Mitchell (leading point scorer 251 points) and Joseph Manu who are extremely difficult to handle when they get clean early ball. The Roosters missed Keary skipping across the field with the ball in hand last week. The battle in the middle, which was at times brutal last weekend, will go up another notch with the stakes so high.
South Sydney prop Liam Knight has been cleared to play after he was split open by Waerea-Hargraves last week and no doubt their pair will come together many times in the return bout. Cameron Murray’s try-line defence has been brilliant at times this season and he can also sniff out a try. If Souths have an edge in the middle it is through hooker Damien cook who at some stage of the 80 minutes will explode from the ruck like Mighty Mouse and open up the Rooster’s defence. Rooster’s duo Mitch Aubison and Victor Radley will be responsible for shutting those holes around the ruck along with skipper Boyd Cordner. Hang on, we have forgotten someone, ah, yes, James Tedesco, arguably the most dangerous attacking player in the game with more line and tackle breaks than any other player in the competition. Teddy bobs up everywhere, inside, outside, through the middle he is everywhere, trailing his halfback Cooper Cronk and supporting the ball across the park.
The Roosters just seem have so many strike players in key positions. But then you take a look at South Sydney’s playing roster and their experienced and highly successful finals coach Wayne Bennett and you begin to understand why they have beaten the Roosters twice already this season. They will, however, be missing their leader Sam Burgess (hair pull) who is suspended and he is one player capable of intimidating the opposition and changing a game with his aggressive style. A lot rests on the likes of halves Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker along with 333-game veteran John Sutton who will be hoping to take his farewell deep into the finals.
Head to Head: Sydney Roosters | $1.30 – Beteasy
Win Margin: Sydney Roosters | $2.10 – Unibet
Line: South Sydney Rabbitohs +8.5 | $1.85 – Ladbrokes
Total Points: Over 35.5 | $1.88 – Sportsbet
Saturday, September 14, 2019
Melbourne Storm vs Canberra Raiders
Venue: AAMI Park | Start: 5:40 pm (AEST)
Melbourne have had an incredible season, dropping just four if their 24 regular-season games. They scored more points than any other team (631) and defensively (300 points) they were a long away ahead of their nearest rival Sydney Roosters (361pts). They were surprisingly (11-1) a better road team although 9-3 at AAMI Park is also very impressive. It’s a grand final resume to be proud of but they still have two more games to win to make the GF and you only have to go back a few weeks to when they led Canberra 18-0 at home and lost to the Raiders 22-18 in round 18 in one of the best comebacks of the season. It was no fluke by the Raiders either. They scored three second-half tries and kept Melbourne scoreless. These teams split the season 1-1, both winning away which means the bragging rights are still on the table. Canberra has been the team many have had their eye on for the last few months. Forget their last start narrow loss to the Warriors when coach Ricky Stuart rested four of his star players knowing bigger things were ahead.
Melbourne also rested Cameron Munster last weekend and the break would have helped his neck and shoulder injuries. Melbourne is awfully hard to tip against when they are playing at home but there is something about this Canberra side and the style they can play that is exciting also. With Englishman Josh Hodgson, John Bateman and Elliott White the Raiders have a unique formula with the trio not frightened to off-load and generate second-phase attack while the Australian way is a little more conservative and more risk-free. Nippy Jahrome Hughes has beaten young Brody Croft to the No.7 job while Melbourne regains their electrifying winger Josh Addo-Carr for the clash. Stuart has recalled the big four he rested last week, fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, winger Jordan Rapana, the menacing Isoia Soliola and Englishman John Bateman to his line-up and with big and talented Joseph Topine (rib) also returning the Raiders look a very formidable side indeed. I like the look of the Raider’s bench, especially young redhead Corey Horsburgh who has been good this season with his aggression and hit ups. Still you look at the Storm led by the game’s most influential player Cameron Smith and with such a well balanced forward back and speed to burn with Addo-Carr and the flying Ryan Papenhauyzen (NRL career-best 292 run metres and six line-breaks last week) the improving Justin Olam,
Will Chambers, a defensive rock and the elusive and dangerous Munster and they took look very formidable. Canberra’s halves have been excellent of late and if Aidan Sezer steps up and Jack Wighton runs the ball and gets his kicking game working they could turn Melbourne’s big forwards around and tire them out. One thing is certain, the rival No.9’s Smith and Hodgson will have a major impact on the game along with Munster and Wighton, although we all know forwards wins these big battles and they don’t come any bigger than this one. It’s worth noting Josh Papali is in a try-scoring vein having crossed for meat pies in his last three games. The bonus for the winner here is they get two weeks to recover and are just one win away from a grand final appearance. Buckle up for this one.
Head to Head: Canberra Raiders | $2.90 – Sportsbet
Win Margin: Canberra Raiders 1-12 | $3.50 – Beteasy
Line: Canberra Raiders +6.5 | $1.90 – Ladbrokes
Total Points: Under 36.5 | $1.90 – Unibet
Manly Sea Eagles vs Cronulla Sharks
Venue: Lottoland Stadium | Start: 7:50 pm (AEST)
A depleted Manly take on an improving Cronulla at Brookvale with coach Des Hasler scratching around for players to fill his side following a string of injuries and suspensions. Hasler has plucked man-mountain Tony Williams from the Blacktown Workers club to make a comeback for the Sea Eagles even though he hasn’t played an NRL game since early last year. Now I would be the last person to question a coach of Hasler’s ability and his record speaks for itself, but he has he gone mad? Williams surely is not fit enough for the NRL, unless Hasler’s plan is to use him in a few brief spurts hoping his massive frame can cause some damage to the Sharks.
Manly have one thing on their side, Cronulla do not like crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge and they haven’t won there since 2008. In fact, they have only won a handful of games at Brookvale Oval in the past 50 years. Having said that, Manly have lost brilliant match-winning fullback Tom Trbojevic (torn pec), Curtis Sironen (broken foot), Joel Thompson (broken arm) and Martin Taupau (suspended) leaving a giant hole in the middle. Tommy Turbo is hard to replace because of his kick returns and his ability to pop up in broken play and support play. Taupau’s physicality in the engine room exchanges will also be sorely missed as will Thompson’s edge play presenting Hasler with a few massive headaches.
By contrast Cronulla hit the finals in great shape with the exception of playmaker Matt Moylan who is still battling a nagging hamstring. Apart from that, coach John Morris has very few distractions and can focus on his game plan. Sure several players, including Paul Gallen, are carrying injuries, it is unavoidable at this time of the year but is when the adrenalin often kicks in and players push through the pain of injuries. There was a lot to like about the Sharks last round when they dominated the second half against the Wests Tigers. Wade Graham on the left edge poses a serious threat to Manly late in each half and having Andrew Fafita coming off the bench also looks a great move by Morris. With Woods, Gallen and Matt Prior repeatedly punching up the middle, Manly’s shortage of power runners could count against them.
Head to Head: Manly Sea Eagles | $2.65 – Sportsbet
Win Margin: Manly Sea Eagles 1-12 | $2.35 – Ladbrokes
Line: Manly Sea Eagles +5.5 | $1.90 – Beteasy
Total Points: Over 38.5 | $1.88 – Sportsbet
Sunday, September 15
Parramatta Eels vs Brisbane Broncos
Venue: Bankwest Stadium | Start: 4:05 pm (AEST)
It’s doubtful two teenagers have gone into a finals series under more pressure or expectation than young Brisbane duo Payne Hass and David Fafita. They have been in tremendous form leading into the finals but it is a massive ask to expect them, with no finals experience, to carrying the Broncos on their young shoulders under the furnace of finals football. Haas has been a colossus running more than 200 metres several times this season while Fafita’s form has continued to improve and his ability to break the line gets better and better every game.
Matt Lodge, Matt Gillett and Joe Ofengaue (back from a calf injury) make up a powerful pack capable of providing a platform for the Broncos. The question is, do Brisbane have the players to deliver enough points?. Winger Corey Oates needs to find a try or two because blockbusting Eel’s winger Maika Siva is becoming a machine. Brisbane was terrible against Bulldogs. Their kicking game was poor, their defence soft and their attack was easily contained. Their last play options were also sadly lacking in creativity. Anthony Milford at times seems to confuse himself and others his stock standard go to play is to just thump the ball high up in the air and hope.
Parramatta will have a packed Bankwest Stadium crowd in their corner and that alone should be worth a try or two given results so far at their new home ground. Nathen Brown returns from serving a shoulder charge suspension and the Eels will welcome his presence in the middle against Brisbane’s powerhouse young guns. While I have tipped Parramatta, I will not be surprised if Brisbane responds to some heavy criticism here.
Head to Head: Parramatta Eels | $1.50 – Beteasy
Win Margin: Parramatta Eels 13+ | $2.50 – Ladbrokes
Line: Parramatta Eels -5.5 | $1.90 – Neds
Total Points: Over 39.5 | $1.88 – Sportsbet