That’s the formula to winning NRL finals games, or at least it was in week one of the series.
In the opening game of the finals last week the Sydney Roosters burst out of the blocks to lead South Sydney 26-0 at half time. Game over. In game two, Canberra led Melbourne Storm 6-2 but it proved decisive in the closest result of the four games played.
Game three saw Manly came out of the barriers like Black Caviar to lead a shell-shocked Cronulla 18-4 before going on to a record a 28-16 upset.
Nobody could have predicted Parramatta’s sizzling start against Brisbane when they piled on five first-half tries to lead the Broncos 24-0. Again game over. Clearly the message this week is strike hard and strike early. Canberra was always going to push Melbourne and for the second time in the space of a month they scored in the dying minutes to win on the back a mighty team effort and some desperation in defence which is essential in these pressure games.
Melbourne had a horrible call go against it at a crucial time, but it was human error which has happened in rugby league for over 100 years. To suggest they were robbed or it cost them the game is drawing a longbow. It did deny them one last roll of the dice but they had many chances to win the game and Canberra’s defence was spot on.
What the loss means though is there cannot be a Melbourne-Roosters grand final as they are now both in the same half of the draw.
This week the Roosters and Canberra can put their feet up and watch as the other four teams bash each other senseless — a luxury they both earned through their wins in week one of the finals.
The debate, however, continues as to whether it is better to keep playing every week than to have a week off but personally, I think most players and coaches would opt for the rest if they had the choice. So which of the six teams was the most impressive last week?
The Roosters certainly flexed its considerable muscle against a South Sydney side which had beaten them seven days earlier.
They looked powerful upfront, with enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, leading the way with 167 metres, 50 of those metres post contact, and fullback James Tedesco putting 222 metres on his taco-meter.
Admittedly South Sydney missed Sam Burgess in the middle but the Roosters were so brutal in the opening 15-20 minutes it may not have made a lot of difference.Canberra took the points off Melbourne, but both teams played great. They got into the grind and every metre made was like gold. Anyone who writes the Storm off after that has rocks in their head but they have made life a lot harder for themselves.
Manly shocked everyone, except their loyal fans, and Des Hasler threw everyone a big dummy with his pre-game talk of drafting big Tony Iro into his side because they were so injured and depleted.
Try telling that to Paul Gallen and his Cronulla Sharks who were well and truly ambushed at Lottoland — a graveyard for them for so long.
The Eels literally blew a stunned Brisbane Broncos off the park in front of a delirious 29,372 sell-out BankWest Stadium crowd who partied for 80 minutes as Parramatta handed out the biggest finals whipping in the NRL history to embarrass their rivals 58-0.
Their reward is a showdown with the Melbourne Storm on Saturday night, but on that high, who is to say they can’t keep winning?
So, who loses and packs their bags for 2019 and who advances to a shot at making the grand final this weekend.
Friday, September 20, 2019
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Manly Sea Eagles
Venue: ANZ Stadium | Start: 7:50 pm AEST
One thing I know about Wayne Bennett after many years of following him around is that he often learns more from a loss than a win and the Rabbits lost badly last weekend to a rampant Roosters outfit which flicked the finals switch from the opening minute. Bennett, who has won and coached in more finals than anyone in history, even admitted to making a few selection mistakes or gambles that did not pay off. You can bet he has done his homework this week and with enforcer Sam Burgess back in the middle and Dane Gagai’s return stiffening the defence and also adding to their strike out wide. If form is any guide this game is going right to the wire. Their two clashes this season have been split, Manly winning the first clash 13-12 at Lottoland early in the season and South Sydney prevailing 21-20 in another nail-biter at ANZ Stadium. On their last performances, you would have to favour Manly who despite several key players missing surprised Cronulla 28-16 but virtually had the match won after racing out to an 18-0 lead.
South Sydney’s defence though will not crack that easy although Manly get back the destructive Martin Taupau who will partner the equally bullish Addin Fanu-Blake up front where the platform and foundations for victory are often laid. Fanua-Blake ran almost 190m and made seven tackle breaks in a dominant performance from which halfback Daly Cherry-Evans was able to call the shots and organise his runners. You get the feeling Sam Burgess is ready for a big game but the Englishman needs to play with controlled aggression and get the niggling rubbish out of his game or it could be very costly. Bennett has swapped the Burgess twins around with Tom starting and George off the bench but you won’t be able to tell if they play their power games along with big brother Sam. Bennett will need halfback Adam Reynolds to get heavily involved with the ball and that means prying for half-gaps and mixing up his kicking game because Cherry-Evans has been in good touch in both areas in recent weeks. I’d like to see Cam Murray following hooking Damien Cook through the middle as much as possible because at some stage the little Rabbits No.9 is going to split Manly open like the Sydney Heads. Manly can win this one, but I think the Bennett-factor could swing it the way of the Bunnies in a tight game.
Head to Head: South Sydney Rabbitohs | $1.48 – Beteasy
Win Margin: South Sydney Rabbitohs 1-12 | $2.40 – Ladbrokes
Line: South Sydney Rabbitohs -6.5 | $1.90 – Sportsbet
Total Points: Over 35.5 points | $1.90 – Neds
Saturday, September 21, 2019
Melbourne Storm vs Parramatta Eels
Venue: AAMI Park | Start: 7:50 pm AEST
A month ago you would not have given Parramatta much hope, in fact, unless you were an avid Eels fan you would have declared Melbourne unbeatable. But my how things can change in a few weeks and now the Eels have signalled their intentions in no uncertain terms with the biggest win in finals history towelling up Brisbane 58-0 in a lopsided clash last weekend which has made everyone sit up and take notice. Melbourne, on the other hand, had a very physical battle with Canberra, going down in the closing minutes to the Raiders for the second time in the space of eight days. They have to regroup to face an energized Parramatta riding an emotional high and full of self-belief. This is do-or-die now for Melbourne, no second chances they have to get it done or they are gone. It’s the same scenario for the Eels so both these sides know the stakes.
As always Melbourne will lean in skipper Cameron Smith to gain the ascendancy and as usual, Smith will be urging his big boppers, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Jessie Bromwich to lay a platform and Felise Kafusi on the edges. It won’t be easy given the fire shown by Junior Paulo who will have Kane Evans back as his running partner, The Eels have some heavy artillery off the bench in Daniel Alvaro and Tepai Moeroa. And let’s not forget the off-loading game of big Shaun Lane who can be a handful. Halfback Mitchell Moses was simply sublime against the Broncos and a repeat performance would put the Eels into the game up to their slippery necks. The clash between Melbourne playmaker Cameron Munster and Parramatta no.6 Dylan Brown will be a beauty. Moses has attributed Brown’s maturity for taking a lot of pressure on him and allowing him more freedom to roam. Like we said at the begin, a fast start here will be imperative, especially for Parramatta who need everything to fall their way. Somehow I forgot to mention the influence Fijian powerhouse Maika Sivo can have on the outcome if he gets any room to build up steam near the try line. This could be a lot close than the betting suggest.
Head to Head: Melbourne Storm | $1.40 – Sportsbet
Win Margin: Melbourne Storm 13+ | $2.30 – Ladbrokes
Line: Melbourne Storm -7.5 | $1.85 – Beteasy
Total Points: Over 35.6 points | $1.86 – Unibet