One thing that emerged from round one of the finals is the real possibility a team from outside the top four winning the premiership which is rare. But both the Canberra Raiders (5th) and South Sydney (6th) look to have decent shots at the title after impressive wound one performances. The Rabbits have piled on over 100 points in their past two games and stopping their attack will prove difficult while Canberra look like a team determined to go one better than last year when they lost the big show to Sydney Roosters. The minor premiers Penrith and runners-up Melbourne Storm can put their feet up this weekend and watch their potential rivals bash each other. It’s a great advantage having a week’s break, even more so this year with the tough schedule because of Covid-19.
Week 2 of the finals kick off at the historic SCG with a re-match of last year’s Grand Final between the Roosters and Canberra with the loser’s season officially over. This shapes as a bottler of a clash with the Roosters, one-time favourites to make it three premierships in a row, dropping their last two games. They came back hard last weekend losing 29-28 to the Panthers and with a few keys players in Jake Friend and Sonny Bill Williams back, will fancy their chances. Canberra though is quality and coach Ricky Stuart has to get them to play their best football and they can advance to the preliminary finals the following week. Whoever wins this battle will face Melbourne for a shot at the GF. The second knockout final pits Parramatta up against the rampant Rabbits who are absolutely flying. The Eels were good in patches and started strongly against the Storm but in the end, they could not go up a great when Melbourne flicked to switch losing 36-24. It would be foolish to say they can’t beat South Sydney because finals football is so different and fluctuates with momentum but it would be a brave man to be over-confident. The winner of this final lines-up against Penrith.
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NRL Tipping – Friday, October 9
Sydney Roosters v Canberra Raiders
Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney | 7:50 pm (AEST)
Sydney Roosters – Have dropped their past two games but took Penrith to one point (29-28) last week and they get a few big guns back this week in dummy-half Jake Friend and dual international forward Sonny Bill Williams which will certainly help their cause. This is a re-match of the last year’s Grand Final which the Roosters won and they will draw from that after a few slightly below-par performances. Friend is a massive inclusion because he does so much dirty work around the ruck and his defence is impossible to replace. He can also be a leader when the going gets tough and he is always probing for openings for his runners. There are concerns SBW is carrying a neck injury and some critics believe he has not produced but he has that x-factor few players have and he is a big-game performer. The most concerning thing for the Roosters in recent weeks has been parts of their edge defence which Penrith was able to exploit after the Roosters burst out to a shock 10-0 lead last week. Under normal circumstances that would be too much start to pull back but the Panthers went to work on the Roosters right-side defence with good results. The Raiders will adopt similar tactics in the hope of creating a hole through the power-game of Jack Wighton if the Roosters don’t get their defensive line right. There’s no doubt coach Trent Robinson will have spent considerable time on his right-side defence and prepping them for what the Raiders will throw at them in this knockout game. There’s no question the Roosters have the arsenal, game-breakers and fire-power to repeat last year’s grand final win. They just have to make sure there is no breakdown in defence.
Canberra Raiders – This is the game the Raiders have been waiting for. It’s not the Grand Final but it’s a chance to put the team that denied them a GF win out of contention for 2020 and that is a big motivation for coach Ricky Stuart and his players, most of whom experience the pain of last year’s big loss. The memories of last years GF loss will still be fresh and the thought of knocking the Roosters out and denying them a third straight GF will be a driving force but the ultimate reward will be playing off for a chance to win the GF this year. The Raiders show glimpses of their ability but haven’t quite put the perfect 80 minutes together, but it is close. Since the injury to hooker Josh Hodgson the Raiders have re-set their attack around their halves, George Williams and Jack Wighton organising plays. IN the past two weeks Wighton has made some massive plays to get his side home. But it is the work of English bookends, Elliott Whitehead and John Bateman on the edges along with fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad that cause so much trouble when the Raiders get rolling. The big advantage is they provide threats on both sides. Williams likes to back himself and his kicking game keeps getting better. Of course, Josh Papalii will provide the middle muscle and go-forward as he always does and young Joseph Tapine has been great backing up Iosia Soliola in the middle third. Their battle with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Siosiua Taukeiaho in the middle will be brutal. The bookies have the Roosters warm favourites but I am not sure they have the market right.
NRL Tipping – Saturday, October 10
Parramatta Eels v Sydney Rabbitohs
Bankwest Stadium, Sydney | 7:50 pm (AEST)
Parramatta Eels – The Eels came out strongly against Melbourne but could not maintain the pressure for 80 minutes and their defence in the second half was a worry for coach Brad Arthur as Melbourne stormed to victory. Having already lost damaging winger Maiko Sivo to a knee injury it would be a savage blow if fellow winger Blake Ferguson (knee) was to be ruled out late. These two big wingers do a lot of work carrying the ball out from the own half apart from their class as finishers. Coach Brad Arthur has recalled George Jennings to replace Sivo while Brad Takairangi is the likely replacement if Ferguson fails a late fitness test. Ferguson has played injured a lot this season and it would need to be a bad injury to keep him out. Parramatta’s right edge will be targeted by the Rabbits who are white-hot with the ball in hand and while Arthurs will put in the work and have a game-plan you wonder if they can sustain the pressure the Bunnies are going to apply in each half. Parramatta showed some glimpses of the form they were displaying early in the season but they are not the same side in attack. The battle of the halves with Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown up against Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker will be crucial with a lot of pressure of Moses to get more involved and threaten with the ball in hand. Parramatta have a strong pack with Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Junior Paulo, Shaun Lane and Nathan Brown along with dummy-half Reed Mahoney who darts out of the ruck can open up opportunities. The big question though is can they cool down South’s hot attack?
South Sydney Rabbitohs – Literally on fire. 106 points in their last two matches. It is a case of can anyone stop them or match their scoring power? They whacked 60 points on the Roosters and last week gave Newcastle a 14 point head start and then outscored them 46-6 in the last 60 minutes. They are flying. Cody Walker is playing like a man possessed and in broken play, he is almost unstoppable. Souths though are playing as a team, a great team, with chemistry, mateship, communication and cohesion. They all seem to know where their teammates are on the field and it is showing. Fullback Corey Allan has stepped into Latrell Mitchell’s fullback boots without missing a beat and has quickly established a partnership with Alex Johnston and Dane Gagai at the back. Dummy half Damian Cook is back to his best, scooting out of the ruck and sparking the Rabbits raids regularly. Adam Reynolds is playing brilliantly and it is his kicking game that helps South Sydney build immense pressure on the opposition and allows the likes of Walker and Johnston to pick their times to run. When it comes to finals football, coach Wayne Bennett is like the late, great Melbourne Cups King Bart Cummings and prepares his players to the minute. When a side gets on a roll like the Rabbits they play with a confidence that is very hard to break down. Parramatta will need to get on top early and try and control possession and frustrate Souths into errors. The way the Rabbits are running freely, they look good things to me here.