And then there were eight. Three of the contenders got walloped last weekend, a reminder that just a little off your game can mean a shellacking. But going on what has happened this season, that means nothing as teams have bounced back from some humiliating defeats. The cliché that claims the finals are a new comp is true as anything could happen over the next four weeks. And I bet it will!
The weather this weekend promises the best of spring and the best of the NRL. Bring it on!
Melbourne v Manly, Friday 7:45pm, Etihad Stadium
Last year’s grand finalists meet up with the loser likely to be feeling a little nervous as they await to other games to confirm they through.
Both teams turned it on last weekend after a few weeks of indifferent form. Manly got the points last time in Melbourne but I’m not sure if they can do it again. Sure Stewart is back and that adds a lot to the Manly attack but I wondering if Manly played themselves out last weekend. I have a theory that a few teams really put in last weekend and this week could be a return to reality.
Inglis has been in dominant form since his return and there signs that Slater is starting to step up as well after a relatively quiet season. Blair is free to play meaning the Storm have their best side.
It is going to be a great clash with Stewart v Slater and two hard forwards packs crashing into each other. I can’t really split the sides but leaning slightly to Melbourne
Gold Coast v Brisbane, Saturday 6:30pm, Skilled Park
Congrats to the Titans on their first finals campaign. But it may be a real short one if they don’t get their act together. But with Rogers fit to play (at time of writing) and Preston resigning for another two years, there will be a positive mood in the camp.
Titans’ fans will be hoping that last week was that with third spot sown up, the mental pressure valve was released. And they may not be a bad thing in having the rest before girding their loins for the finals. But the problem with the Titans is that for most of the season, they rarely have put sides away often just doing enough to win. Yes, that means they can grind out wins but it reminds me of the Sharks last season. They need to show that they can put sides away.
The Broncos maintained their run of appearing the finals after September footy looked almost lost for them a month or so ago. The experience of Lockyer along with Hodges and Carrol will be invaluable for the younger Broncos. I’m not prepared to write the Broncos off as when I do, they tend to make me regret my words. But without Bennett’s steadying hand, this campaign may be one of the more difficult ones.
Another really hard game to tip. The Titans have a really good record at home and I expect they will be up and not wanting to disappoint their fans in their first finals appearance. Though if Rogers does succumb to his hamstring injury, then the Broncos should be favourites.
Canterbury-Bankstown v Newcastle, Saturday 8:30pm, ANZ Stadium
Like most league pundits, I ask can the Bulldogs do it without Noddy? The Dogs should have been up against a Tigers side with nothing to play for last week but they blew their chance at the minor premiership. Yes, they had quite a few players in the Dally M team of the year (not without some controversy) but you need to wonder about their mental toughness and ability to hold it together without Noddy’s experience to guide them.
Still, they have a good forward pack and Ennis’ work from dummy half will be vital to the Dogs attack. Idris will be wanting to put in a big game after winning Rookie of the Year even with a seemingly quiet end to the season. And then there is motivation of the perfect send off for Hazem. The Dogs have plenty to play for.
As do the Knights. They will want to prove that they aren’t making up the numbers this season. They may not win the comp but they are capable of causing some damage to the aspirations of other teams over the next few weeks.
The Knights have a slight edge in the halves even if Durea has spent plenty of time out injured. With Kimmorely out, the pressure on Roberts and Holdsworth to make the plays may tell on them. Mad Dog is playing with the energy of an excited puppy at the moment and Idris will need to be careful that his defensive lapses are not exposed.
The Bulldogs forward pack can match the Knights and with De Gois out, the Knights aren’t as good on paper up front. But I’m not convinced they have the ability to take full advantage of the Dogs forwards get on top of the Knights. The Knights are really in with a real chance in this game and can spring an upset.
St George-Illawarra Dragons v Parramatta, Sunday 4:00pm WIN Jubilee Stadium
There has been some speculation that Parra foxed it a little last week. With the pressure making the finals now off them, they relaxed a little. Probably a little too much as the final score indicated.
The Dragons tactics against the Eels were obvious last week. Anderson will have a counter for those and Bennett will likely have a counter for Anderson’s counter. Meaning Anderson will have a counter for the counter of the counter and then Benett will have…you get the idea. A great battle of the coaches this will be.
The Dragons have the momentum and home ground advantage but a few things favour the Eels. First is the bounce back factor. During the season, teams that have been hammered tend to respond in the best possible way the following week. Second is that it will be a late afternoon game on a warm day. Those conditions will suit the Eels. The third and most importantly, Hindmarsh will be playing. As much as Hayne is hogging the headlines, the influence of Hindmarsh on the Eels cannot be underestimated. He holds the team together.
The Dragons are deserved favourites but Eels have nothing to lose. They will demand redemption and the Dragons will be the ones suffering for it.