Gone are the Gold Coast and New Zealand, two sides who despite their bravery and resilience, couldn’t quite make the cut.
The Leichardt-based Tigers were unable to make the final eight either. Despite it being Benji Marshall’s last season.
Both St George and Manly are out too, even though both being among the more illustrious clubs in the NRL.
The Cowboys won just 5 games, boasting the likes of Valentine Holmes, Michael Morgan, and Jason Taumalolo it’s almost impressive how they managed to underperform.
Canterbury was even more horrific winning just 3 matches, in a disastrous campaign that started of poorly right from the bat, with both Jayden Okunbor and Corey Harawira-Naera bringing the club into disrepute during a pre-season trip to Port Macquarie.
And finally, to the Broncos, a once-proud club, turned garbage-house, not participating in this year’s finals series, after they claimed their first-ever Wooden Spoon.
That has left us with the mighty Penrith Panthers. A club resurgent under the father-son duo of Ivan and Nathan Cleary. A club that lost only one game all season long. And a club that took out this year’s Minor Premiership in style, as they capped off their regular season with a 42-0 thrashing of the Bulldogs.
Then we have the Storm, a club who consistently performs to high standards under the tutorship of one Craig Bellamy.
Both Parramatta and Sydney are there as well. Two clubs who throughout the season showed how damaging they were, as they attempt to add a Premiership to their trophy cabinets.
Canberra is here, with South Sydney, two sides who never gave in, despite all the ridiculous pressure they suffered due to injuries.
And there are a few unlikely sides here as well, in the form of a Ponga-led Newcastle and a Johnson-led Cronulla. They didn’t listen to the critics and they’re happy doing their own things in the finals.
I’m here to preview all that’s about to happen in these four, awesome, intensity-packed games of Rugby League finals games over this coming weekend. Let’s rip right into it!
Friday, 2nd of October, 7:50 PM – Penrith vs Sydney @ Panthers Stadium
Key Player: Nathan Cleary. The NSW representative and Penrith Half has been a superstar of the regular season. And there is absolutely no reason to expect that stellar form to stop against an out-of-shape Roosters side. From 18 games this season, he has registered 4 tries, to go along with an amazing 15 try assists. Good for = 4th in the League. He has also averaged 91m’s per game, completed 320 kicks and successfully made 4 40/20 kicks. What can’t he do?
How he manages to compose his attack and what opportunities his kicking game can create will go a long way to deciding how well Penrith will do in this match. Offensively the Roosters boast the likes of the Morris Brothers and Tedesco some of the best to play the game. So, Cleary will be critical to ensuring that his side can go toe-to-toe with their fancied opponents.
Outcome: The one occasion in which these two teams met this season was back in RD1, in Penrith. There the Panthers came from 12-0 down, to win 20-14, much to the delight of the home crowd. Despite venues being at a limited capacity at the moment, every Penrith fan that can legally be in the stadium. And, I suspect they will bring their voices and their jeers! And since they’ve not played in front of crowds this year it may take some time for the Roosters to adjust to the noise.
Ultimately, despite the Roosters being the more experienced side, that massive home-crowd advantage, should, in the end, see the Panthers home in what will be a closely contested game. When the match is on the line, you can sure as hell bet on the likes of Mansour, Cleary, and Tamou to step up when it matters the most.
Penrith by 4.
Saturday, 3rd of October, 5:40 PM – Canberra vs Cronulla @GIO Stadium
Key Player: 27-Year-old Jack Wighton. The man who hails from Orange has been an absolute godsend for the Raiders this year. He consistently delivers. He has 10 tries and 7 try assists thus far. He’s also averaged 103m’s per game, completed 159 kicks and made 2 40/20 kicks. The man is also a defensive juggernaut, completing 91% of his attempted tackles. That’s good for 375/414!
Canberra is bound to put up points against an injury-prone and, relatively youthful Sharkies side. And a lot of those points will come from Wighton’s playmaking, with the boot and the ball. Look for him to target some of Cronulla’s more inexperienced players such as Kennedy and Hiroti in an attempt to get them rattled early.
Outcome: This should be an easy victory to Ricky Stuart’s side! No doubt about it! Last round in Kogarah, they beat them 38-28 and that was with them resting a lot of their stars. Imagine what they could do at home and with their best players?
The Sharks will no doubt put up a solid fight, as they have done all season long, but ultimately it will be their own undoing in some shape or form, that will allow Canberra to pounce.
The Sharks are too slow and too young to really head into battle against a Raiders side still reeling from last years controversial Grand Final loss to the Roosters. Canberra will play hard for the whole game and that should be what gets it done for them.
Canberra by 16.
Saturday 3rd of October, 7:50 PM – Melbourne vs Parramatta @ Suncorp Stadium
Key Player: I mean could you really go past the ever ageless 37-year old Cameron Smith? Year after year now he has continued to play his best Footy and leave all his haters in awe at his ability and insanely high footy IQ. From 16 games this year, the Hooker has produced 2 tries and 15 try assists. Just to put that into comparison, he has the same number of try assists as Cleary and Keary had this season. And more than Ponga (2 more), Taylor (3 more) and Holmes (6 more). That’s simply crazy at his age!
Among his many skills, look for his passing game to cut the Eels to shreds. I am highly doubtful they’ll be able to handle what he offers in that department. And when his passing creates a few breaks for the likes of Addo-Carr and Vunivalu, it’ll all be over. He will be a critical component of how this entire game plays itself out.
Outcome: Expect a tough, bruising game of Footy, from start to finish. Repping the Storm, you have the likes of the Bromwich brothers and Asofa-Solomona. Then repping Parra, you have lads such as Paulo, Evans, and Brown. None of these guys has the respect on their name that they deserve and are all Forwards who put their body on the line every single time they run the ball at the opposition defence.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see a few bloody noses in this one either. But how well they do gaining metres upfront, will go a long way to deciding what sorts of opportunities will open up out wide. The battle between the two forward-packs is one that will go a long way to deciding this match.
Melbourne by 10.
Sunday 4th of October, 4:05 PM – South Sydney vs Newcastle @ANZ Stadium
Key Player: Alex Johnston. The man scored 5 tries in his sides 52-point route of the Roosters last round! You couldn’t possibly leave him out, even if you wanted to!
He’ll be matched up against Edrick Lee (a fellow speedster) and Bradman Best, down his line and down his side of the field. He has the acute ability to terrorise defences and leave his mark on the game.
if he can receive enough decent service from the likes of Allan, Graham, Reynolds, and Co. He can step in and out of players and turn them all the way around. And he is also an experienced veteran of the game, having debuted for South Sydney back in 2014. He knows exactly what he is doing and how to do it.
If he can help to set up a few/ score a few tries early on, then it could be over before it even really starts for Newcastle. His pace works great for Souths.
However, for the Knights, perhaps not so much.
Outcome: Souths just scored 60 points in their last game. Two games before that, they put up 26. Two games before that, it was 38.
As for Newcastle, two games ago, it was 42 points. And then two before that, it was 38.
Each of these sides, on their day, loves to put up the points.
For Souths, you have the likes of Johnston and Graham with 20 and 13 tries respectively.
For Newcastle, you have Tuala with 11 and Ponga with 10.
Each side has its own threats capable of putting the ball down over the white line. So, I think it’s fair to expect a relatively high-scoring affair in this one. Both sides should score 20+ each, with ultimately the Rabbitohs coming out on top.
South Sydney by 12.
Finals footy is the best kind of footy! Best of luck to the eight teams participating in this week’s finals game. It’s sure to be four damn-awesome games. Can’t they just be played now already?!!!