NRL Finals Week One Previews
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art
Each and every NRL side battered and bruised its way through twenty-four clashes each this season. Players were injured and suspended, whilst COVID was also constantly a threat to their welfare and healthiness, and to the actual competition itself. However, eight teams prevailed through it all and now face off in Week One of the Finals Series.
In the first game, we see an age-old rivalry reignited as the Storm take on the Sea Eagles in a battle of two arch enemies on the sidelines between ‘Bellyache’ Bellamy and ‘Desy’ Hasler. And while each man may have been able to call upon the extremely famous Billy Slater and Brett Stewart, respectively, in the past, that is no longer the case. They have transitioned to the games newest and greatest Fullbacks in the form of Ryan Papenhuyzen and Tom Trbojevic.
Then in Game Two, the Roosters go head-to-head against the Titans. Trent Robinson’s side is one of the greats of the modern era when it comes to sweeping Finals clashes away from the feet of their rivals. However, the Gold Coast are no slouches, as evident through their most recent RD25 44-0 thumping of NZ. Throwing a further spanner into the works is that the ‘Chooks’ Lock Isaac Liu is headed to the tourist strip from next season onwards, and he may well perhaps have a point or two to prove against his future employers.
Game Three blesses us with the battle of 2nd vs 3rd on the ladder and a repeat of last season’s Preliminary Final, Penrith up against South Sydney. The Panthers are in amazing form, having won 9 of their past 10 games. While the Rabbitohs ain’t doing too shabbily either, at 12/13. However, Nathan Cleary is hitting top form as we speak, and there is no x-factor in Latrell Mitchell for South’s to rely upon here. There are countless factors to be considered within this juicy, juicy matchup.
Finally, the opening week of the Finals is rounded off by Parramatta going head-to-head against Newcastle. These two sides play an extremely exciting and somewhat unsuspecting brand of Football, so what we’ll get here is anybody’s best guess. With the utter brilliance of Clint Gutherson taking on the might of Kayln Ponga, we know at least one special thing is guaranteed to happen between these two freakishly amazing players. This isn’t even a highly rated matchup, yet it’s still formidable.
1ST Melbourne Storm vs 4TH Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles @Sunshine Coast Stadium – KO 7:50 PM – FRI 10TH SEPT
In 2007 the rivalry between these two teams really kicked off as a Greg Inglis led Melbourne side prevailed 34-8 in the Grand Final. And only a year later Manly came back to haunt them in ‘Beaver’ Menzies final match for the club, triumphing 40-0, a record GF margin of victory.
Post that there were countless other exciting clashes and the infamous ‘Brawl of Brookie’ in which both Adam Blair and Glenn Stewart got giving their marching orders and they got into it walking back towards the sheds, bringing everyone involved into the fight. And now they are here, the Storm as the reigning Minor Premiers and the Sea Eagles a team with a double shot at the Decider, after they couldn’t crack a single victory over the opening month of the campaign.
For the Storm, it’s almost impossible to ignore their scintillating one-two combo of Ryan Papenhuyzen and Josh Addo-Carr. They have 34 tries and 13 try assists this year combined. The man with the mullet and the ‘Fox’ show no signs of slowing down. They’ve tormented teams left, right and centre this year and will be hoping to add Manly to their lengthy execution list.
Having said all that, Tommy ‘Turbo’ and Reuben Garrick play for Manly, and they can absolutely rival whatever Melbourne’s relentless attack throws at them. It would be a worldwide Rugby League travesty if ‘Turbo’ didn’t lay claim to fame on the Dally M Award this season, while Garrick in Manly’s 46-18 demolition of the Cowboys reached 286 points, the most ever in a single NRL season. Included in those 286 points are 20 tries, proving he’s not a one-trick pony.
Regardless of who you support, or even perhaps if you’re a neutral, this is guaranteed to be a Friday night cracker! When these two sides last met errors cost Manly horribly in what was a tightly contested 28-18 defeat. In what should be another enthralling encounter, I’ll pick the Sea Eagles to have fixed those and to come away with the close win.
Anytime Try Scorer – Tom Trbojevic – $2.05 @ Ladbrokes
My Tip – Manly by 1-6 points – $7.75 @ Ladbrokes
5TH Sydney Roosters vs 8TH Gold Coast Titans @QLD Country Bank Stadium – KO 5:40 PM – SAT 11TH SEPT
The Roosters have gotten here having dealt with countless injuries. Boyd Cordner’s featured zero times, Angus Crichton has missed six matches, Jake Friend has played once, Ryan Hall hasn’t contested a single clash, Matt Ikuvalu has played just 13/24 times and Luke Keary has missed 21 encounters. The fact that on the final day of the regular season they could still mathematically contest for a Top Four position is a huge credit to them!
For the Gold Coast, the equation was simple, win by 11 or more against the Warriors and they were in. Boy, didn’t they turn on the motors? Keeping a team scoreless for the first time since RD3 2013 (210 straight matches), they tore them to shreds, winning 44-0! And now for just the fourth time in their fifteen-year history, they’ll be playing Finals Footy.
David Fifita is the man the Roosters must stop if they want to push through to Week Two. He is a beast at just twenty-one years of age. He has crossed for 17 tries this season, a Gold Coast record and the 3X Indigenous All-Star will no doubt be looking to continue his hot momentum in this clash. He’s also averaging 130 running m’s per match, along with 7.4 tackle breaks. He is BIG, he is POWERFUL and if there is an opportunity where he’s placed against a Tupou, or a Hutchinson or a Lam one-on-one, there’ll be no stopping him from a short distance. Whatever the ‘Chook’s’ work on during the week, a key focus needs to be placed on how to keep him contained.
Also working in the Titans favour, or I believe so anyway is that when they last met, if it wasn’t for a ridiculous final four minutes in which Sydney scored a try and kicked a FG to win 35-34, the Titans would’ve prevailed instead. The Gold Coast put on five tries to three in H2 and that’s the sort of intensity that they need to bring throughout the entire match here. They also completed 37/44 sets (84%), and were very well-disciplined, giving away just three penalties and making only eight errors. If they can do in this match, what they did back then, then I strongly suspect the result will be reversed this time around.
Anytime Try Scorer – David Fifita – $2.80 @ Ladbrokes
My Tip – Gold Coast by 7-12 points – $13.00 @ Ladbrokes
2ND Penrith Panthers vs 3RD South Sydney Rabbitohs @QLD Country Bank Stadium – KO 7:50 PM – SAT 11TH SEPT
Latrell Mitchell’s late KO shot on Joseph Manu has seen him rubbed out of this all-important clash for the Rabbitohs (and likely the rest of the season). On the campaign, he has 27 direct try involvements from only 17 games played (13 tries and 14 try assists), so the question is how will they fare without him? 100% Undoubtedly, he is a monumental part of their line-up and in his first game banned, they only just scraped past a youthful St Geroge 20-16.
This is where Cody Walker and his League-leading 33 try assists come into play. He’s creative, he’s energetic and he’s an x-factor sort of bloke. He’s going to have to do double the work to compensate for his teammate’s tackle. The Country NSW rep needs to be BIG in this game. Wayne Bennett to my best guess will have South’s gameplan all wrapped around Walker, so what he comes up with on the fifth/sixth tackle options could very well make or break the Rabbitohs season in this encounter.
Assessing Penrith, they finished the regular season comfortably in 2nd place on the ladder, winning 21/24 games, if it wasn’t for Melbourne’s insane PD then they probably would’ve claimed the Minor Premiership as well. It’s their defence that has been particularly impressive, having in three of their latest five clashes, kept the opposition to two or fewer tries. Their latest? A 40-6 thumping of Parramatta in the ‘Western Derby’! The Eels might have crossed the white line in the 13th minute, but after that, it was all one-way traffic as Penrith lit the fuse! While forcing ‘Parra’ into 52 missed tackles was definitely something they should look to enforce on the opposition in this clash.
When you look at everything, Penrith just has too much going for them to lose this one. They have all the hot momentum, their best players are hitting their peak, while Mitchell is gone for Souths. The Panthers also have an impressive record against the Souths, which includes having beaten them twice this season and having kept them to twelve points on both occasions. This could become a pretty severe whacking if Souths can’t get a handle on things early on. That much is clear!
Anytime Try Scorer – Brian To’o – $1.65 @ Ladbrokes
My Tip – Penrith by 13-18 points – $6.00 @ Ladbrokes
6TH Parramatta Eels vs 7TH Newcastle Knights @Browne Park – KO 4:05 PM – SUN 12TH SEPT
The Eels come into this do-or-die affair on the back of a 34-point shellacking at the hands of Penrith. While Newcastle looked just as flustered in their upset 13-point loss to the Broncos. Literally, just the week before the Eels were flying high, as they convincingly beat the Storm. While an 80th minute FG from Mitchell Pearce got it done against fellow Top Eight side the Titans. These two teams are as unpredictable as any in the NRL, and what they produce on Sunday is anybody’s best guess.
With Clint Gutherson missing out on the Panthers game, they sorely lacked his direction and attacking instincts. While subbing off Kayln Ponga during H2 at Suncorp Stadium certainly did Newcastle no favours, as they allowed Anthony Milford of all players to torment them. Regardless of whether you agree with it or not, there are some valid reasons as to why the million-dollar question has been asked of Gutherson as of late because in some ways he has an extraordinarily strong game.
While for Ponga, the All Blacks courted him for a reason. However, flashy plays won’t win them the match, they have to gain good m’s up the field and lay on decent chances for their teammates, if that happens then it’s anybody’s to win.
‘Gutho’ has laid on 18 tries this year for his Parramatta teammates, while Ponga’s created 11 for his in just 13 games played. The problem is neither really has a successful Finals history, so it will be telling here whether they can live up to the pressure, or whether they fold under it. Because ultimately when all is said and done at the end of the eighty minutes, or perhaps more, one side will win because of their star FB, while the other will be defeated for the same reason.
Parramatta have more talent across the board, but when Newcastle plays together as a team, I believe they could topple even the likes of Penrith/South Sydney/Manly, that is how highly I rate them.
Adam O’Brien learnt so much under the tutelage of Trent Robinson during his time as an assistant coach at the Roosters, so despite his rookie status as a head coach, he will be well, well prepared for this scenario. He’ll have his ‘Novocastrian’ lads geared up and ready for this one.
Anytime Try Scorer – Kayln Ponga – $2.25 @ Ladbrokes
My Tip – Newcastle by 7-12 points – $10.50 @ Ladbrokes
Four games, four results, BRING IT ON!
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