Grand Final in March

Kalyn Ponga
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

Last week’s opening round of the National Rugby League left supporters, tippers, and punters alike bewildered. Among the unexcepted scorelines were the Broncos holding the previous season’s Grand Finalists South Sydney to just a solitary try in a defensively gritty 11-4 triumph at Suncorp Stadium. That being their lowest-scoring win in over 30+ games (season matches and trials included).

The Knights, similarly to Brisbane, also kept the opposition to just one try. Still, their winning method went a little differently as they displayed some Harlem Globetrotters like flair in their 20-6 victory over the Roosters at the SCG. The Eastern Suburbs club couldn’t cross the white line until the 76th-minute via Paul Momirovski, but by that point, the game was well and truly buried in Kayln Ponga & Cos favour.

Meanwhile, no one expected the Tigers to get anywhere close to Melbourne, yet they challenged them at CommBank Stadium, eventually suffering a gutsy 26-16 defeat. It was a matchup that witnessed them take the lead in just the 6th-minute courtesy of Ken Maumalo’s four-pointer, while at one stage, they held a commanding 14-4 lead.

With Manly also going down to Penrith 28-6 in the West and the Titans losing to the Eels away from home, despite producing twenty-eight points, it’s too hard to judge the question of can an underdog win this season’s Grand Final? I will assess all of Brisbane’s, Newcastle’s and Wests hopes right now!

Brisbane = Perhaps

Kevin Walters men have prevailed in three out of their last five regular-season matches, a tiny sample size, yet still something meaningful. At the same time, it was also the first time in nineteen appearances that South’s had been held to four points or less. Keeping their gunning attacking unit at bay in the way they did was very impressive from the ‘Broncs.’ One of the keys to challenging for glory is having a solid Forward pack, Kurt Capewell being the best possible example of that. Last season’s Premiership winner not only kicked the game icing FG, but he also completed 40/42 tackles in what was an absolute herculean effort from the 28-year-old. Jordan Riki, next to him, was also scarily accurate, completing 30/31 tackles. While Patrick Carrigan was 32/32. Riki also ran for 50ms, while Carrigan was at 190ms. That’s not even including the likes of Payne Haas (176 hit up run ms) or Keenan Palasia (121 hit up run ms). Having veterans like Capwell and Haas in there is a step toward higher honours.

Albert Kelly is also an X-factor player who can deliver a Premiership to the promised land. As we laid eyes on against the Rabbitohs, he played with the speed of Billy Slater and the playmaking ability of Darren Lockyer. Among his impressive stat-line were one try, one tackle break and 146 running ms. While last season alone, in just eight games played, he left a memorable mark via two tries; six try assists and 80ms gained per match. During his early days in the NRL with the Sharks, then the Titans (16 tries from 33 games), there was always glimpses of his potential. After that, his move to Europe with Hull FC saw him win the Challenge Cup and score 44 tries from 74 games, paying massive dividends! Now that he has the reigns of a surprisingly sturdy squad, the sky is the limit for him and his teammates! Provided he continues to reach peak form, and his Forwards, in particular, are doing their job, there’s no apparent reason Brisbane doesn’t have a chance of covering themselves in glory come to the end of the season.
Albert Kelly’s rise;

Newcastle = Maybe

Kayln Ponga is a decent start, as obvious as that may be! Despite being limited to just fifteen appearances last season, that didn’t stop him from having 22-total try involvements (eight tries and 14 try assists) while also running for 145ms per game. Now most recently, against the Roosters, the superstar Fullbacks’ prowess was again on display as his stepping and ability with the ball had Sydney going in all different directions with his four tackle breaks and 167 running ms gained. It’s common knowledge that Newcastle has devoted a fair chunk of their salary cap towards him (reported to be around one million dollars per year). We all know why he gets paid that obscene amount, and they’re not giving it to him under the impression they won’t at least be competing for a Premiership trophy in the near future.

There’s also that lethal Queensland continuity between Kayln Ponga and Dane Gagai. Something else that should be considered. Ponga himself has represented the Maroons on four occasions, while for Gagai, he knows them like the back of his hand, having produced 11 tries across 19 games and claimed the famous Wally Lewis Medal back in 2017. These two players score tries, set them up with ease, and are both hugely successful. We saw it last season as they reached the first week of the Finals, only to be pipped by eight points against Parramatta. With the team well set up this year under Adam O’Brien, there’s no reason they can’t continue to further that partnership to benefit themselves and their team, attempting to win just the club’s third-ever Grand Final.

Wests = Unlikely

Sorry Tigers fan, a Premiership won’t be headed to Concord anytime soon. The memories of Benji Marshall’s history-making flick pass to Pat Richards, and their jubilant 2005 title-winning celebrations are long gone. For it has been many seasons since Wests have looked like a legitimate threat for the crown of being Rugby League’s best, and despite their immense efforts against Melbourne, it was still a loss, and they don’t have the players required to go all the way.

Luke Brooks is the key to this Tigers side, and with no disrespect intended, his lone representative appearance was back in 2015 for the NRL All-Stars, a fan picked side. This club hasn’t made Finals Footy for the past ten straight seasons, so it’s not all on him, to be fair. But he has never well and truly lived up to the hype of the player he was supposed to be, a bit like Mitchell Pearce in some regards. He is more than capable of sinking a match-winning FG or creating easy tries for his teammates, but when push comes to shove, he doesn’t have the cojones to take the Tigers through to the next level.
Sadly accurate yet symbolic of his time at Wests;

There’s also the issue surrounding Michael Maguire; he won a Premiership with the Rabbitohs back in 2014 because of the defensive abilities he got his side to display week-in, week-out. Yet the Tigers don’t have that calibre of players on board, and last season alone, they conceded 20+ points on sixteen separate occasions. What good is he if he can’t get the defence on the Tiger’s side?

This season still has twenty-four more rounds before we even reach the Finals, so absolutely everything is still up in the air. This season, Tom Trbjojevic could have a massive downfall; the Titans could average fifty points a game, or Nathan Cleary might never return from injury. But these three sides appear to have their fortunes set in one way or another because the NRL is the gift that, while predictable, is also very unpredictable.

Toby is somebody who is a knowledgeable and passionate sports fan, but none more than the NRL. From a young age, he has been covering and supporting Australia’s greatest code. He has diplomas in both sports and business, while he loves a good laugh, some good food and travelling.

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