NRL FINALS WEEK 1 PREVIEW
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS v MELBOURNE STORM
ANZ Stadium, Friday 7.45pm
RABBITOHS: Greg Inglis, Nathan Merritt, Bryson Goodwin, Dylan Walker, Dylan Farrell, John Sutton, Adam Reynolds, Thomas Burgess, Issac Luke, Roy Asotasi, Chris McQueen, Ben Te’o, Sam Burgess. Interchange: Luke Keary, Jeff Lima, Jason Clark, George Burgess.
STORM: Billy Slater, Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Justin O’Neill, Brett Finch, Cooper Cronk, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Bryan Norrie, Kevin Proctor, Ryan Hoffman, Ryan Hinchcliffe. Interchange: Jason Ryles, Tohu Harris, Jordan McLean, Kenneath Bromwich, Gareth Widdop (one to be omitted).
The finals are here!
I don’t know about you but I’m feeling like a kid at Christmas thanks to the look of the games on offer this weekend.
First up is the Rabbitohs hosting the reigning premiers the Storm at ANZ Stadium and the men from South Sydney are well aware that they haven’t beaten the Storm in over 3 years. The 3 losses include 2 losses this year and 1 loss in last years’ first week of finals. In fact in the Storm’s 16 year history the Rabbitohs have only beaten them 3 times.
The Rabbitohs have all the talent in the world but it’s up to them to get all positions working in sync in order to be the force that saw them fire their way to 2nd on the ladder. When they are on their game they are hard to stop but last week the Roosters showed us how to exploit the Rabbitohs defence up the middle of the field and there is no question that Storm Coach Craig Bellamy would have picked up on this.
Whatever plan Bellamy and his leading men come up with I’m sure it will be the right one. The Storm have really come on strong since the State of Origin period passed us by and the big difference has been the improvement of the fringe players both in the forwards and the backs. Just look at the likes of winger Sisa Waqa and forwards Kevin Proctor and Tohu Harris who are all twice the men they were in Round 1.
Some of you might argue that the Storm finished the season with sub-par performances in Rounds 25 and 26 against the Sea Eagles and Titans respectively but the fact is that neither game was one they desperately needed to win and I don’t believe their efforts were at 100% for either contest.
My money is on the Storm to cause a so called upset and I’ll be adding the +1.5 line for a touch of field goal protection.
Mike’s Tip: Storm
CRONULLA SHARKS v NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Allianz Stadium, Saturday 4.00pm
SHARKS: Michael Gordon, Sosaia Feki, Ben Pomeroy, Jonathan Wright, Beau Ryan, Todd Carney, Jeff Robson, Andrew Fifita, John Morris, Sam Tagataese, Luke Lewis, Wade Graham, Paul Gallen. Interchange: Isaac De Gois, Chris Heighington, Jayson Bukuya, Anthony Tupou, Bryce Gibbs, Ben Ross (two to be omitted).
COWBOYS: Matthew Bowen, Wayne Ulugia, Brent Tate, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Johnathan Thurston (capt), Robert Lui, Matthew Scott (capt), Rory Kostjasyn, James Tamou, Gavin Cooper, Glenn Hall, Joel Riethmuller. Interchange: Jayden Hodges, Tariq Sims, Scott Bolton, Jason Taumalolo, Ashton Sims (one to be omitted).
It’s a testament to the Cronulla players’ mental tenacity that they have finished the season in 5th place when many thought their season was in tatters thanks to an ongoing ASADA investigation into allegations of the use of banned substances within the club. The heavy news was delivered to the club before the first round of the season had commenced and with just 2 days to go until their season opener, the Sharks’ hierarchy had dumped Coach Shane Flanagan. Not the ideal start to the year. But against adversity the team put their heads down and fought on. With Shane Flanagan being reinstated as head coach a couple of weeks later, the Sharks were back on track.
The Cronulla roster has a great mix of players amongst their ranks which makes them a versatile attacking unit with Todd Carney at the helm. The forwards are some of the hardest working in the comp and always lay a perfect base for the backs to work from.
The Cowboys have endured difficulties of their own this season but it had nothing to do with off field dramas but rather lacklustre performances on it. Couple that with a constant sprinkling of injuries amongst the halfback, hooker and fullback positions and the Cowboys found themselves languishing on the bottom 4 of the ladder at the halfway mark of the season. Then came the news that Neil Henry would not be reappointed as head coach for 2014 and somehow the message sparked the Cowboys into a 6 game winning streak which included a big upset win over the Rabbitohs.
If they are to keep the streak, and ultimately their tournament lives alive, the Cowboys will have to be prepared to take on an aggressive Sharks outfit which will be out to get under their skin.
Cowboys front rower James Tamou has said he sees the Sharks aggression as “a challenge” and left centre Kane Linnett has no doubts of their intentions stating “I’m sure they’ll try and be a bit grubby.”
I’ll be tipping the Sharks whom I expect will ramp the intensity of game play up to the maximum level. Todd Carney’s return will provide the much needed pressure relief that the halves have needed in his absence.
I think that if the Cowboys try to match the Sharks in the aggression stakes, they’ll simply anger them and make them even more aggressive and subsequently tougher to handle.
Mike’s Tip: Sharks
SYDNEY ROOSTERS v MANLY SEA EAGLES
Allianz Stadium, Saturday 7.00pm
ROOSTERS: Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Mitchell Aubusson, Sonny Bill Williams, Frank-Paul Nuuausala. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Aidan Guerra, Isaac Liu, Dylan Napa, Luke O’Donnell, Martin Kennedy (two to be omitted).
SEA EAGLES: Brett Stewart, Jorge Taufua, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai, David Williams, Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Brenton Lawrence, Matt Ballin, Brent Kite, Anthony Watmough, Justin Horo, Glenn Stewart. Interchange: Richie Fa’aoso, Tom Symonds, David Gower, George Rose, James Hasson (one to be omitted).
The second game of Saturday features the minor premiership winning Roosters hosting the 4th placed Sea Eagles at the old Sydney Football Stadium.
The Roosters out gunned the Rabbitohs in Round 26 to snatch an emphatic win and finish the minor premiership at the top of the ladder. The Roosters players are looking good and thanks to some well executed attacking plays from the centre of the field they are now widely tipped as the team to beat.
Sonny Bill Williams will be the key man for the Roosters. Way back in Round 1, Williams was certainly not up to the pace of modern day NRL but at present he is a major weapon in the Roosters’ arsenal and has to be followed by the defence at every minute. The reason for this is that he is capable of either breaking open a play by feeding off his halves in Pearce and Maloney, or simply on his own by putting the opposition defence in two minds when running at the edges. Sometimes you just don’t know if he’ll split two tacklers on his own or simply draw them in before finding an outside man to receive his offload. Manly beware.
The Sea Eagles enter the finals series having lost only 2 of their last 9 games. The Manly attacking and defensive structures have proven to be well rounded and they should be credited for their 4th place but it must be pointed out that they have played some soft opposition in the back half of the season. I’m certainly not suggesting they aren’t one of the best teams in the makeup of the 2013 season, but what I am suggesting is that they probably aren’t good enough to defeat the Roosters whom they have already lost to twice this season.
Probably the biggest plus that the Sea Eagles hold over their feathered counterparts is almost twice as much finals experience with 143 finals matches under their belts compared to the 75 notched up by the Roosters.
My best bet for this game is a bit different to the norm. I’m tipping the Roosters to win a close match, but the best bet will be regarding which team converts the most tries. If I am to be expecting a close game, then my best bet should make sense given the two team’s goal kicking stats.
James Maloney is the kicker for the Roosters and has been striking them at a whopping 88.18% (97/110) in 2013 whereas Sea Eagles kicker Jamie Lyon is lost in the dark ages of goal kicking abilities with a measley strike rate of 66.96% (77/115).
Maloney it is.
Mike’s Tip: Roosters
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
ANZ Stadium, Sunday 4.00pm
BULLDOGS: Josh Morris, Mitch Brown, Tim Lafai, Krisnan Inu, Sam Perrett, Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson, Aiden Tolman, Michael Ennis (capt), James Graham, Tony Williams, Josh Jackson, Dale Finucane. Interchange: Dean Halatau, Sam Kasiano, Tim Browne, Ben Barba.
KNIGHTS: Darius Boyd, James McManus, Joey Leilua, Dane Gagai, Akuila Uate, Jarrod Mullen, Tyrone Roberts, David Fa’alago, Danny Buderus, Willie Mason, Robbie Rochow, Beau Scott, Jeremy Smith. Interchange: Matt Hilder, Chris Houston, Neville Costigan, Alex McKinnon
Two of the more inconsistent teams face off in the final instalment of the first week of finals and its do or die. The Bulldogs have definitely been one of the most disappointing teams of the year having failed to even come close to emulating their 2012 form. It’s apparent when watching the Canterbury side in action that their capabilities are there but they simply fail to execute a solid game plan each week. I can only lean towards them due to their superior finals experience and likeliness of producing their A-game more often than the Knights.
The Knights have put out much of the same so it’s not surprising that they finished next to the Bulldogs at the end of the 26 rounds. Newcastle have been a tough team to tango with on home soil but when they hit the road to contest away games, they quite often go into their shells and start playing as if they are running basic training drills. I believe the absence of second phase plays and adlib footy has cost the Knights throughout the season at times when good teams would be able to capitalise on defenders out of position. If they can produce some of their better style of play then they have every chance of winning.
So why the $2.50 odds for the Knights? It’s a question I’ve heard many punters asking this week and my answer to them would be that we simply don’t know if they are going to produce that better style of play or not. Because of these reasons, I definitely am not interested in putting my money towards this game and would rather assess both teams under finals pressure, before looking forward to the winning team’s match against the Storm.
Mike’s Tip: Bulldogs
Mike’s Suggested Bet: None
Mike’s Best Bet: None