NRL Finals Week 1 Preview and Tips


Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs

Fri 12 Sep, 7:55PM, Allianz Stadium

Sea Eagles: 1. Brett Stewart 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Jamie Lyon 4. Steve Matai 5. Peta Hiku 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Josh Starling 9. Jayden Hodges 10. Brenton Lawrence 11. Anthony Watmough 12. Justin Horo 13. Tom Symonds
Interchange: 14. Jesse Sene-Lefao 15. Dunamis Lui 16. James Hasson 17. Jason King
Rabbitohs: 1. Greg Inglis 2. Alex Johnston 3. Dylan Walker 4. Kirisome Auva’a  5. Lote Tuqiri 6. Luke Keary 7. Adam Reynolds 8. George Burgess 9. Issac Luke 10. David Tyrrell 11. Kyle Turner 12. John Sutton 13. Sam Burgess
Interchange: 14. Jason Clark 15. Chris McQueen 16. Luke Burgess 17. Thomas Burgess 18. Bryson Goodwin 19. Ben Lowe 20. Joe Picker


Here we go! It’s finals time again and like most NRL fans around the globe, I can’t wait for it to start!
We kick off with the Sea Eagles taking on the Rabbitohs and as has been well publicised, the Sea Eagles have had to give up their home ground advantage and move the match to Allianz Stadium. The Sea Eagles look to be needing all the help they can get thanks to injuries suffered by key players and having to give up a game at Brookvale Oval is far from ideal.

Of those injuries is none other than hooker Matt Ballin. Ballin is the service provider to the halves and you can find his picture in the dictionary next to ‘consistent’. He turns up week in, week out and puts in reliable performances at a repeatedly high level which gives Coach Geoff Toovey the luxury of not having to worry about what Ballin is up to as he knows it will get done, be it in attack or defence.

This time around marks the first finals match the Sea Eagles will play without Ballin since the Grand Final of 2007 and personally I think his absence is going to hurt the side more than most are anticipating.

One group of people that are in agreement with me are the bookies. The market was framed with the Rabbitohs as solid $1.45 favourites and the bookies know that the Sea Eagles, or most sides for that matter, are not at their best when missing first choice hookers.

The Rabbitohs don’t have any such woes in the hooking department with Isaac Luke ready to lead the forwards up the middle in a bid to penetrate Manly’s defence with some direct, power running.

Behind the forwards are the halves, and three of them at that in Reynolds, Sutton and Keary. At this point in time Keary and Reynolds have been named at 6 and 7 with Sutton in the second row, but I have my suspicions that Sutton will start as the five-eighth which is a move I would agree with.

I’m tipping the Rabbitohs to be the first finals victors in 2014 and I think they are the specials of the round. The line of 6.5 turns me off but you can get $1.80 for the Rabbitohs -5.5 and that’s where I’m looking.

I would recommend getting on that early in case that price shortens and you’re staring at $1.75 or less.


Mike’s Tip: Rabbitohs

Mike’s Best Bet: Rabbitohs -5.5 @ $1.80 (Centrebet)



Roosters v Panthers

Sat 13 Sep, 5:50PM, Allianz Stadium

Roosters: 1. Anthony Minichiello 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Michael Jennings 4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 5. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 6. James Maloney 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Mitchell Aubusson 10. Sam Moa 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Sonny Bill Williams 13. Isaac Liu
Interchange: 14. Jackson Hastings 15. Remi Casty 16. Dylan Napa 17. Kane Evans 18. Heath L’Estrange
Panthers: 1. Matt Moylan 2. Josh Mansour 3. Dean Whare 4. Jamal Idris 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6. Will Smith 7. Jamie Soward 8. Sam McKendry 9. James Segeyaro 10. Brent Kite 11. Sika Manu 12. Matt Robinson 13. Nigel Plum
Interchange: 14. Lewis Brown 15. Jeremy Latimore 16. Ben Murdoch-Masila 17. Sam Anderson 18. Dave Simmons


The Roosters scraped home to claim the minor premiership in the last possible minute at the end of the home and away season but effectively the competition starts again for them come Saturday evening.

They will be taking on the Panthers who have defied opinion from go to woe and claimed a top 4 spot and ultimately a second chance if they happen to go down in this encounter.

I expect the Roosters to get on top of them but I also foresee the Panthers putting in a fully committed effort that will keep them in touch throughout the match but in the end won’t quite be enough to defeat last year’s premiers.

And when you speak of the Panthers defying the critics it all starts with Jamie Soward who copped a lot of negative preseason opinions claiming he wouldn’t live up to expectations. Soward on the contrary has not played a bad game all year and literally lead the way from the halves helping his forwards gain plenty of field position which in turn has helped the Panthers defeat opponents by applying relentless pressure.

The Panthers also possess plenty of power on the edges with the likes of Jamal Idris and particularly Lewis Brown who likes to float around on the fringes of the ruck and beyond trying to sniff out a hole or any potentially penetrable weakness amongst his opposite numbers.

The Roosters became very fragile in those exact fringe areas in the latter stages of last week’s match against Rabbitohs and they will need to shore up those holes if they are to stay in front of the Panthers because if you add winger Josh Mansour to the likes of Idris and Brown, you end up facing a formidable structure.

But as I mentioned earlier, I’m backing the Roosters to do the job and success will come off the back of a representative laden forward pack. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Boyd Cordner and none other than Sonny Bill Williams know how to get up and run themselves into the ground for their side in the big matches whether it be finals, test matches or State of Origin. Add Mitch Aubusson to the fray as he replaces Jake Friend at dummy half, and although he may not be the most skilfully adept attacking hooker, if you dare run at him, he will snap you in half whether you’re 80kgs, 130kgs, man, woman or child!

In betting the Roosters are far too short for my liking in the head to head market and the $1.90 line is too big for me to put money into the handicap market in the hope they will cover it.

I would be tempted to review a Panthers line bet if the start was 12 or more but it has fallen just short with the best quote coming in at +11.5

Being played on Saturday evening, this game will be the 5th contest played on Allianz Stadium in two days once you factor in the Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles game on Friday night, plus 3 (yes 3) prior Holden Cup games.

The Allianz surface will be a bit worse for wear as a result which will skim a bit of speed off the players not to mention lateral structures and attacking raids will have the sting taken out of them.

Both these sides are defensively sound with the Roosters conceding and average of just 1.7 points per game less than the Panthers throughout the 26 regular rounds and on a less than perfect surface, points will be at a premium here.

Therefore I recommend getting on the total match points market to be under 39.5 (Sportsbet).
Enjoy the game!


-Mike Wilson


Mike’s Tip: Roosters

Mike’s Best Bet: Total Match Points Under 39.5 @ $1.90 (Sportsbet)



Cowboys v Broncos

Sat 13 Sep, 7:55PM, 1300SMILES Stadium

Cowboys: 1. Michael Morgan 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Tautau Moga 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Robert Lui  7. Johnathan Thurston 8. Matt Scott 9. Rory Kostjasyn 10. Ashton Sims 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Tariq Sims 13. Jason Taumalolo
Interchange: 14. Ray Thompson 15. Scott Bolton 16. Glenn Hall 17. James Tamou
Broncos: 1. Justin Hodges 2. Daniel Vidot 3. Corey Oates 4. Dale Copley 5. Lachlan Maranta 6. Ben Barba 7. Ben Hunt 8. Josh McGuire 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Corey Parker 11. Alex Glenn 12. Matt Gillett 13. Sam Thaiday
Interchange: 14. Jarrod Wallace 15. Martin Kennedy 16. Ben Hannant 17. Todd Lowrie 18. David Hala


The Cowboys just missed out on a top 4 finish at the end of the regular season following a late charge towards the finals that has seen them win 7 of their last 8 games and shape as a genuine threat towards the top sides.

When they made the finals last year, the Cowboys really lifted and embraced the commitment and intensity required to win in finals football but unfortunately fell agonisingly short of a victory. That performance should be evidence that the players will rise once again and do all that they can to advance to the second week of finals.

Leading the way with his tireless efforts will be none other than co Captain Johnathan Thurston who has once again gone through a whole season giving nothing less than 100%. His defence might be a bit patchy here and there but that’s par for the course when it comes to halfbacks. It will be interesting to see what approach the Broncos take towards Thurston defensively.

The Cowboys’ forwards tend to be guilty of making some basic mistakes in the dead centre of the field which usually comes from either slow line speed or poor line spacing. I have little doubts that such problems were brought up and analysed by Coach Paul Green through the week and the players will be well drilled on where they need to be positioned in case the Broncos build up some quick ruck speed at some stage.

Knowing their finals live or die on this game you can expect to see plenty of that ruck speed from the Broncos built off the back of lateral spreads no doubt instigated by the halves.

We spoke about Thurston earlier and the Broncos have a dynamo halfback themselves in Ben Hunt who has had a breakout season in 2014 and continued to pull off some big individual plays that have helped his side build towards victories.

The big question surrounding Hunt is; how will he handle the added pressure that comes from finals footy?

I think he should be fine especially in backline movements in the opposition 20 where he quite often nowadays has Justin Hodges roaming around outside him.

In the overall scheme of the Broncos bid for victory however, I think Anthony Griffin and his troops will be better served trying to win it up the middle. They certainly have the fire power in the forwards to match it with the Cowboys and it could be the part of the game where they can get on top in an arm wrestle situation.

Betting in this game, quite frankly, doesn’t interest me with the Cowboys relatively short in head to head markets compared to the rated price I have them at.

They have only won 9 games of the 38 ever contested between these two sides, and 4 of 20 played at 1300SMILES Stadium but I expect them to add another win to these totals come the 80th minute of this encounter.


Mike’s Tip: Cowboys

Mike’s Best Bet: None

Mike’s Casual Bet: NthQLD/NthQLD – HT/FT @ $1.85 (Centrebet)



Storm v Bulldogs

Sun 14 Sep, 4:10PM, AAMI Park

Storm:  1. Billy Slater 2. Sisa Waqa 3. Will Chambers 4. Mahe Fonua 5. Marika Koroibete 6. Ben Roberts 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Bryan Norrie 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Ryan Hinchcliffe
Interchange: 14. Tim Glasby 15. Tohu Harris 16. Junior Moors 17. Jordan McLean 18. Dayne Weston 19. Justin O’Neill
Bulldogs:  1. Sam Perrett 2. Corey Thompson 3. Josh Morris 4. Tim Lafai 5. Mitch Brown 6. Josh Reynolds 7. Trent Hodkinson 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Michael Ennis 10. James Graham 11. Josh Jackson 12. Tony Williams 13. Greg Eastwood
Interchange: 15. Dale Finucane 16. David Klemmer 17. Frank Pritchard 19. Moses Mbye 20. Reni Maitua 21. Harlan Alaalatoa 22. Pat O’Hanlon


The second of the sudden death finals, and the last of the first round finals will be fought out by the Storm and Bulldogs at Melbourne’s home ground of AAMI Park.

Storm Coach Craig Bellamy is predictably acting coy about whether or not hooker Cam Smith will take the field following an ankle injury sustained in last week’s match against the Broncos.

Most of us are fairly certain it’s all just a bit of gamesmanship heading into the match when realistically one would choose Cam Smith in the side even if he was only 80% fit.

It’s the first time the Storm have faced an elimination final in the first week of the semis but the it’s always handy to tackle the tough games with the likes of Slater, Cronk and Smith in your side.

Adding to the danger of the ‘big 3’ is the likes of the outside backs Fonua, Chambers, Waqa and the ultra fast Koroibete who have been electric in attack and continually showing their capabilities when it comes to helping the Storm put points on the board.

Many are writing the Bulldogs off and are asking where the danger to the Storm will come from.

Their forwards don’t mind adding a bit of ball playing and lateral direction to their attack but at times are seemingly in no mood to simply hit the ball up.

Overall commitment shouldn’t be too much of an issue as many are suggesting. They were knocked out of the finals in 2013 in a weak manner and I’m not reading much into the ugly loss against the Titans last week when they put the cruise control on thinking they had the game won in the first 20 minutes.

The Dogs have lost 6 of their last 8 matches and all momentum has deserted them whilst the Storm on the contrary have won 6 of their last 8 and all signs are pointing to a Storm victory bar one; In the two matches played out by these sides already in 2014, the Bulldogs have been victorious in both, including the second encounter which was also played on Storm territory, the first being at a neutral venue in Perth.

If the Bulldogs are to complete the 2014 hat trick against the Storm, halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson need to keep their minds focused and channel some of that success they contributed to in the State of Origin series.

I’m tipping the Storm to advance to week two but like the previous game I have little interest in wagering on any outcomes with the Storm at a tight quote of $1.33 in had to head markets when I was looking for about 10c more.

If you’re after a wager regardless, I’d recommend the ‘Unders’ option in total match point betting with the line set at 39.5 on Sportsbet.


Mike’s Tip: Storm

Mike’s Best Bet: None

Mike’s Casual Bet: Total match points Under 39.5 @ $1.90 (Sportsbet)



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