We predict what will and won't happen as four clubs vie for a spot in the 2017 NRL Grand Final.
Melbourne Storm vs Brisbane Broncos @AAMI Park, Friday, 7:55pm
Stat Fact: Melbourne have a dominating past against Brisbane, winning 12 of their past 14 clashes against them.
The last game these two sides contested was back in Round 17 and it was a crushing 42-12 victory to Melbourne. In that encounter Suliasi Vunivalu bagged a double as did his partner in crime Josh Addo-Carr, who have 23 and 20 tries for the season respectively. Will the electric combination of the flying Fijian and fast-paced Aussie light up Brisbane again?
Big Talking Point: For Melbourne, heading into the Preliminary Final, 165 game veteran Will Chambers has called Brisbane being underdogs for the clash “crazy”. Many fans, members of the media and bookmakers have Melbourne as strong favourites to win the clash and advance through to the Grand Final. Chambers however believes otherwise and said that Wayne Bennett will have prepared Brisbane well for this all important game. He also said that if his own team in Melbourne don’t turn up to play, then it’s all over for them. This may just be a pre mind game tactic or his genuine belief, but whatever it is it’s safe to say that there’s a healthy dose of respect between the two Queensland rivals.
Darius Boyd has returned to Brisbane’s starting line-up in what is seen as a massive boost to their hopes of qualifying for the Grand Final. Boyd missed Brisbane’s seven point victory over Penrith through injury but his return gives them some strong leadership at the back. For Brisbane this also has other ramifications as it means that Kodi Nikorima who was previously deputising for Boyd at the back, will return to the halves which in turn pushes the ever illusive Benji Marshall to the bench. While what Darius brings to the fullback role and the overall team is obvious, Marshall’s kicking game last week was a major factor in Brisbane advancing to the third week of the finals. Could the overall impact of Boyd’s return actually turn out to be negative?
What Will Happen: The past four encounters between these two sides at AAMI Park have resulted in two wins a piece. Melbourne’s wins have been by a combined 12 points while the same applies to Brisbane. A win for each team was also by a 14-12 score line. What this past history shows us is that we are in for an enthralling and closely contested game of footy. These are also the types of big games that are decided by amazing players in individual moments of brilliance. Whether that be through the likes of Slater, Cronk or Smith or on the other side maybe Milford, Nikorima or Hunt, nobody quite knows yet. But that is how this fantastic game of Rugby League between the two intense rivals will play out.
What Won’t Happen: Brad Arthur publicly took shots at it and many other coaches have asked the referees to be aware of it and look out for it, it is Melbourne’s much scrutinised style of play. They’ll hold you down for as long as possible to allow their men to reset themselves defensively. They are the best at it in the NRL and it’s one of the reasons why they’ve been such a dominant force this year. If they revert from this style or the pressure gets to them and they struggle to play this way then Brisbane will make them pay through the pure speed of players such as James Roberts and Anthony Milford. However Melbourne are a very experienced team and will no-doubt continue to play their own way and not crumble under the pressure.
Brisbane’s forwards losing their battle against the Melbourne forward pack. If Brisbane lose this fight then Melbourne will be all over them with their numerous attacking threats. It’s up to the big guys such as Adam Blair (39 games for the Kiwis) and Matt Gillett (18 games for Queensland) to ensure that this doesn’t happen. They were very good against restricting Penrith’s meters last week and that should no doubt continue into this clash.
Our Tip: Brisbane by four in a game that produces 25 or under points.
Sydney Roosters vs North Queensland Cowboys @Allianz Stadium, Saturday, 7:40pm
Stat Fact: Sydney - Roosters head coach Trent Robinson is aiming to reach his second Grand Final in only his fifth season in charge at the Bondi-based club. This after they finished 15th last season with only six wins to their name. Will Robinson get to continue to solidify his status as one of the best modern day Rugby League coaches in the world?
North Queensland - Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott have played only a combined nine games this season, yet somehow this courageous squad remain in a position to claim their second Premiership win in three seasons. Will the fairy tale continue for the Cowboys?
Big Talking Point: Sydney’s major resurgence to become a powerful club once again. For many clubs it can take several seasons to re-build (see Newcastle) but for Sydney who won only six games last season they turned it around straight after. They bought in players such as Luke Keary (eight tries and 15 try assists) and Michael Gordon (seven tries and five try assists) and they turned their form around right after. Now they are in a position to really make a statement of intent after their powerful displays this season. On their day they can kill off any of their opposition with ease but they’ll have to display that mentality on Saturday night to advance onto one of the biggest days on the Australia sporting calendar.
For North Queensland their story also resembles that of a fairy tale. Without their two best players for most of the season and a whole heap of other injuries to go along with it, the Cowboys shouldn’t be here by any normal logic little lone one game away from the Big Dance. They had to rely on a Canterbury win against St George just to make the finals. Then after that a Michael Morgan field goal was the difference in eliminating last year’s premiers then they bundled Parramatta out of the finals with both skill and brute force. The fact that they are here is a testament to them and what their team is all about, but don’t write them off just yet, they still have another chapter to add to this already filled book.
What Will Happen: This much-anticipated encounter can either go one of two ways. Way one is a closely contested battle like most are expecting or way two is Sydney blowing North Queensland off the park and racking up a huge score-line. Way one is what I see happening. Three of the past eight clashes between these two sides have been decided by six, one and four points respectively. Combined with the importance that this game holds then it’s not very hard to envision this game going down to the wire, this scenario is the one that will play out. In addition to this, the halves battle between Keary & Pearce and Martin & Morgan will also prove to be of massive ramifications on deciding the result of this game. One of these four players will decided how the game goes. All four will prove to be up for the big game and the test that awaits them.
What Won’t Happen: For Sydney not scoring many tries. This season Sydney have scored 20 or more points in 13 of their games. Combined with the likes of Latrell Mitchell (14 tries) and Daniel Tupou & Blake Ferguson (21 combined tries) it paints an obvious picture that the way in which Sydney will win this encounter is through their attack and not their defence (as good as it can be). Second rowers Boyd Cordner and Aidan Guerra (10 combined tries) also highlight that the Roosters have threats all over the park. This further illustrates the way in which Sydney will go about winning this game.
For North Queensland if their defence isn’t on point then there’s a high chance that they lose this game and are out of the finals series. Lachlan Coote (112 tackles) is a very good defensive fullback while their forward pack possess the likes of Gavin Cooper (670 tackles) and Jason Taumalolo (637 tackles). Expect their defence to be very good in an attempt to stop Sydney’s obvious major strengths.
Our Tip: North Queensland by one in a game that produces 25 or more points.