NRL Finals Week 1

What a match to start the finals series on Friday night, with reigning premiers Manly  taking on the Des Hasler coached minor premiers Canterbury  at ANZ Stadium. Both sides had comfortable victories in the last round and both are seasoned finals campaigners. The honours have been shared during the year with Manly winning 12-10 at ANZ in Round 8 and the Dogs getting revenge by 2012 at Brookvale in Round 20. The bounce of the ball on the night could decide this match with both sides having in form match winners and the fullback battle between try scoring machines Ben Barba and Brett Stewart will itself be worth the admission price. Should be a classic game. Canterbury Bulldogs 1-12

Melbourne #QL_SS#1030803; versus South Sydney, 2 versus 3, at AAMI Stadium early on Saturday evening should be another top class game. Greg Inglis - now claimed by many good judges to be the best player in rugby league- against his old club, while the battle of the coaches will be intriguing. Craig Bellamy is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the game but his former understudy Michael Maguire would love nothing more than a win against his former boss. Even allowing for his time in England, Maguire has a very thorough knowledge of the Storm players. Melbourne has the brilliance of Slater, Cronk and Smith but the Rabbitohs have a combination of power and class. Could go either way but maybe home advantage will count. Melbourne Storm 1-12

North Queensland  deservedly starts as warm favourites against Queensland cousins Brisbane . The Broncos beat Penrith to assure themselves of eighth position but they were unconvincing in breaking the six match losing streak and unlike the Brisbane sides of old just limped across the finals’ line. The Cowboys may not have been at the top of their game in the win over Cronulla but still won convincingly. Brisbane always has strong support in the north of the state but majority home town backing will be with the Cowboys and on the back of Jonathon Thurston’s direction around the park, North Queensland should be comfortable winners. North Queensland Cowboys 1-12

Canberra  goes into Sunday’s home elimination final against Cronulla  with momentum behind them having beaten minor premiers Canterbury 34-6 then coming from 6-22 in Auckland to beat the Warriors 42-22. Confidence going into big matches is a valuable commodity and in that regard, the Raiders must be favoured. Cronulla by contrast has lost to Melbourne and North Queensland leading into the knock out final and in fact have won only two of their last nine matches. Canberra’s recent record in finals matches is poor while Cronulla normally plays well at Canberra Stadium but it is hard to go past current form and that favours the locals. Canberra Raiders 1-12

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