NRL Finals Week 1

Mitchell Dale - Editor Rugby League Week
Editor of Rugby League Week, Mitchell Dale, provides TattsBet with an exclusive Preview of Week 1 of the NRL Finals.

Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs 

Allianz Stadium
Friday September 12 @ 8pm (AEST)

What a way to kick-off the finals, with two bitter rivals slugging it out on Friday night! These two sides have hated each other since Jesus was playing fullback for the Alexandria Rovers! Souths go into the game as favourites, and look a far more settled side, with Manly plagued by injuries. But let’s not forget what happened in last year’s finals series! The Eagles are finals specialists; Souths are yet to prove they can overcome the weight of expectation in the big matches. That said, the Brookie boys have generally made slow starts to the finals – they have won just one of their past five games in the opening week of the play-offs. Both sides have a few key changes from last week – Manly will welcome back Brett Stewart and Brenton Lawrence, after both missed their final-round showdown with the Cowboys, while Adam Reynolds returns for the Bunnies to partner Luke Keary in the halves. Skipper John Sutton shifts to the back-row. If Manly are any hope, their unheralded forward pack must match the big boppers from Redfern in the middle. If they can do that, Daly Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran and Jamie Lyon will do the rest. But Souths have a definite advantage up front, and that is where I think they will win this one.

My tip: Rabbitohs 1-12

Roosters  v Panthers

Allianz Stadium
Saturday September 13 @ 5.50pm (AEST)

The Roosters have certainly peaked at the right time. As little as a month ago, I didn’t think they had the hunger to go back-to-back. Their attack seemed disjointed and, while their defence was still strong, they did not appear to have the same intensity that was the hallmark of their premiership win last season. But all that has changed over the past four weeks. They have lifted another gear . . . and still seem to be on the way up. The suspensions of Aidan Guerra and Dylan Napa, and injuries to Jake Friend and Frank-Paul Nuuausala, have definitely tested their depth, but they still boast a forward pack that is full of stars. Meanwhile, the Panthers continue to defy the odds. Against the Warriors last weekend, they showed why no-one should take them lightly in this finals series, despite their long list of injuries. They played perfect finals-style footy to strangle the life out of New Zealand – there wasn’t anything too flash about Penrith’s play, but their execution and ball control were sublime. As I said – perfect for finals footy. But it is hard to escape the fact they lack finals experience. Game day will mark 3,655 days since Penrith last won a finals match, the longest current drought of any club. The Roosters are looking too good to back against, but Penrith won’t give them an inch.

My tip: Roosters 1-12

Cowboys  v Broncos

1300SMILES Stadium
Saturday September 13 @ 8pm (AEST)

I doubt the Cowboys would have been too upset about missing fourth spot on the ladder. By finishing fifth, they have the ideal opportunity to launch their finals campaign at home, where they have proven almost unbeatable. They are 11-1 at home this year, and have won a club record 10 on the trot at 1300SMILES Stadium (ridiculous name for a ground, but rather appropriate when you consider the Cowboys’ winning rate there). On top of that, they have won all four finals matches played in Townsville. Brisbane might have just snuck into the finals after fellow play-off contenders Parramatta and the Warriors fell over last weekend, but they won’t be cannon fodder. Had a few things gone their way, they could have finished much higher on the ladder – they lost two games by four points, two by two and one by one point this year. If just two of those matches went their way, they’d be hosting a final this weekend. Since Justin Hodges has gone to fullback they have had a different dimension in attack – and that has freed up Ben Barba at five-eighth. It has been a tough year for the 2012 Dally M winner, but he has played his best footy of the season over the past month. However, like the Roosters, North Queensland are simply playing too well for me to back against them.

My tip: Cowboys 1-12

Storm  v Bulldogs 

Sunday September 14 @ 4.10pm (AEST)

Canterbury come into this finals series as definite under-Dogs. Of all the teams in the top eight, their form has been the worst over the last month of the season. But don’t discount them! Des Hasler will be plotting away, and is sure to have something up his sleeve. Their monster pack is perfectly suited to the grind of finals footy, as is their no-holds-barred, in-your-face style. But they will meet a Melbourne side who are very familiar – and comfortable – with the pressure of finals footy. The Storm squad has 150 games of finals footy experience among them, including the most-capped finals player in the NRL – Billy Slater, who is saddling up for his 26th appearance in the play-offs. But, after exiting in straight sets last September, we can no longer call the Storm finals specialists. However, a home final is a huge advantage, especially in sudden death footy. The AAMI Park crowd will get Melbourne home.

My tip: Storm 1-12

Mitchell Dale - Editor Rugby League Week

Mitchell Dale, Editor Rugby League Week


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