Week 2 NRL Finals Predictions

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Following one of the most controversial incidents in rugby league finals history, rugby league writer Daniel Boss provides his view on the 7 tackle debacle as well as previews the two games this weekend.

Thoughts from the first week of the finals series

  • Souths had the better of play for the majority of the game, yet the Storm had more chances inside the opposition’s 20 metre zone. The key to Souths’ victory was their defence, which was simply awesome, especially in the 2nd half.
  • One concern for the Rabbitohs is their attack. I’m just not sure if they can score enough points to beat the Roosters or Manly. Based on Saturday night’s game, Souths may even struggle to score a point against either side.
  • Cameron Smith seems to be playing below his best and has seemed to be a bit off over the past month.
  • The Cronulla-North Queensland game was one of the worst officiated finals I’ve ever seen. More on this later.
  • Cronulla threw absolutely everything into that game. They are absolutely busted and should be very vulnerable this weekend.
  • Even if the Cowboys were playing this weekend, I wouldn’t have liked them as they are a far worse team away from Townsville. That game was there for the taking.
  • Although 4 points were scored, the Roosters-Manly final was one of the best games of rugby league that I have seen over the past decade. Both teams threw a lot of attack at each other but their scramble defence was just awesome.
  • Manly probably had the better of play but just couldn’t strike a blow. They got frustrated towards the end of the game and were not direct enough in attack. They needed someone to straighten the attack up, which is normally Brett Stewart’s role.
  • The Roosters again struggled to force repeat sets, but their defence was good enough to more than make up for this.
  • Newcastle won this game through their defence in the first 20 minutes. They simply frustrated the Dogs out of this game.
  • The Knights had chances to strike the killer blow midway through the second half, but just couldn’t capitalise. Aside from this, they were great last Sunday.
  • Michael Ennis should not captain a rugby league team. His bickering with referees did the Bulldogs harm, as did his blatant attempt to milk a penalty after a Knights defender touched him on the cheek. Ennis needed to take control of his team, instead of being the main reason for his team’s utter capitulation.

7-tackle joke

A lot has been said over the past few days regarding the scoring of a Cronulla try on the 7th tackle against the Cowboys last weekend. It was a big mistake and I have a couple of points to raise regarding this. The first relates to the greater amount of things that referees are looking for in the game compared to 10 or 20 years ago. With an increase in wrestling tactics in the ruck, the referees are more focused on adjudicating foul play in the ruck which diverts their attention from other areas, such as keeping a consistent 10 metres and in this case, keeping the tackle count. Rugby league needs to be simplified. It is a much better spectacle when kept simple. After the conclusion of the season, I will go over the 10 point plan which I wrote two years ago and see the progress made on these. Some of these points relate to the simplification of the game.

There was one thing that I saw in the Holden Cup that might help reduce these errors in the future. In golden point, the Tigers successfully challenged two penalties that were incorrectly ruled against them. As a result, the Broncos did not win the game from an incorrect penalty. This will put less pressure on the referees as they know that a team can review a decision. However, it may slow the game and it can be exploited, both of which would detract from the game.

The second point relates to the Cowboys’ reaction after the game. Sure, they should be angry after getting bad calls in their last two finals games, but to suggest that the NRL is conspiring against them is just wrong. If the NRL wanted anyone to win the game last Saturday, it would have been the Cowboys. If Cronulla do win the premiership, then there is the potential that it could be stripped from them depending on the outcome of the ASADA investigation. The NRL has had to recently take premierships off Melbourne and I’m sure that they would not like to do that again. Secondly, they would have preferred the Cowboys to win as it would have increased Queensland interest in the finals series. Instead, one of the least popular Sydney teams (going by club memberships) is still playing.

The responses of Johnathan Thurston and Neil Henry after the game showed that the Cowboys did not have the mental toughness to win the premiership. Over the off-season, the Cowboys were predicted to finish in the top 4 but struggled with the expectation. If they had have played at their best for most of the season, they might have had a second chance and not been eliminated from that game. They also could have had a game in Townsville in front of their home crowd. The main reason for this was that the team couldn’t handle the expectation. This is a failure of the coach as he couldn’t get the team fully prepared for games. As a result, I think the club was right in looking for a new coach for next season.

Manly Sea Eagles v Cronulla Sharks

Last week, Manly had the better of play against the Roosters but still couldn’t score a point. Cronulla were lucky to get a win against the Cowboys but showed plenty of mental toughness to come back from a 6 point deficit with 20 minutes to play, especially with key players Fifita and Carney both struggling with injuries. The big news relating to this game is the big inclusion for Manly and the big omission for Cronulla. The big inclusion for Manly is Brett Stewart, who has been named at fullback. Hiku is named on an extended bench, alongside additions James Hasson and David Gower. The big omission for Cronulla is that of Todd Carney who is out as a result of an injury. Lewis moves from the second row to five eight, with Bukuya moving from the bench to the second row. Bryce Gibbs and Ben Ross are added to the extended bench.

2013 matches

In the only 2013 meeting, Manly defeated Cronulla 25-18 at Brookvale Oval in Round 6. At this point of the season, Cronulla were struggling while Manly were flying high.

Key stats

In attack, Manly scored 588 points in the 2013 regular season, which was ranked tied for 3rd in the NRL, while Cronulla scored 468 points in the regular season, which was ranked 11th in the league.

Key matchups

Brett Stewart v Michael Gordon. These two former NSW representatives clash at fullback in this game. During the season, Stewart’s importance to the Manly side was shown as the side struggled to score points in games that he missed. As mentioned above, he will straighten up the attack. Gordon is the main strike player for Cronulla, especially with Todd Carney poised to miss. His strong support play led to a try last week.

Glenn Stewart v Paul Gallen. This is a contrast in styles, as Stewart is a ball-playing lock who plays on the right while Gallen is a workhorse who plays up the middle. Stewart is a key part of the Sea Eagles’ dynamic right-side attack, alongside Jamie Lyon and Daly Cherry-Evans. Gallen is the inspirational leader of the Sharks, who will try to tackle Cronulla to victory.

Matt Ballin v John Morris. Ballin will play the whole game, while Morris will be spelled for De Gois for parts of the game. Ballin is a no frills player who gets through a mountain of work, while also providing a stable presence for Manly. Morris is slightly more creative in attack but has an edge in experience. With Carney’s absence, Morris plays a more important role in attack for Cronulla in this game.

Prediction

As mentioned above, Cronulla put absolutely everything into last week’s win. I don’t think that they have much left and with Todd Carney not playing, I am expecting Manly to win and by a significant margin.

Melbourne Storm v Newcastle Knights

Last week, Melbourne had enough chances to win but they were not good enough to take them. They are below their best form and will need to be near their best if they are to defeat a battle hardened Newcastle team. Newcastle’s defence frustrated the Bulldogs out of last week’s game but Melbourne is too experienced to fall into the same trap. The Knights will have to come up with more in attack if they are to win. Both sides have named unchanged teams from 1 to 17, with the only addition being Brett Finch as Melbourne’s 18th man. A good sign was the naming of Sisa Waqa as he was relatively unharmed from an ugly looking fall in the last game against Souths.

2013 matches

These two teams met during the season, with Melbourne winning both games although both were very close. The first game was in Melbourne during Round 14, with Melbourne just winning 16-14. The second game in Newcastle was in Round 23, with the Storm getting up 23-10 despite trailing at halftime.

Key stats

At home, Melbourne has only lost one game in 2013. That was in round 8 to Canberra. Since that loss and a draw with Manly in Round 10, the Storm has won their last 6 games at home. Away from home, the Knights have only won 6 games from 13 this season. However, over their last 6 away games, Newcastle has won 5 of them.

Key matchups

Billy Slater v Darius Boyd. Whoever comes out on top of the clash of Queensland and Australian representatives will be very important in deciding the outcome of this game. Slater is the main strike weapon for the Storm, while Boyd is both a ball player and ball runner at the back for Newcastle. I would be shocked if neither player scored a try in this game.

Ryan Hoffman v Beau Scott. Both veteran second rowers have had long, successful careers. Both are leaders of their team, despite not being the captain. Hoffman is the bigger threat in attack and will provide the Knights with trouble on the left edge. Scott will inspire his team through his tough defence, as he did last week when he was rightfully awarded with the man of the match award.

Cameron Smith v Danny Buderus. As I played hooker (the position, for those who have a dirty mind) during my rugby league career, I watched Buderus and Smith play with significant interest while I was growing up. These are the two best hookers that I have ever seen play and this is the final clash between these two. Maybe it’s fitting that Buderus’ last game will be against his greatest rival. Then again, it might not be his last.

Prediction

This game should be a lot closer than the first game. Newcastle won’t make it easy for Melbourne and I expect a close game like the last two meeting between these sides. However, I think the Knights lack a killer punch while the Storm does not lack such instinct. As a result, I think Melbourne will win.

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