Only three games remain in the 2013 NRL season. Rugby league writer Daniel Boss runs his eye over the preliminary finals and looks back at last weekend’s finals matches.
Post-Grand Final Articles
Following the Grand Final, I will write two articles. The first will be a look back at my predictions from the start of the season and the second will be a response to a piece I wrote two years ago with my ideas that I believe would help the game. There have recently been some issues arise but I will not comment on those until the season has passed.
Thoughts from the second week of the finals series
- Manly were slightly the better side on Friday night, yet you couldn’t take anything away from Cronulla. They just kept coming back and definitely finished the game the stronger.
- I would really like Manly’s chances for the title if they were fully fit. As I’ll mention later, they are just really plagued with injury at the moment. If Todd Carney was fit last week, then Cronulla would be playing Souths on Friday night.
- I had no problem with the Anthony Watmough try in the first half, but if the try to Jorge Taufua is a try than I will give it away. He clearly dropped it in my opinion.
- Full kudos to Newcastle. They were clearly the better team in last week’s game and probably deserved to win by more.
- The try just before halftime for the Knights was huge. They had the better of play in the first half but a 2 point lead would have been a benefit for Melbourne.
- Melbourne just looked tired. With many of their players playing at the World Cup, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Melbourne have a slow start to next season.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Manly Sea Eagles
The Rabbits were able to rest up and get Greg Inglis’ knee stronger as a result of last week’s bye. It seems like an age ago when they impressively put away Melbourne in the first night of the finals. Since then, Manly has played two high-intensity matches against the Roosters and Cronulla. They looked very fatigued in the second half of last week’s game and many of their players are carrying injuries. Both sides have named 7-man benches to cover any injuries or withdrawals that occur before the game. Souths have named the same players 1 to 17 that beat Melbourne two weeks ago, which is not unusual for them. The additions to the extended bench are Ben Lowe, Luke Keary and Matt King. Brett Stewart has once again been named to start at fullback for many, even though he was a late withdrawal for the last two games. He is likely to play but surely won’t be fully fit and Hiku is on the extended bench to fill in if Stewart again can’t play. Players 2 to 17 are the same as last week for Manly, with the two additions to the 7-man bench being James Hasson and David Gower.
These two teams have played twice this year, with Souths winning both clashes. The first was a fiery round 7 game, as Souths were far too strong and won 20-12 at Brookvale Oval. The second was remembered for the Geoff Toovey post-game rant, as Souths came from behind to win 22-10 in Gosford. This win got their season back on track.
Key stats/interesting facts
Both teams scored 588 points in the regular season, to be tied for third in the NRL in attack. In the last clash between these two sides in the finals, Manly came out on top with a 30-6 win in the first week of the 2007 finals series at Brookvale Oval. The last time Souths beat Manly in the finals was in the 1984 Minor Semi Final at the SCG, to the tune of 22 points to 18.
Adam Reynolds v Daly Cherry-Evans. Both players were instrumental in the last victory of their respective sides. Reynolds’ kicking game will be crucial as they don’t want to give Manly good field position, as they are so dangerous in attack. Cherry-Evans’ running game will again be a key as a good running game will open up space for the strong backline.
Sam Burgess v Anthony Watmough. Earlier in the week, John Sutton called for Sam Burgess to eliminate some of his ‘grub’ acts. The thing is that he doesn’t need to be a niggler as his running game is very strong and is one of the hardest hitters in the league. However, this could also describe Watmough’s game over the past decade. He won’t be the same dynamic runner as he once was (as a result of his knee injury) but he will look to lead Manly to victory.
Greg Inglis v Brett Stewart. I’m assuming that Stewart will play in this game. Inglis is the main strike weapon for Souths in attack. His strong running game and touches of class will be hard for Manly to contend with when defending on their own line. Even at 90%, Stewart is an upgrade on Hiku at fullback. His timing, experience and positional play will boost the Manly side. As mentioned last week, Stewart has an ability to straighten up the attack to provide more space to the outside backs.
At full strength, I would really like Manly’s chances in this game. However, I just think that they won’t have enough in the tank to win. I think that South Sydney will win this game. If Souths can get an early lead, I can’t Manly having the energy to be able to make a comeback. The first 20 minutes of this game is huge.
Sydney Roosters v Newcastle Knights
Amongst the other three powerhouse sides, there remains an underdog. Playing the underdog are the gritty Newcastle Knights, who played out of their skin to beat Melbourne in Melbourne in a finals match. The Roosters were able to heal their wounds with a bye last weekend, following their hard fought win against Manly in the first week of the finals. The Roosters have named a 6-man bench for this game, as they welcome back a couple of front rowers. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves returns to start at prop, which means that O’Donnell moves back to the bench. The other addition is Isaac Liu, who is named on the extended bench. Newcastle only has one change from last week, with James McManus returning to one wing to replace Naiqama. The Knights are the only side to not name an extended bench for this weekend’s games.
There was only one clash between these two teams, with the Roosters getting up 28-12 in Round 20 in Newcastle. The game was a lot closer than the score suggests as the Roosters scored two late tries to seal the game. Newcastle is playing a lot better now than they were in Round 20.
Key stats/interesting facts
The Roosters possess the NRL’s best defence, having conceded 325 points for the whole season. Newcastle finished with the best defence outside of any teams in the top 4, as they conceded 422 points in the regular season. However, this defence has gone to another level during the finals, as they have only conceded 11 points per game. The last time these two sides played in the finals, was in the first week of the 2003 finals series, which the Roosters won 36-8 against an Andrew Johns-less Knights. The last time the Knights beat the Roosters in the finals was in the first week of the 2001 finals series, by 40-6. From 1998 to 2003, these two sides played 5 times in the finals with the Roosters winning all but one.
Sonny Bill Williams v Willie Mason. I know that one is a second rower and the other is a prop but this is a clash that will be hyped prior to the game. It will probably be the last clash between these two players. Williams is the best forward in the game right now and dangerous both with and without the ball. Mason is the spiritual leader of the Knights team and will look to stir SBW at all times during the game, as he did to James Graham in the first week of the finals.
James Maloney v Jarrod Mullen. One is the current New South Wales five eight and the other would like another shot at the Origin arena. However, both are focused on getting their clubs to a Grand Final. Maloney’s support play and running game will be focal points for the Roosters attack. Mullen’s kicking game will also be a key, as Tuivasa-Sheck and Tupou are very strong ball runners. The Knights won’t want to give those two a lot of space on kick returns.
Michael Jennings v Joseph Leilua. These two centres will line up against each other. Jennings has proved that he can step up in big games, while Leilua will be out to avenge his former team. While Leilua has been great in attack for the Knights during the finals series, his defence will be important in this game as the Roosters are stronger attacking down their left, Jennings’ side of the field.
While the Knights have been incredibly gutsy over the last couple of weeks, the Roosters have more class in attack than Melbourne and Canterbury. To put it simply, I think the Roosters will win as they will have too many points in them. Sure, the Knights’ defence has been great but their lack of ability to come up with a match-winning play in attack will hurt them in this one.