The first week of the NRL Finals series kicks off this weekend and it is shaping up as the NRL marketers dream. There are so many big match ups in the first week of the finals and the new finals system should make things easier for fans to follow too.
The NRL captains call was held this morning and I felt like it was a shame the NRL didn’t allow all 28 of the South Sydney Rabbitohs captains to take part. I also found it strange that Terry Campese was there to represent the Canberra Raiders. Isn’t he retired these days?
Anyway lets have a look at the first four games of the NRL Finals series for season 2012:
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Manly Sea Eagles
What a way to kick off the NRL Finals series! This is currently the biggest grudge match in Rugby League. Both teams are in great form, in fact, both teams look a class above the rest of the competition.
At this stage I think one of these teams will win the Grand Final. Manly is in the better form and they have a battle hardened look about them too. They are carrying a few injuries, but they are just powering on regardless. By only worry about them at this point is that playing at such a high level for so long will eventually burn them out.
The Bulldogs are going to test them out, especially up front. This will be nothing short of a war between two great forward packs, but where the Bulldogs have a bit of an edge is the ball playing ability of nearly all their forwards. They will test Manly throught the entire game right up the middle of the field and as soon as they get a sniff that something may be on, that is where you will be Barba and Reynolds kick into action.
For Manly their strength relies on attacking on the edges. With Glenn Stewart and Tony Williams, the Sea Eagles are constantly asking questions of the opposition, getting a good roll on from winning the ruck and then destrying a defensive line that just doesn’t get the time to recover.
The big thing I see going into this match is the midnset of both clubs. Theres been a bit of a celebratory feel about the last few days for the Bulldogs. Manly meanwhile have been quiet, they have nothing to celebrate, and they 100% focused on winning their next game. I think we could see a Dogs side full of confidence running into a battle hardend Sea Eagles outfit that teaches them a bit of a lesson about finals football. My Tip: Sea Eagles by 14
Melbourne Storm vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
This is going to be a great test for both sides.
The Melbourne Storm have been winning games, but their form is not all that great. Billy Slater hasn’t been the same since coming back from injury and Cooper Cronk has played poorly since the State of Origin series ended. I feel like the Storm just haven’t got the forward pack to win the competition, especially when all their big guns aren’t firing.
Souths are in good form but over the course of the season they havent proven then can beat the best teams on a regular basis. Their problem in the finals is going to be their halves. When Souths come up against the good team, their halves are forced to play under pressure, and they simply don’t come up to the mark. You can forgive Adam Reynolds, he is only a rookie, but look for John Sutton to go MIA against the Storm.
The X Factor in this game is going to be Greg Inglis. With the form he has displayed this season he has the ability to drag South Sydney kicking and screaming to a win. To do that though, players like Reynolds, Luke and the like need to atleast play decent games. The problem is, I can’t see the Storm allowing that. My Tip: Storm by 8
North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos
I really believe that if they hit some peak form, the Cowboys could take out the Grand Final this year. You can look to Thurston and Bowen, but I think the Cowboys charge through the finals has to come from Matthew Scott and James Tamou. If they both step up and start tearing through opposition packs, the Cowboys will be extremely difficult to beat.
The will be facing a Broncos team that looks busted at this point of the season. For mine, the Broncos have a few too many utility players in their side. Sure they are good footballers and they can get the job done, but how many of these Broncos players are outstanding at one thing? When you throw that in with the fact that their halves are playing terrible football at the moment, I just can not see them winning this game.My Tip: Cowboys by 10
Canberra Raiders vs Cronulla Sharks
At one point this season the Sharks were one of the favorites to take out the Grand Final and the Canberra Raiders were dead ducks. Now we have the 6th placed finishing Raiders hosting the 7th placed finishing Sharks in what is going to be a fantastic test for both clubs.
The Sharks form earlier this year was fantastic. I tipped them to play in the Grand Final against the Storm a few months ago. The second half of the season saw the Sharks struggle though. Injuries took their toll and you got the sense that the constant lineup changes just knocked them out of their stride. On their day, they can stifle and attack and frustrate their opposition out of a game. There are some question marks over the Sharks ability to score points, but this is a team that wants to drags you down and grind you into the turf.
The Raiders turn around over the last few weeks has been aided by some very ordinary opposition. Few of the sides they have played over the last month and a half have aimed up at all, and full credit to the Raiders, they took full advantage of it. Now they are facing a side that is not in great form, but who is certainly more battle hardened than they are. The Sharks will lose games, but the Raiders have the ability to lose games by 40 out of no where.
I don’t think home field advantage helps the Raiders all that much in this game. The Sharks play on a cold, slippery surface at Sharks Park all the time and they seem like the type of team that will revel in the freezing Canberra night. My Tip: Sharks by 4
Why I Dont Like This Finals System
To me is feels wrong that the Minor Premiers play a tougher match in week one than the 8th placed team. All of the top four teams are basically on even footing right now. If they win, they get a week off and are straight through to week three of the finals. If they lose, they get a second chance. When you look at week one of the finals, the Bulldogs have the hardest game of the first round, and that just doesn’t sit right with me.
On the positive side, it is a much easier system to understand for casual fans.
So who do you think will win this weekends games? Log in and have your say!
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