No one gives a stuff about teams that lose in the semi finals. They get so close to being in the Grand Final, and yet they are not even a footnote in history when it comes down to it.
This week we have four teams all with stories to tell about their journey to get this far. Some stories are better than others, but ultimately it will be the drive to complete those stories that will determine our 2012 NRL Grand Finalists.
With a sell out crowd expected in Melbourne and 80,000 expected in Sydney, this weekend is one of the biggest in NRL Finals history. So, lets have a look at the games!
Melbourne Storm vs Manly Sea Eagles
We have some unfinished business here ladies and gentlemen!
Over the last 5 years both the Melbourne Storm and Manly Sea Eagles have been the two dominant teams in the NRL. They have met in Grand Finals, both beating each other in the decider, and had numerous on and off field battles. At no point since the Storm were found guilty of systematic breaches of the salary cap have these two really been able to face off in a really big game that will decide who comes out on top in the battle.
Now we will get our winner takes all showdown!
The Melbourne Storm probably needed the week off just to allow them to get over a few niggling injuries. They have a fantastic record down in Melbournes AAMI Park and I dare say that this is the match up they expected when they won the right to get week 2 of the finals off.
The Sea Eagles meanwhile probably needed to play on last week after their week one finals loss to the Bulldogs. While they were not at their best against the Cowboys, they still managed to get the win. Even accounting for the terrible refereeing in that game, the Sea Eagles were the better side on the night.
Both teams will line up with all of their big guns on the field. They are very different sides, both well coached and both are looking to make the Grand Final to make a point, although for very different reasons.
For the Storm, a win in this game will mean redemption. Every since their salary cap scandal everyone involved with the club has had a monkey on their back they’ve been looking to shake off. For the Sea Eagles, they are the defending Premiers and after the way last seasons Premiership victory was torn apart by club infighting and player movement, they want to prove they are still the best team in the competition no matter who decides to up and leave them.
The Sea Eagles have a better forward pack than the Storm and with Tony Williams and Glenn Stewart working the edges, they are going to cause havok for the Storm. I think we will see them try to target Gareth Widdop in the defensive line and send a lot of traffic his way. Both Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran need to step up in this game. They are not been at their best for the last few weeks and they can’t afford to have quiet games at this point of the season.
The Storm will run everything off the back of Cameron Smith, whose form lately has been unbelieveable. The Storm will be looking for Cooper Cronk to step up and get the better of his younger, less experienced opponents and they must get a big game from Billy Slater who has been below par since the end of the State Of Origin series.
I expect to see the Sea Eagles coming out and being really strong up front. The Storm will need to just go with them early on and not allow them to get on too much of a roll. I feel like the Sea Eagles could dominate this game if they can get the better of posession early on and keep the Storm in their own half of the field. The Storms workmanlike pack can be worn down if they spend the early part of the game just having to hit the ball up from deep within their own half. If the Sea Eagles can get the Storm pack having to do pure grunt work early on, it will be money in the bank for later in the game.
On the flip side, if the Storm can win the battle of field position is will allow Smith to get them on a roll. The Storm are great at working opposition teams over around the ruck and it is when they get that roll on they will spread the ball wide and Cronk and Slater will then open up their various options either out wide or back up the middle against a defense that is back pedaling.
The battle between the two halves pairing will be key, but also the pure meters taked from kick returns will mean that both Billy Slater and Brett Stewart and have as much of an influence on field position as the kickers. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the Storm simply looking to kick the ball over the dead ball line rather than allowing Stewart to get into the game. The Storm will give up that 20 meter tap and have the Sea Eagles in a controlled start rather than having Stewart running into possibly a broken defensive line.
Official Team Line Ups
Storm: Billy Slater, Sisa Waqa, Dane Neilsen, Will Chambers, Justin O’Neill, Gareth Widdop, Cooper Cronk, Jessie Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Bryan Norrie, Sika Manu, Ryan Hoffman, Ryan Hinchcliffe. Interchange: Todd Lowrie, Jason Ryles, Jaiman Lowe, Kevin Procter, Rory Kostjasyn, Mahe Fonua, Richie Fa’aoso (Three to be omitted)
Sea Eagles: Brett Stewart, Jorge Taufua, Steve Matai, Jamie Lyon, Dean Whare, Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Jason King, Matt Ballin, Brent Kite, Anthony Watmough, Tony Williams, Glenn Stewart. Interchange: Jamie Buhrer, Joe Galuvao, Darcy Lussick, Vic Mauro, George Rose
Results Between These Two Teams In 2012
Round 15: Melbourne Storm 26 Many Sea Eagles 22 – Brookvale Oval
Played 22; Storm 12, Sea Eagles 10.
Manly have looked fantastic in recent weeks and they traveled down early for this game. You always have to worry about the effect a week off has on a side but I think in this case all the circumstances will see both teams facing off at just about their best. You get the feeling that this is the peak of the rivalry between these two teams. Who ever wins this game will have ultimate bragging rights. I like the Sea Eagles, but I just can not tip against the Storm in a semi final and at home in Melbourne. I think we will see the Storm win by 7 points in what will be a bit of a low scoring contest.
Canterbury Bulldogs vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Minor Premiers are coming off the week off and Des Hasler will have them set for battle, but one thing that is not being talked about right now is the fact that this Bulldogs team has not git a huge amount of NRL Finals experience.
You can not fault their 2012 season, and their first win of the finals series against the Sea Eagles was super impressive, but when it comes down to it there will be a lot of players in blue and white on Saturday night that will be playing in the biggest game of their lives, in front of the biggest crowd they have played in front of, and they go in as favorites expected to win this game. I imagine all of that is worrying the hell out of Des Hasler right now.
South Sydney come into this game pushed by a sea of emotion that is more than just about this one football game. This side of carrying so much expectation from a fan base that is made up mostly of people that have never seen them do well in a finals series. They now are one game away from what would be an historic Grand Final appearance, and you have to wonder how all that emotion will effect this Souths lineup.
The thing Souths have going for them is that a few of their key players have Grand Final experience. What effect that will have on their team mates will be seen on Saturday night, but I can say this. The Bulldogs big game breakers have never been this far while South Sydney’s biggest game breaker, Greg Inglis, is used to the pressure that comes from being one game away from a Grand Final.
Both forward packs are great however the Bulldogs have shown they can put down a full 80 minute performance. Souths have not done that yet this entire year. The last time Souths beat a top 4 side in 2012 was ironically back in round 6 against the Bulldogs in what was a very good win, but I feel the Dogs are a very different team now.
I can’t wait for the clash between the Rabbitohs Sam Burgess and the Bulldogs James Graham. Don’t for a second think that these two aren’t battling out to prove they are the best forward Great Britain currently has running around. This isn’t just about this game, this is a personal battle both will be looking to win.
If the Rabbitohs are going to win this game they need a big performance from Issac Luke who needs to run this great Bulldogs pack off their feet. He needs to push himself and play as much of this game as possible. They also need Greg Inglis to step up and do a bit of everything for them. I was critical of his week one performance against the Storm but last week against the Raiders he was much more involved. They need more of the same if they are to compete.
I can’t wait to see how Ben Barba goes in this game. I think he will be tested under the high ball in this match at every chance the Bunnies get. He is a fantastic player, but finals games are where you really make a name for yourself. He won’t be the only player under the spotlight with Josh Reynolds, Adam Reynolds, Dave Taylor and John Sutton all now key players in the biggest game of their careers.
It will be great to see how much trouble Michael Ennis can cause. Souths have a few fiery characters in their side and they really will need to keep their emotions in check because they can not afford to give the Bulldogs easy penalties. One last thing, Josh Morris has been in incredible form over the last few months. He can break this game wide open for the Dogs if he gets enough ball heading out his way.
Official Team Line Ups
Bulldogs: Ben Barba, Sam Perrett, Josh Morris, Krisnan Inu, Jonathan Wright, Josh Reynolds, Kris Keating, Aiden Tolman, Michael Ennis, Sam Kasiano, Frank Pritchard, Josh Jackson, Greg Eastwood. Interchange: James Graham, Dale Finucane, Corey Payne, David Stagg, Dene Halatau
Rabbitohs: Greg Inglis, Nathan Merritt, Chris McQueen, Dylan Farrell, Andrew Everingham, John Sutton, Adam Reynolds, Luke Burgess, Issac Luke, Roy Asotasi, Sam Burgess, David Taylor, Michael Crocker. Interchange: Nathan Peats, David Tyrrell, Eddy Pettybourne, Ben Lowe, Justin Hunt, Jason Clark (Two to be omitted)
Results Between These Two Teams In 2012
Round 6: South Sydney Rabbhtohs 20 Canterbury Bulldogs 10 – ANZ Stadium
Round 13: Caterbury Bulldohs 23 South Sydney Rabbitohs 18 – ANZ Stadium
Played 144; Bulldogs 76, Rabbitohs 64, drawn 4.
The Bulldogs have had the best possible preperation for this game and really, they should win. It comes down to how they handle the occasion, the massive crowd and the incredible drive there is behind their opponents to make history. If the Rabbtohs win this game we will see something I have never seen occur in my lifetime. That is a hell of a lot to face up against. I think the Bulldogs will win, but where is the fun in that? So I’m tipping the South Sydney Rabbitohs to win this game by 2 in what will be a bit of high scoring affair for a semi finals game.
So who do you think will win and by how much? Log in and have your say by commenting on this article!
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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