League Freaks 2011 NRL Finals Preview

Last season felt like most of the competition was in transition and only a couple of teams were really primed for a real shot at the title. This season we have a number of different clubs ready to roll.

The Storm are looking for redemption. The Dragons are looking to prove it wasn’t just a fluke. The Broncos are looking to start a dynasty. The Tigers are looking towards Benji. The Cowboys are looking to make up for lost time. The Warriors are looking to prove they can go further. The Sea Eagles are looking for sympathy and the Knights, well, they are just happy to be here!

This is already shaping as a fantastic finals series with so many sub plot’s that even the writers of Inception would eventually get lost in the story line!

I’ve listed the teams taking part in the finals in the order that I expect them to be contenders in. There are a few surprises, and then there are the Newcastle Knights.

So get ready for greatness baby!

Melbourne Storm
I said at the beginning of the season that the Melbourne Storm were clear cut favorites in my mind and this season they showed why. Their run into the finals hasn’t been ideal but if they can get an easy first up win against the Newcastle Knights this weekend, the week off will be great for them.

The one question mark you would have to have over the Storm is whether they are capable of stepping up to another level in the finals. They have been so good this season, so consistent, but in the finals they will have to be even better.

I think they can take that step, but to do so they will need Slater, Smith, Cronk and Widdop all on the field and playing at their best.

New Zealand Warriors
I can’t believe that people have been so down on the Warriors. Looking at their second half of the season and the way some of their youngsters took a step forward, this is a Warriors side that is very different to the Warriors team most people are expecting.

The Warriors always have the ability to be a tough opponent, but with Maloney, Locke and Johnson, the Warriors now also have the ability to break a game open from no where. They have as good of an X Factor as any other team in the competition.

If they do go all the way, they will need to win four games, and I think this season that is a monumental task.

Part of me wonders if it is a year or two early for them. If Ivan Cleary was staying I would guarantee the Warriors would win the Premiership in the next three years. I wonder if this is the season of getting close, but being disappointed, that they need to get stuck in and take themselves that one step further.

What ever the case, this is the team no one wants to have to face. If they turn up on their game, they could belt any of the teams in this finals series.

Brisbane Broncos
A young team that is going to be great in the near future, oh and they have Darren Lockyer leading them. If the Broncos win the Premiership this season, it would not be a huge surprise. They are ready.

The loss of Hoffman is big but they will cover that. The big question is whether they will still be alive when Sam Thaiday comes back. His loss is a massive blow and will really hurt their attack, more than most people are expecting.

I think the Broncos still have the ability to overwhelm their opponents though, and you just can not discount Darren Lockyers ability to come up with something unbelievable when the pressure it as its highest.

If they can manage to be around when Thaiday has served his suspension, they just about become favorites. A tough task, but they stand as one of the threats for the title without him anyway.

West Tigers
I’ve not rated the Tigers because I don’t rate their forward pack, however a few of their youngsters have stepped up in that regard and given them something up front. At the end of the day the Tigers are all about one man, the best player in the world, Benji Marshall.

It doesn’t matter how the Tigers are playing, Marshall has the ability to drag this side kicking and screaming to a win. He can turn a game on its head in a matter of minutes. In many of their best performances where people have said how good they have played, it has simply been Marshall throwing down one of those special performances.

That is what the Tigers entire season hinges on. Can Benji Marshall win the Premiership?

Manly Sea Eagles
I think this season Des Hasler has worked out the timing of the teams run just right. He has them peaking at the right time and not worn out after playing at 100 miles an hour for an entire season. Be great in September, leave being great in March to South Sydney.

I worry about the Sea Eagles ability to score points in the big games when the whips are really cracking. They are relying on a young halves combination and a rookie halfback. As good as he is, he is about to face the monster that is finals football for the very first time.

I think the Storm will throw a completely different look at the Sea Eagles should they meet again in the finals. Lets hope they do, it would be an epic game.

I just worry that they can’t take that next step in the big games and crack the better defenses they will now see.

St George/Illawarra Dragons
I don’t buy that the Dragons are over their slump which started when Wayne Bennett took the highest paying “challenge” in coaching history and started recruiting players, including Dragons, for the Newcastle Knights.

For all thee talk about Jamie Sowards form, no one seems to mention Ben Hornby and the fact he has been so terrible this season that he has become a terrible liability to the team. The Dragons forwards are not playing as they once did and teams are finding ways to break down their once great defense.

The slump aside, the one thing that has been hanging over the Dragons for more than a year now can not be ignored. The Purple People Eaters from down south are just waiting for their chance to beat up on the Dragons.

I said last year the Dragons won the Premiership in a transitional year. The only great side last season were done for a salary cap breach and the Dragons win the title. This year, we have a number of teams that can step up when it counts.

The competition has left the Dragons behind. They won’t win it.

North Queensland Cowboys
They have some big game players and most importantly, Mattew Bowen is injury free and playing outstanding football. Jonathan Thurston needs to step up and go with him now if the Cowboys are to be any threat to win this years Premiership.

I think it is almost a season too early for the Cowboys, and yet, Bowen and Thurston are probably ready right now. It shows how important timing is in football.

I can seen the Cowboys causing problems in the finals but I just can’t see them being around in the semi finals when the big guns are at their best. I think their defense isn’t where it needs to be.

Newcastle Knights
Just scrapped into the finals series after the South Sydney Rabbitohs realized they are the South Sydney Rabbitohs.!

The Knights are just making up the numbers. They have no chance what so ever of being any threat of winning the Premiership.

So there you have it!

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