NRL Finals Preview: Week 2

What a week of football that just passed.

A great showcase of the game, with a thrilling contest between the Bunnies and the Storm, and the flogging of the Broncos being just some of the highlights. 

With an in form Broncos team knocked out, and the enigmatic Warriors also gone, the remaining teams are those that have been the most consistent throughout the season. Here is how the first rounds games panned out, and what this week’s elimination playoffs look like.

Semi Final 1: Cronulla Sharks vs Penrith Panthers @ Allianz Stadium, Friday 14th September, 7:40pm

On the back of a dominant win over the Warriors, a strong Panthers outfit will be looking to knock off the Cronulla Sharks, and will be inspired to get the win over their ex-playmaker Matt Moylan, who has had an inconsistent season for his new club. The Panthers overcame early dominance by the Warriors to record a solid win (27-12) on Saturday night. After scoring early in their match against the Roosters with a show of quality quick-hands, the Sharks drew the short straw and lost after what was a very impressive game.  The Roosters capitalised on their opportunities, while the Sharks often faltered at the last hurdle, with the game at 18-12 to the Roosters, Luke Lewis dropped the ball over the line, allowing the Roosters to get out of reach with a field goal, closing off the game.

Key match-up: The two men a part of a swap deal at the start of this season will be absolutely vital in this match-up (and also because it is a good story line). Maloney and Moylan both play in the halves and both will need to fire if their team has any chance of progressing in the finals series. Moylan linked with the ever dangerous Valentine Holmes a number of times in their last game and made a number of breaks – that combination will be important for the Sharks to succeed. Similarly the combination between Cleary and Peachey produced two tries for the Panthers and both seem to be able to seamlessly read what the other is doing and produce points.

Potential weakness: The Sharks were caught out on a number of occasions on their right hand side defence, with quick-hands and a bomb that a flying Daniel Tupou got a hand to. This could be the side the Panthers want to target to score tries around the Sharks. Similarly the Panthers’ left side defense was caught out by the pace of Johnson and Fusitua twice and could be susceptible to the pace of Holmes and playmaking of Moylan.

South Sydney Rabbitohs vs St George Illawarra Dragons @ ANZ Stadium, Saturday 15th December, 5:10pm

In the most dominant performance of the first week of finals, an out of form Dragons side completely outclassed the most in form team entering the Finals, the Broncos. In a 48-18 drumming, Tariq Sims managed to bag himself a first half hatrick, yes i’ll repeat that, a first half hatrick! The Dragons, who many turned their noses at, managed to produce the brand of football that took them to the top of the ladder midway through the season. Led by the animal that is Tyson Frizell, the Dragons forwards made strong runs all day and paved the way for their backs to put players through holes. The Rabbitohs were also impressive, narrowly going down 29-28 to a Storm comeback and a Munster field goal – they will be looking for retribution for all their hard work from the prior week.

Key match-ups: This game will be a battle of the forwards. The Dragons’ style of play is based around the amount of intensity and metres gained from their forwards, but if there is a pack that could stop them dead in their tracks it would be the huge Rabbitohs squad, led by the Burgess brothers who have had an unreal year. The collisions in this game are going to be huge, and with James Graham and Jack De Belin in doubt, the Dragons will be hoping for a miracle to include them in their starting lineups.

Potential weakness: With Gareth Widdop an integral part of the Dragons success, and him not being able to finish the game against the Broncos, his fitness will be vital. When Widdop plays, Ben Hunt is able to excel with freedom as Widdop does most of the directing, and set up tries, like he did against the Broncos. The Rabbitohs are an interesting team – I can’t pinpoint an exact weakness in them. The only thing that could be a potential weakness is the decision making of some of their forwards in offloading and other split second decisions. They play structured football that adapts to what is in front of them, and defend as a unit incredibly well, which combines to make them one of the most dynamic and potentially dangerous teams left in the finals race. The Storm just outplayed them last round, but they will come back fighting and be bigger and better than ever.