NRL previews for week one of finals
ROOSTERS V BRONCOS
First Qualifying Final
Allianz Stadium, 7.55pm
Played 45, Broncos 27, Roosters 18
At Allianz: Played 24, Broncos 14, Roosters 10
Last met: Roosters 18-16, round 13, 2017
THE Roosters head into tonight's finals opener as the comeback kings of the season - from 15th to second after three years as NRL heavyweights. And, apart from suspended interchange forward Zane Tetevano, they are healthy and coming off three consecutive wins. Conversely, the Broncos are stumbling into the finals without skipper Darius Boyd, prop Korbin Sims and hooker Andrew McCullough, and with a flogging at the hands of the Eels two weeks ago still fresh in their memory bank. But this is a different competition and with three of their six grand final wins coming their way at tomorrow's venue, the undermanned Broncos will hold no fears. As is the case with all big games, the pack that dominates should win and in that department the Roosters have a decided edge. The selection of Kodi Nikorima at fullback for the Broncos raises question marks.
STORM V EELS
Second Qualifying Final
AAMI Park, 4.10pm
Played 32, Storm 19, Eels 13
At AAMI: Played 5, Storm 3, Eels 2
Last met: Eels 22-6, round 18, 2017
NO TEAM in NRL premiership history has dominated a competition as the Storm has in 2017 and few statistics could sway a fair dinkum punter away from them, at home, tomorrow. But if anyone has the key to unlocking the secrets of this brilliant team it may be former coaching assistant Brad Arthur, the man who has transformed the Eels from shambolic to heroic in just 12 months. Arthur and his men, who used pure brutality to smash the Broncos two weeks ago, have already humbled the Melbourne machine back in round 18 and won on two of their previous five visits to AAMI Park. So despite the immediate road ahead being harsh, they cannot be underestimated. The clash of Fijian wingers Suliasi Vunivalu and Semi Radradra will be one of many absorbing head-to-heads, but the spotlight will shine most brightly on Cameron Smith who becomes the most capped player in the game in his 356th NRL appearance.
SEA EAGLES V PANTHERS
First Elimination Final
Allianz Stadium, 7.40pm
Played 85, Sea Eagles 51, Panthers 33, drawn 1
At Allianz: First meeting
Last met: Sea Eagles 28-12, round 26, 2017
THE contrasting recent records of these sides most certainly demands reflection. On the back of six successive losses the Sea Eagles have won two in a row while the Panthers have lost their past two after winning seven back to back. That points to the Sea Eagles being in better current form, but despite their 28-12 win just last weekend over tomorrow's opponents nothing is a certainty between these talented but erratic teams. If the Panthers are to win James Tamou and the gifted Bryce Cartwright must step up, while skipper Peter Wallace has to offer variety from dummy half. For Manly to repeat last Sunday's great win they merely have to produce more of the same in what was a team effort that made other aspiring premiers take note. The major concern for the Panthers, apart from the Matt Moylan imbroglio, is whether teenage halfback Nathan Cleary has finally hit the wall.
TIP: Sea Eagles
SHARKS V COWBOYS
Second Elimination Final
Allianz Stadium, 4.10pm
Played 43, Sharks 27, Cowboys 16
At Allianz: Played 2, Sharks 2, Cowboys 0
Last met: Sharks 26-16, round 24, 2017
FOR most of the season the so-called experts have told us the Sharks were merely waiting for the finals and that would automatically switch them into overdrive. Not only has that time arrived, but so has the cavalry, with big guns Wade Graham and Jack Bird returning. Conversely the Cowboys, already without pillars Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott and a host of others including Test centre Justin O'Neill, have a long list of walking wounded and following a resounding loss to the Sharks just three weeks ago, face a real acid test. While courage will take the Cowboys only so far, the explosive talents of Jason Taumalolo and the on-field generalship of Jake Granville and Michael Morgan are imperative if they are to be a chance. For the Sharks to win they merely have to provide what won them last year's title - a pack that doesn't take a backward step.