NRL stars tip against Bulldogs, Storm
Despite finishing first and second at the end of the NRL season, Canterbury and Melbourne aren’t at the top of everyone’s list when it comes to picking the grand final winners.
Some of the code’s biggest names instead see the teams fighting out positions three through five as well-placed to snatch the premiership.
Cronulla’s star five-eighth Todd Carney saw first hand what second-placed Melbourne have to offer when the Sharks were run down by the Storm in the dying seconds of Monday night’s match.
And he’s certainly aware of what Canterbury are capable of following their recently-ended 12-game winning streak that has them on the verge of winning the minor premiership.
But he, like retiring Parramatta champion Nathan Hindmarsh, sees fourth-placed Manly as the team to beat – with fifth-placed North Queensland as their main rival.
Hindmarsh sees the danger value in third-placed South Sydney.
Carney’s Sharks have defeated the Rabbitohs and Storm this year and were only beaten by the Bulldogs while without their Origin stars.
But it’s the Cowboys’ one-two punch of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen, and Manly’s rumbling back into the form which swept them to last year’s premiership, which has piqued the playmaker’s interest.
“If I had to rate two teams (from the top eight), it would be them and Manly at the moment,” Carney said on Thursday.
Seven-time premiership-winning coach Wayne Bennett said last week that the Cowboys would remain a serious threat for as long as they have the Thurston/Bowen partnership.
And ahead of his showdown with the Cowboys on Sunday, Carney couldn’t agree more.
“It’s always a good challenge playing against the best and (Thurston) is the best,” Carney said.
“He’s been showing that along with Matty Bowen. It’s going to be a tough challenge.
“But if you put all your focus on JT, other players around stand up.
“(Thurston and Bowen have) been playing for a long time. They’ve got a knack of being in the right position at the right time.
“But the thing with the Cowboys is they don’t always go to JT now.
“And Bowen’s on the opposite side of the field to him.
“You’ve got to assess it and know where it’s going to go and it’s easier said than done. It’s going to be a tough task.”
Hindmarsh said the fact that Manly have won two premierships in recent years will serve them well going into the crunch games.
However, the former NSW and Test second-rower believes the Rabbitohs can rise to their first premiership since 1971.
“I think Manly – they’ve just got a lot of big names and big game experience,” Hindmarsh told AAP.
“They’ve got guys who have won grand finals before so they know what to expect.
“And I think if Souths can play as well … on their day, they can be hard to beat as well.”© AAP 2013