Predictions for week one of the NRL finals
Bulldogs NRL coach Des Hasler. AAP Image/Dean Lewins
The 2012 NRL season has resembled a game of poker. Teams who were touted as premiership favourites like the Wests Tigers were, it seems, bluffing.
No depth and an aversion to completing sets were their downfall over the latter stages of the season. They lost eight of their last 11-games.
Canberra, in contrast, proved to be the quiet one in the corner who made it to the final table without anyone really noticing.
They’ve got a shorter stack than their rivals, but have managed to keep winning with pocket two’s.
The top four was settled on Saturday night while the slightly less fashionable bottom four jockeyed for position among themselves yesterday.
So, it leaves us with eight remaining contenders.
(1) Canterbury v Manly (4) – Tip: Sea Eagles by 4
This fixture didn’t need any more fuel on what is a raging Des Hasler shaped fire, but with the chance to move one step closer to the grand final on the line, it’s set to explode.
They’ve played twice this year and strangely the away side has prevailed each time.
It will be interesting to see how the Dogs halves pairing of Josh Reynolds and Kris Keating handle the big game atmosphere.
Keating has, quite unexpectedly, re-ignited his career under Hasler while Reynolds seems to show no fear no matter how big the stakes.
Still, the class of Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran, who have now been there and done it before, combined with the firepower at their disposal both through the middle and out-wide will be hard to tame.
In another one for the fence sitters, the Sea Eagles haven’t lost since going down 20-12 to the Bulldogs in round 20.
(2) Melbourne v South Sydney (3) – Tip: South Sydney by 2
The Storm have been winning ugly for the last fortnight and for whatever reason Craig Bellamy, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater haven’t been able to turn it around.
Yes, it seems odd to say that they haven’t been able to turn it around while still winning.
However, a game-winning Will Chambers try in the 80th minute against Cronulla and a clash against a generally woeful Wests Tigers outfit in the final round has helped paper over some cracks that will be exposed by South Sydney if they’re not corrected.
The Rabbitohs looked impressive against Newcastle on Friday night. Greg Inglis is in career best form and is part of a side that is starting to believe it can challenge for higher honours after years of false dawns.
It’s probably a year too early for this side to win a premiership, but Melbourne hasn’t been punished for simple mistakes over the last two weeks and Maguire’s side won’t be so generous.
They’ve only played once so far this year and that was a 24-10 victory to the Storm in round two. These sides are in very different places now.
(5) North Queensland v Brisbane (8) – Tip: North Queensland by 10
Brisbane lost six of their last seven games and their attack looks about as threatening as a dog in a handbag.
The season after Darren Lockyer’s departure was always going to be tough, but the back half instead of the first has exposed problems.
The Broncos won seven of their first 10 games and seemed to be flying, but the leadership and direction of their long-time general has been sorely missed when mental and physical fatigue takes over a young side.
North Queensland, in contrast, has won four straight and there’s plenty to like about a side where Jonathan Thurston plays behind a forward pack that includes James Tamou, Gavin Cooper, Jason Taumalolo and Scott Bolton.
Add to that the continual threat of Matt Bowen and Brisbane could be in huge trouble.
(6) Canberra v Cronulla (7) – Tip: Canberra by 4
Cronulla had everything in their favour yesterday while the odds were stacked against Canberra.
At full time in their respective matches, the Raiders had been filled to the brim with belief while the Sharks were left to pick over the remains of a 36-22 loss to North Queensland at Toyota Stadium.
This was a match that should’ve showed off the best of Cronulla’s finals intentions.
Instead, it leaves a big cloud over whether or not they can fire a shot.
Canberra also looked down and out, but scored 36 unanswered points in the second half to win by 20 against the Warriors in New Zealand.
The comeback shows the Raiders are capable of devastating spells of play, but they’ll need to be ‘on’ from the first minute, instead of the 40th.
You can follow Luke Doherty on Twitter @Luke_Doherty and on Sky News Australia.