Players to watch for in the NRL finals
Mercurial Billy Slater for the Melbourne Storm in the NRL (Image: AAP)
Finals football is a brand new season for all involved. It’s a time for tactics and team excellence; a period of courage and resilience for those carrying injuries at the back end of a long domestic competition.
And it’s a stage for the game’s champions to strut their stuff.
The finals also doubles as a theatre for the nervous and the nerveless.
Who can survive and ultimately thrive in such rarified air?
Each of the eight finalists have their go-to men such as Cooper Cronk, Glenn Stewart, Jonathan Thurston, Greg Inglis and Ben Barba.
The coaches expect their big names to perform, but I believe there are specific players they are sweating on to produce their best football and ignite their teams’ finals fires.
Here is my list of ‘Little Lucifers’ and I wonder if it is similar to yours:
TONY WILLIAMS (Manly):
This giant of a man has been gradually powering back to his rampaging best form after suspension. If T-Rex pushes the go-button when he is on the field tonight, heaven help any Bulldogs who cross his path. Interestingly, he will be playing with these guys and coach Des Hasler next season – what better time than to leave a brilliant impression?
JOSH REYNOLDS (Canterbury)
A richly talented young five-eighth with the skills to develop into one of rugby league’s finest. Has incredible strength and self-belief when tackling and running the ball but he is experiencing finals footy for the first time. If he can maintain the rage, the Dogs might be heading for another premiership.
WADE GRAHAM (Cronulla)
Outstanding utility man who has played just one game since Round 20 due to a sternum injury. He returned in Round 23 against Newcastle but aggravated the injury and hasn’t featured in the top grade since. Graham has declared he is fit to play and has been named on an extended bench. A player with a definite X-factor in attack and defence.
JOSH McCRONE (Canberra)
A vastly improved performer for the Raiders who provides much of their attacking spark. Needs to take the line on as often as possible and confound the defence his strength, speed and deft passes.
ISAAC LUKE (Souths)
If Souths are going to record their first-ever win in Melbourne in 10 starts, they will need to seize control of the mid-field. This is where Luke is an attacking spearhead, puncturing the line repeatedly with his dummy half darts. If he can get the big Melbourne forwards back-pedalling, Souths have enough skill and point-scoring ability to dictate terms.
BILLY SLATER (Melbourne)
Returning from injury, Slater has shown only glimpses of his sizzling best form and has not picked up a best player award for some time. However, if he aims up in this one, the Storm’s firepower will be very hard to suppress no matter how well the Rabbitohs defend.
PETER WALLACE (Brisbane)
His organisational skills and kicking game will need to be at an all-time high for the Broncos to stay alive in the 2012 competition. Brisbane needs to counteract the Thurston/Bowen factor and Walsh can go a long way to doing so with his kicks and selective passing.
MICHAEL MORGAN (North Queensland)
Experiencing his first finals game but fortunate that it is at home in front of the Townsville faithful. The former Australian schoolboy rep from Toowoomba has been in fantastic form in recent weeks, feeding his runners superbly and doing what is needed to keep the Cowboys on the rampage.