Canterbury and Melbourne the clear favourites for NRL Grand Final
Canterbury Bulldogs - Minor Premiers - but can they make the 2012 NRL Grand Final? (Image: AAP)
Eight became six as of yesterday afternoon, but it may as well have been reduced to a race in two. No-one will be able to stop Canterbury and Melbourne making the NRL grand final.
The only question mark hanging over the Bulldogs heading into their clash with Manly on Friday night was whether or not the halves combination of Kris Keating and Josh Reynolds would be able to handle the pressure.
Keating was a picture of composure as he has been so often this year.
This version of the Cabramatta junior is a far cry from the kid at Parramatta who looked like being just another in a long line of players to be cast aside for not being Peter Sterling.
Instead of unfulfilled potential, the Bulldogs have a number seven with purpose and poise who is relishing playing behind the most damaging, yet at the same time skilful, forward pack in the competition.
Manly, dealing with an injury to Jamie Lyon and suspension concerns surrounding prop Jason King and centre Steve Matai, will get past North Queensland on Friday night.
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy will finally be able to breathe a little easier this week (not that he will).
The Storm have been winning ugly for the last fortnight and the coach admitted as much, but on Saturday night against South Sydney they were back to their brilliant best.
It was a matter of when and not if things started to click again. The Rabbitohs copped a hiding that would’ve been afforded to almost any team in the competition. The foundation club just happened to be the helpless victims.
Michael Maguire has done wonders, albeit with a hugely talented squad, this year. It still seems a year too early though.
He instilled enough belief and discipline to get them through the regular season, but the finals are a different ball game, and they found that out the hard way at the weekend.
Souths should get the better of Canberra at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
There’s something romantic about both of those clubs.
Souths, the team with the most premierships of any club, starved of success for so long and now close to being restored to their former glory.
Canberra has a briefer history, but who could ever forget the green machine of the late eighties and early nineties? Meninga, Daley, Clyde, Stewart and Nagas were household names.
Their modern day counterparts don’t have the same type of marquee billing, but they’re still winning. Their season should be considered a success even if they fail to beat the Bunnies.
Manly and South Sydney should march on to the preliminary finals, but given what we saw on Friday and Saturday night, it’s hard to see them turning the tables on Canterbury and Melbourne.
You can follow Luke Doherty on Twitter @Luke_Doherty and on Sky News Australia.