The interchange bench: Should finals footy go back to the ‘burbs?

Riley Pettigrew Roar Guru

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    Week one of the finals saw plenty of thrills and controversy with three matches decided by less than two points. September is back with arguably the healthiest on-field product seen all year on display.

    The premiership race is well and truly alive and we are assured of a new winner in 2017. The game celebrated a champion in Melbourne while Sydney was overshadowed by poor attendance.

    Mitchell and Roosters crow, prove title threat
    Latrell Mitchell starred in a Sydney Roosters outfit that flexed their muscles on Brisbane Broncos to announce themselves as a serious title threat.

    The battle between second and third was closely contested with the Roosters racing away to an early lead with tries in the opening 20 minutes to both Aidan Guerra and Boyd Cordner. James Roberts put the Broncos on the board before the break, however, the Roosters regained momentum through a try to Luke Keary in the second half which was swiftly countered by a Corey Oates four-pointer.

    The momentum shifted towards the Broncos late in the game when Ben Hunt and Corey Oates ran in two tries in as many minutes, however, Latrell Mitchell put the nail in the coffin with five minutes remaining to give Easts a week off with a 24-22 victory.

    The match showed plenty of kinks in Brisbane’s armour with Anthony Milford targeted by the tricolours and struggling in defence. The Broncos’ lack of attacking flair has caused serious alarm bells to ring, prompting Wayne Bennett to fast track Darius Boyd’s return after the skipper was sorely missed.

    Sam Thaiday Brisbane Broncos NRL Rugby League Finals 2017

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    Parramatta prove the premiership race may be closer than we thought
    Coming into week one of the finals, the Melbourne Storm were seen as unbeatable but the Parramatta Eels showed in their qualifying final match-up that the premiership race may be closer than we thought.

    Despite nabbing an early try through Josh Addo-Carr, the Storm were put to the test and were unable to capitalise on early opportunities. Parramatta took advantage of Melbourne’s ill discipline when Cameron Munster was sin-binned for a professional foul in the 23rd minute for stopping a quick tap.

    Brad Arthur’s men gathered momentum with tries to Kirisome Auva’a and Will Smith in the space of eight minutes putting them in front at half-time.

    Melbourne proved their never say die attitude with early second half tries to Kenny Bromwich and Billy Slater, showing they are made for finals football.

    Behind on the scoreboard, Semi Radradra struck for Parramatta in the 66th minute to close the margin to two points, however the Storm hung onto their lead to secure a home preliminary final.

    #Cam356, a true legend of the game
    Melbourne’s game against Parramatta saw Cameron Smith celebrated in his 356th first-grade appearance, seeing the Kangaroos captain overtake Darren Lockyer as the most capped player in NRL history.

    22,626 fans turned up to congratulate Smith on his achievement, celebrating his legacy to rugby league and rugby league in Melbourne. Since arriving in the Victorian capital as a 17-year-old from Logan, Smith has helped to turn the Storm into a premiership contender and entrenched his name in rugby league folklore.

    Smith’s achievement is nothing short of astonishing and he doesn’t look like retiring anytime soon with his sights set on becoming the first player to reach 400 games.

    A true legend of the game on the field and devout clubman and gentleman off the field, congratulations on 356 games, Cam.

    Cameron Smith

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Manly cry foul in loss to Panthers. Did Peachey really score?
    The Penrith Panthers have sent Manly out of the finals in a thrilling clash at the SFS, triumphing 22-10.

    In what was a fast-paced match, the chocolate soldiers bounced back from a 28-12 loss at the hands of the Silvertails just a week earlier.

    Dylan Walker and Tom Trbojevic provided some exciting moments for the maroon and white while Bryce Cartwright was instrumental in a winning Penrith side steered by Nathan Cleary, who showed plenty of experience and maturity.

    The match was closely contested up until the 74th minute when Tyrone Peachey was awarded a controversial try which ultimately proved to be the deciding moment in the game. The on-field decision was try and it was ruled that the ball had touched Peachey’s knee and not his hand due to there being insufficient evidence.

    Manly fans and media personalities alike have questioned whether the on-field referee should make a decision before sending the try to the Bunker. Was it a try or not? Only Tyrone Peachey knows.

    Title defence over as Sharks fall at the final hurdle
    The Cronulla Sharks’ hopes of being the first team to go back-to-back since the 1990-91 Broncos have ended after going down in extra time to the North Queensland Cowboys.

    The black, white and blue started strong with an early try to Chad Townsend, taking the lead into half-time before Kyle Feldt struck early in the second half to put the visitors on the board.

    Jack Bird struck back for the Sharks in a low-scoring encounter before Jason Taumalolo found the chalk in what was a sensational match for the Kiwis enforcer. A 77th-minute penalty goal to Ethan Lowe saw the scores level after 80 minutes at 14-14.

    With the match sent into extra time, Michael Morgan kicked a field goal in the 85th minute, leaving Cronulla five minutes to scramble for a field goal. Their premiership defence was cruelled when a botched Andrew Fifita offload went to ground, giving the Cowboys a glimmer of hope after last week looking unlikely to even make the eight.

    Paul Gallen Cronulla Sharks NRL Rugby League Finals 2017

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    Should finals footy go back to the ‘burbs?
    Sydney’s Allianz Stadium hosted three matches over the weekend with empty stadiums watching some quality contests bringing up the age-old question as to whether the NRL should bring back the suburban ground for finals matches.

    The highest attendance of the round came at Melbourne’s AAMI Park with 22,626 in attendance while the Roosters’ home game against the Broncos drew in 21,212.

    The other two games, however, drew small crowds with the neutral venue in play. Manly fans failed to travel past the Spit Bridge and the Penrith Panthers were left to drive hours to get the ground, so only 15,408 fans turned up.

    Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Sharks were the only fans in attendance against an interstate Cowboys side with 16,115 people coming through the gates. 15,000 fans in a 40,000-seat stadium is always going to look much worse than 15,000 at Shark Park or Brookvale Oval.

    The suburban ground provides an atmosphere and game day experience which the big grounds such as ANZ Stadium and Allianz Stadium can’t provide.

    As an idea from outside of the box, if Brookvale is ruled unfit Manly could build a fortress at Central Coast Stadium. Imagine 20,000 fans nestled into Gosford watching a game with Brisbane Water and palmtrees in the background. Finals football would become the hottest ticket in town and the entire region would come to a halt.

    Another option is a Sydney double-header. The NRL had a free kick as the only sport being played on Sunday, opening the opportunity for an Allianz Stadium double-header where they could have had a packed house.

    For week one of the finals, rugby league should return to the suburban grounds or at the very least the NRL should explore better options than playing at an empty stadium hours away from either side’s home base.

    NRL Finals empty seats

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    Extra time is great, let’s keep it
    The Sharks’ elimination final against the North Queensland Cowboys was the first time that extra time has been played under the NRL’s new format and although Cronulla fans may beg to differ, it was great.

    Both sides had ten minutes to get points on the board before the game would go to golden point, making it as fair as possible and ensuring that the first team to kick a field goal isn’t guaranteed the victory.

    Golden point is always a topic of conversation, especially when the margin is a field goal and the opposing team isn’t given a chance to reply and the extra ten minutes may just provide the solution if matches are drawn after 80 minutes.

    Papua New Guinea in the hunt for premiership glory
    The Papua New Guinea Hunters have qualified for the Intrust Super Cup grand final with a 6-4 victory over the Redcliffe Dolphins in Port Moresby.

    It was a low scoring affair in the capital with the Dolphins establishing a 4-0 buffer at half-time through two penalty goals only to be unable to recover from an Ase Boas try in the 62nd minute, clinching the Hunters’ credentials in their quest for a maiden premiership.

    The Dolphins will now lock horns with the Sunshine Coast Falcons who knocked off rivals Easts Tigers 26-22 at Langlands Park. The battle for Moreton Bay will determine who meets Papua New Guinea in the final.

    Meanwhile, south of the Tweed, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs defeated Illawarra 32-14 at Kogarah seeing them through to a preliminary final match-up against Penrith. The New Zealand Warriors managed to topple the Newcastle Knights, booking a date with the Wyong Roos.

    Over in the UK, Warrington confirmed their place in the 2018 Super League while Leeds secured a home semi-final. It was a good weekend for fans of Hull KR with the Robins returning to the top flight following their 12-6 victory over Widnes.

    The Toronto Wolfpack meanwhile confirmed what we already knew with their 26-2 win over Barrow seeing them finish on top of League 1 and guaranteeing their spot in the Championship for the 2018 season.

    Roarers, what did you make of NRL finals week one?

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