Bulldogs star Kieran Foran’s career is in the balance after news today that his troublesome right shoulder may force him to sit out all of next season.
The NRL finals series enters sudden death this weekend, with the premiership hopes of the Sydney Roosters and North Queensland Cowboys to go on the line when they face the Canterbury Bulldogs and Cronulla respectively.
The Roosters will be desperate to avoid becoming the first minor premiers to crash out of the finals in straight sets since the current finals system was implemented in 2012.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys will be out to exact some finals revenge on the Sharks and move through to their first preliminary final since 2007 when they welcome last year’s wooden spooners to Townsville on Saturday night.
Sydney Roosters versus Canterbury Bulldogs
Friday, September 18
Regular season results: Roosters 24-10 at ANZ Stadium in Round 10; Roosters 38-28 at Allianz Stadium in Round 21.
Last meeting in a final: Bulldogs 16-13 at ANZ Stadium, 2004 grand final.
The Roosters and Bulldogs will fight it out for a place in the preliminary final, where the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium await.
It will be the first time the two clubs have met in a final since the 2004 grand final, when a young rookie named Johnathan Thurston come off the bench for the Bulldogs in their 16-13 victory, in what was also Brad Fittler’s final NRL game.
Eleven years on, the two clubs renew hostilities with Sydney pride on the line, as only one local team is guaranteed to be represented in the penultimate weekend of the season.
The Roosters were unlucky to have gone down to the Melbourne Storm last Friday night, losing 20-18. However, they have 203-gamer Mitchell Pearce back and boosting their chances for this clash.
Last year’s grand finalists will still be without Trent Hodkinson, while Frank Pritchard’s availability is subject to the outcome of his kneeing charge on the Dragons’ Gareth Widdop.
Last Saturday night the Bulldogs upset the Dragons in a golden-point thriller, with Josh Reynolds kicking the match-winning field goal after Widdop had coughed up possession for the Dragons by putting a 40/20 attempt out on the full.
It was their second golden-point win in a finals match in as many seasons, after also upsetting the Manly Sea Eagles in last year’s semi-finals.
Now they have the chance to send the Roosters crashing out of the finals in straight sets, and given their recent win against the Broncos in Brisbane, the club will have reason to believe they can reach another grand final.
However, this match will be played at Allianz Stadium, which normally serves as the Roosters’ home ground. On the basis of that, the Chooks will start favourites.
They Dogs will put in a good effort, but it won’t be enough against the battle-hardened Roosters.
Prediction: Roosters by 12 points.
North Queensland Cowboys versus Cronulla Sharks
Saturday, September 19
Regular season results: Sharks 24-18 at 1300SMILES Stadium in Round 16; Sharks 30-18 at Remondis Stadium, Round 22.
Last meeting in a final: Sharks 20-18 at Allianz Stadium, first elimination final, 2013.
Two years after they were knocked out of the finals by the Sharks in controversial circumstances, the Cowboys are out to win through to their first preliminary final since 2007.
In one of the most controversial finals in recent history, the Sharks scored a seventh-tackle try that shouldn’t have been awarded and eventually proved to be the difference.
After the Cowboys’ defeat, captain Johnathan Thurston claimed a conspiracy against his side, saying that the media wanted an all-Sydney NRL grand final in response to Queensland’s State of Origin domination.
Two years on the northerners will be advantaged by the fact that this match will be played in Townsville, however the Sharks were the only team to defeat the Cowboys twice during the regular season, with victories away (Round 16) and at home (Round 22). The Sharks were also the only team to beat the Cowboys in Sydney all year.
That will give the Sharks some confidence, and they will be boosted by the news that Michael Ennis is free to play after avoiding suspension for his high shot last Sunday.
The Cowboys will be relying on their instincts, and not refereeing decisions, in their bid to land a maiden premiership title.
Despite their two losses to the Sharks this year, North Queensland should win their way through to a preliminary final date with the Melbourne Storm next Friday night.
Prediction: Cowboys by 18 points.
The winners of the semi-finals will go on to face the Broncos and Storm in the respective preliminary finals in Brisbane and Melbourne. Thus, if the two semi-finals unfold as I predicted, the preliminary final line-up would be:
Brisbane Broncos versus Sydney Roosters, Suncorp Stadium, Friday September 25 (7:45pm).
Melbourne Storm versus North Queensland Cowboys, AAMI Park, Saturday September 26 (7:45pm).