Manly NRL player Joel Thompson is in a stable condition in hospital after smashing his head into rocks in an alcohol-fuelled incident during the long weekend.
Both the Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs will fight to avoid the embarrassment of a straight-sets elimination from September when they face the Parramatta Eels and Manly Sea Eagles in their respective semi-finals this weekend.
For the second time this season, the Storm were beaten at home by the Canberra Raiders, while the Rabbitohs were ambushed by the Sydney Roosters at the SCG.
Meantime, the Sea Eagles sent the Sharks secured a knockout win over the Sharks at Lottoland, while the Eels recorded the largest finals win in Australian rugby league history by thrashing the Broncos 58-0.
At stake for the winners of this weekend’s semi-finals are a shot at the Raiders (for the victor of the Rabbitohs vs Sea Eagles) and the Roosters (for the winner of the Storm vs Eels) in the preliminary finals.
Here is your guide to the weekend’s two semi-finals.
Rabbitohs vs Sea Eagles
This season: Sea Eagles won 13-12 at Lottoland in Round 4; Rabbitohs won 21-20 at ANZ Stadium in Round 17.
Last meeting in a final: Rabbitohs won 40-24 at Allianz Stadium, second qualifying final, 2014.
The Bunnies have been a revelation this season under supercoach Wayne Bennett, repeating their third-place finish, 16-8 win-loss record from last year and winning six out of a possible nine matches against their fellow top-eight teams.
This came despite the early retirement of veteran fullback Greg Inglis, with the captaincy passed onto Sam Burgess as a result.
Burgess’ absence due to suspension proved telling, however, as the Bunnies were manhandled by the Roosters last Friday night.
They would have gone in confident of completing a hat-trick against the Chooks, having beaten them twice in the regular season for the first time since 2009.
As for Manly, despite boasting a horror injury toll, they raced out to an 18-0 lead en route to beating the Sharks 28-16 to send Paul Gallen into retirement.
Back after seven years away from the club, coach Des Hasler has turned a dispirited side that finished second-last under Trent Barrett last year into one contending for premierships again.
He will now come up against fellow veteran Bennett in a final for the third time, and will be hoping it’s third time lucky after Bennett won their match-ups in 2010 and 2013.
But at home, the Rabbitohs should bounce back and win their way through.
Prediction: Rabbitohs by eight points.
Storm vs Eels
This season: Storm won 64-10 at Suncorp Stadium in Round 9.
Last meeting in a final: Storm won 18-16 at AAMI Park, first qualifying final, 2017.
Craig Bellamy’s side were uncharacteristically poor in the first half against Canberra, but while they managed to take a 10-6 lead in the second stanza, they were brought undone when John Bateman crossed for the winner less than five minutes out from full-time.
The Storm retrieved their own short kick-off, before controversy followed when winger Suliasi Vunivalu was incorrectly adjudged to have put his hand out of bounds, thus costing his side a late chance at victory.
The Eels celebrated their first final at Bankwest Stadium by thrashing the Brisbane Broncos 58-0 and setting the record for the largest victory and most points by a team in a finals match.
The latter record was also held by Parra, who defeated the Warriors 56-12 in the 2001 qualifying final at the since-demolished Parramatta Stadium.
It was the first time any side had scored 50 points or more in a finals match since the Broncos thrashed the Knights 50-6 en route to winning the most recent of their six premierships. And the year prior, in 2005, the Wests Tigers thrashed the Cowboys by the same scoreline before winning the title three weeks later.
Therefore, fans of the blue and gold can dare to dream of their side winning it all this year.
It came a fortnight after the Eels suffered a heartbreaking golden point loss to the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium, which was also the venue where they suffered a 64-10 thrashing at the hands of the Melbourne Storm in Magic Round back in May.
History is against the away side, who have come away empty-handed in five finals meetings against the Storm – the 1999 and 2007 preliminary finals, the 2009 grand final, and the 2006 and 2017 qualifying finals. Each time, Melbourne have gone on to reach the grand final.
At home, Craig Bellamy’s side should take the chocolates and set up a grand final rematch against the Chooks at the SCG next Saturday night.
Prediction: Storm by 12 points.