Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is nearly over, because after nine weeks in hibernation we finally have some live NRL action to look forward to this weekend.
It’s going to be another Roosters and Storm decider.
Or at least that’s what some of us assumed. The Raiders’ upset victory in Melbourne has turned the finals series on its head – and possibly for the better?
The first week of the finals had it all. Close games, upsets, controversy, a legend’s farewell, judiciary drama, an eye injury due to fireworks and records broken. It’s the type of stuff that belongs in a Hollywood movie, yet we got to see it all play out in reality on and off the field.
The Roosters were remarkable in their first half performance against South Sydney. The deception and ball-playing skill shown by Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary left the Rabbitohs with no answers. The performance could all be summed up with a try-of-the-year candidate when Cooper Cronk feigned to kick only to pass the ball back onto his short side, which would allow Mitch Aubusson to score after some great ball movement from their spine.
If the Roosters are going to go back-to-back, their attack in the first half is a great way to make a statement that they want to retain the title.
The Raiders, travelling to Melbourne for the second time in a short period, were able to knock off the minor premiers, albeit with controversy in the end.
Still, their grit and a never-say-die attitude frustrated the Melbourne Storm in a way that rarely happens.
Even with the pre-match drama involving Joey Leilua getting injured by fireworks, they were still able to snatch victory in the final minutes. The win also means the grand final replay between the Roosters and Storm could potentially take place in the preliminary final, depending if they can get past a red-hot Parramatta Eels.
Speaking of the Eels, they were able to break a record and put on the biggest finals defeat in history when they tore apart the Broncos. But how much do we look into that performance?
Take nothing away from Parramatta, they were still impressive, but up against a Brisbane side that seemingly gave up.
They’ll be full of confidence as they head into a sudden death semi final on Saturday night, but will they have enough to defeat Melbourne once again in Melbourne and send them out in straight sets?
And like he has many times this season, Des and his down-on-troops Sea Eagles defied the odds in a dominant display against the Cronulla Sharks.
Officially ending the career of Paul Gallen, Manly now set their sights on the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Friday night.
Both of their games in the regular season have been close contests decided only by a point, can Manly somehow get the upset win again and find themselves only 80 minutes away from playing in the grand final?
One thing for certain is we are guaranteed a new team in the decider that wasn’t there last year. The Roosters versus Storm rematch that many of us thought is thrown out of the window and a chance for either Canberra, South Sydney or Manly is available.
If Melbourne do defeat Parramatta, they’ll play the Roosters one week before the GF in a match that will have a grand final intensity. It’s the kind of match that could impact both teams heavily a week before they play for the ultimate prize.
Could another spanner be thrown in the works? Can the Parramatta forward pack match it with Melbourne and the Eels back five continue their dominance? Does Mitchell Moses have what it takes to deliver another attacking masterclass or will Cameron Smith and his men be able to shut him down?
We only have to travel back to 2017 in the first week of the finals when Parramatta travelled to AMII Park and almost defeated them. With perhaps a better roster now, could the Eels pull of one of the biggest upsets of the year to book themselves a place in a preliminary final against the defending champions?
While South Sydney head into their semi final as favourites with a returning Sam Burgess, Manly will also welcome back Marty Taupau. It’s another game that Des will love.
Their backs against the wall with not many giving them a chance while a lot of expectations are put on the Rabbitohs to get the win. Manly ended one club legend in Gallen – and will be looking to do the same to John Sutton in potentially his final game in an illustrious career.
As the Roosters and Raiders await their opponents, odds are on the top four sides of the regular season all vying for a spot in the decider as they face off in the preliminary finals.
However, both Manly and Parramatta are capable of playing a brand of footy that will see them have a crack. Parramatta to try and throw the ball around to upset the Storm and Manly will have no fear to get themselves into a dogfight against the Rabbitohs.
The first week of the finals was filled with twists and turns and no doubt week two will have its talking points. Does the script play out like it’s supposed to or will we see a rewrite with an unexpected match-up in week three?
It’s a win for the neutral fan. They’re guaranteed a different grand final from last year. For Raiders, Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles fans, the prospect of being in the decider is much more of a reality now.
They’ll all be watching in excitement knowing their team doesn’t have to go through the Roosters or the Storm, while the Roosters and Storm will have to go through each other to get back to where they were last year unless the blue and gold continue their run.