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The Roar’s NRL expert tips and predictions: Finals Week 1

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Expert
30th September, 2020
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A health pandemic, a shortened season and 20 rounds of intriguing footy later, the NRL finals are finally upon us. Here are The Roar’s NRL expert tips and predictions for this weekend’s qualifying and elimination finals.

There was a time when this day never looked like it was going to come, but now, with cases low in New South Wales and Queensland, it can be said with some relative certainty that we are going to get a finals series.

And while on the surface it looks as if there are plenty of teams in the top eight just making up the numbers, the finals is a whole new ball game, and as previous seasons have proven, anything can happen.

That was evident last week when the formerly rock-solid Roosters let in 60 against crosstown rivals the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

No-one saw that scoreline coming, and by the time kick-off rolls around on Friday, Trent Robinson’s side will have had just seven days to pick themselves back up before taking on red-hot minor premiers Penrith, who will be shooting for their 16th win on the hop.

The other qualifying final takes us to Brisbane, where Melbourne play Parramatta. Think it doesn’t make sense? Welcome to 2020! The Storm go in as red-hot favourites, but one must remember there was a time early in the season when the blue and gold looked like premiership favourites themselves.

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The elimination finals are where the real intrigue lies this weekend though, and with Cronulla to play the Raiders in Canberra and the Rabbitohs to host the Knights at Homebush, a pair of games between inconsistent sides that realistically could both go either way is on the menu.

Canberra’s B team beat the Cronulla’s B team last week, so it’s difficult to get a read on things, while the Rabbitohs and Knights have been inconsistent right throughout the season.

In terms of tipping, AJ managed to drag one back on the Crowd with the Titans getting up but didn’t close the overall gap by more than one with the Tigers and Broncos falling apart.

Mary and David are now tied behind AJ, sitting four points back, while The Barry is holding me off for last place by a point.

Remember to get your tips into the form below by 6pm (AEST) on Friday to join The Roar’s NRL tipping competition for 2020 and be featured as part of The Crowd’s tips for Week 1 of the finals.

AJ Mithen

Tips: Roosters, Raiders, Storm, Rabbitohs

We made it to the finals*! Pending further outbreaks, we have finally reached the business end of the NRL season and it’s bittersweet for me. Partly because I love finals time, the drama and the high-quality matches, but partly because I’m going to miss watching the Broncos get ploughed every week. I almost dragged you lot back to level until the Tigers butchered a chance and Brisbane coughed a 12-0 lead. Disgusting. Now I can get that lead back though. Congratulations to the Crowd on taking the regular-season title; now step back and let the big kids rumble for the real stuff!

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Everyone has written off the Roosters after they dialled it in against the Bunnies. Fools. This is still an incredibly disciplined, drilled and hungry unit and they are going to give the JJ Giltinan Shield holders a special lesson in what it takes to win a rugby league finals game. Penrith have been freewheeling about for weeks and weeks now and this is going to be a most abrupt stop as they go down by just a little to the reigning champs.

The mighty Canberra Raiders, the people’s team, will set off on the long way to an inevitable premiership by putting 56 on the hapless Cronulla, who were embarrassed by Canberra’s juniors last week and don’t bring back any players of consequence. Cronulla’s only chances of winning involve torrential rain, 39 handling errors from the green machine and a partisan bunker.

The Melbourne Storm, you’ve got to tip your cap to them. What a club. People forget (some conveniently) that Melbourne have been out of home since July, but they’ve still been the same old winning machine. Finals is why they exist and they’ll crush a Parramatta side that did finish third and only lost five games but still have some rough edges in defence. Storm by plenty.

Finally, Souths ride some rollicking form in against Newcastle – or do they? Three weeks ago they barely squeaked past Wests, two weeks ago they got done by Canterbury and last week they threw punch after punch at the Roosters as the champs laid on a little pre-finals rope-a-dope. They should knock over the Knights, who banked enough points early to stick in the final eight. Here’s an interesting tidbit for you: Newcastle’s last five weeks have been a 30-point loss (NZ), 28-point win (Cronulla), 30-point loss (Roosters), 24-point win (Dragons) and 30-point loss (Titans).

Kyle Flanagan runs the ball

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Mary Konstantopoulos

Tips: Panthers, Storm, Raiders, Rabbitohs

After getting smashed by the Rabbitohs last weekend I doubt the Roosters will come into this game with the same mindset. But it would be disrespectful for me to tip against the Panthers, who have been the undisputed best team in the competition this year. There is still some doubt as to whether the Panthers have the experience to compete in the finals, but nothing I’ve seen raises any questions. This one will be tight and I’m predicting the Panthers by less than ten points.

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If you are a Parramatta fan, you associate nothing but poor memories with the Melbourne Storm and finals. Unfortunately, I don’t think this year will be any different. The one positive is at this stage the only time the Storm can knock Parramatta out is in the grand final. The Eels attack is still struggling and I don’t see them scoring enough points to beat the Storm, even with the return of Dylan Brown.

The Sharks need a miracle to beat the Raiders. Cronulla are still yet to beat a top-eight team, and with the loss of Shaun Johnson so close to finals, I doubt that they will progress any further.

Same goes for the Knights, who have done well this season but are not enough to match the Rabbitohs, who have shown that they are more than capable of dismantling the top teams in the competition.

Camerom Smith takes a conversion attempt

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

David Holden

Tips: Panthers, Raiders, Storm, Rabbitohs

The best kind of win in horse racing is when your pick looms up in the shadow of the finishing post and sticks its nose in front. And so it is in footy tipping, although I’m going to exclude the Crowd here because that horse has well and truly bolted. In racing terms AJ has been in front the whole way and has been gallant. But down the straight he’s getting tired and Mary, and I have pulled out behind him and are now running him down.

This has no doubt been helped by the finishing post being pushed down the straight a bit further, as we are tipping finals. I’m also angling for the Rugby Championship, the WBBL and the Bathurst Supercars to be included in NRL tipping. We shall see.

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But first things first: I need four wins this weekend to keep AJ under pressure.

There are two schools of thought about the Roosters after their belting last week. The first is they will be hurting badly and will bring their A-game to Panthers Stadium. The second school of thought is that they are cooked. I’ve got no doubt that loss cut deep, but I’m not sure they can recover from it. Jake Friend hasn’t been named and is a massive loss. I think they are also missing Victor Radley more than most people realise. The one thing going against the Panthers is they have had an easy last fortnight. However, at the foot of the mountains the Panthers will be ready. They will win.

If the Sharks win, it could easily be the biggest finals upset since the top-eight system was established. Sure, they won in Canberra in 2016, but that was with a team of hardheads rather than a team that has struggled to defend its line all year. I don’t think complacency will be a factor for the Raiders. Ricky will have them primed. I can’t see how the Sharks can win this, and come Saturday night I will be looking for another team to support.

The live ladder was going berserk last Saturday night when the Tigers played the Eels. The Eels did well to get the momentum back when it was desperately needed and would be happy with their third-place finish. But they come up against a rested Storm on the Sunshine Coast. Dylan Brown returns, which is a big in for the Eels, but, again, I don’t see how they win. Melbourne are just about at full strength and it’s going to take a great team to deprive them of a premiership. Storm will be too good.

Finally, another elimination final. The last start form of the Rabbits and Knights could not have been more different. On the form displayed against the Roosters, if anyone is going to win it from outside the top four, it will be the Rabbits. Newcastle’s away record in the last half of the season has been diabolical, which is what makes last week’s loss so important. Wayne Bennett is too smart a coach to let the Rabbits lose focus. They will end the Knights’ season on Sunday.

Nick Cotric dives over

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

The Barry

Tips: Roosters, Raiders, Storm, Rabbitohs

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Looking at the first round of semi-finals, I realised there were four final-round losers. “Must be a while since that’s happened?” I thought to myself. It’s not. It happened last year. Last week’s results definitely make this week’s games more intriguing, trying to work out which results we give credence to and which we overlook.

None more so than the Panthers and Roosters.

If I were tipping this game seven days ago, I’d have leaned towards the Roosters’ big-game experience to overcome the Panthers’ youthful exuberance. The question now is what damage the enormous loss to Souths has done to the Roosters confidence and momentum.

I’m going to stick with the Roosters, but it’s a coin flip.

The Raiders and Sharks meet for the second week on the bounce. Can we read much into last week’s result given the number of players both teams had out of action? Probably not. This is a Raiders home game for one and I doubt we’ll see 66 points this week. But last week’s result and margin seem about right to me. Raiders by ten.

An understrength Storm side also lost last week. But prior to that had won 13 of 14. Their only loss in that time was against the Eels. The Storm were down on troops too.

The Eels come into the semis still struggling to recapture their early season form and having won only four of their last seven, and none of those too convincingly. At their season-best they could take the Storm but they seem to have lost the keys. Storm to win going away.

How costly was last weekend’s results for the Knights? A win against the Titans would have seen them secure sixth place and a home semi. They got pumped. Then a Roosters win would be enough. At 4-0 after four minutes things looked good, but we know how it ended.

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While both teams have a bit of Jekyll and Hyde in them, the Knights are running particularly hot and cold. They’ve won two of their last five games by 24 and 28 points but lost three, all by 30.

There’s not a result here that would blow your hair back, but surely Souths have too much mojo after last week.

Thomas Burgess looks on

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Scott Pryde

Tips: Panthers, Raiders, Storm, Rabbitohs

Ah, the finals. Watch as I get zero out of four and the landscape of this year’s series is flipped upside down.

Anyway, I spent a bit of time changing my tip for this first one. I did write the Roosters off in terms of premiership chances following that loss to the Rabbitohs, but that was on statistics and history. It’s not to say they can’t win here, and they will be keen to bounce back.

However, the big glaring difference in the teams is at hooker. No Jake Friend is a mammoth blow for Trent Robinson’s side. Apisai Koroisau on the other hand has been the glue for the Panthers this year and should go close to hooker of the year.

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He also has calming levels of experience. With him on the field, the mountain men get up in the toughest game to tip this weekend.

In other games, the Raiders will flog Cronulla. The Sharks have been heavily reliant on outscoring teams all season. That doesn’t work when Shaun Johnson is out injured and your defence is leakier than the boat made famous by Split Enz song Six Months in a Leaky Boat.

Anyway, that’s a tangent. Raiders by plenty.

Then we have Parramatta’s trip north to play the Storm. The only question is: Melbourne by how many? They are clinical, and with plenty of stars back from a breather the Eels will be using that second chance and hoping it’s not a straight-sets defeat.

As for the Rabbitohs and Knights? Seven days ago this was impossible to tip. It still is given the hot and cold nature of both teams, but the Bunnies should have a mountain of confidence. Add that to the fact the wheels have well and truly fallen off the men from the Hunter and it should tell you all you need to know.

It’s heartwarming to see the Knights back in the finals, but that is as far as they will get.

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Finals W1 AJ Mary David The Barry Scott Crowd
SYD v PEN SYD PEN PEN SYD PEN PEN
CAN v CRO CAN CAN CAN CAN CAN CAN
MEL v PAR MEL MEL MEL MEL MEL MEL
SOU v NEW SOU SOU SOU SOU SOU SOU
Last week 6 5 6 5 5 5
Total 115 111 111 105 104 117

Be sure to get your tips in on the form below by 6pm (AEST) on Friday, and we will publish the results of The Crowd’s tips before the first game of the round kicks off.

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