The first week of qualifying finals had the common theme of the underdogs coming out with a fast start.
The Roosters, Eels and the Knights scored the first two tries of their games while the Sharks also raced out to a 14-6 lead early. However, all home teams fought back to win.
Now, with Newcastle and Cronulla eliminated, we are left with two blockbuster semi-final matchups.
Firstly, we have a 2019 grand final rematch with the Raiders heading to the SCG to meet the Roosters. While the Raiders have been classed as underdogs and rightfully so, they have done quite well away from home this season, winning eight from ten games.
One factor that should concern the Chooks is that Canberra will be looking to bounce back after an average performance against Cronulla. Having overcome the first hurdle, the Raiders will aim to put on one of their best performances of the season in this game.
The Roosters will welcome back Jake Friend while also inserting Sonny Bill Williams into the 17 for now.
One key component is the completion rate of both teams. Easts completed 80 per cent of their sets against Penrith, which is usually the norm, however Ricky Stuart’s side only completed 68 per cent. Holding onto the ball will be crucial as both teams have the capability to punish the other for making errors, and have two of the best in tackle breaks in James Tedesco and Nick Cotric.
Secondly, the Eels will be looking to make amends after they were thrashed 38-0 by South Sydney in Round 16 at Bankwest Stadium. Parramatta are going to have to adjust without Maika Sivo, after he suffered a severe injury in their loss to the Storm.
Notably in their Round 16 contest, the Rabbitohs scored most of their tries out wide. Melbourne had a similar point of attack, targeting the dreadful right-side defence of Mitchell Moses, Waqa Blake and Blake Ferguson. If the Eels fail to adjust, the Bunnies could run up another big score.
This game will come down to Parramatta’s defence. The issue with their defence against the Storm was that they scored in bunches, Melbourne scoring two tries in the 29th and 32nd minute, as well three tries in the 54th, 57th and 61st minute. It all but sealed the blue and gold’s fate.
The Eels will have to remain resolute physically and mentally to ensure Rabbitohs don’t get quick successive tries.
We know how potent of an attack the Rabbits have but if Parra can sort out their issues protecting their goal line, they will have their opportunities to attack right back. Parramatta will need to strike first, similar to the qualifying final, in order to be competitive once again.
Overall, it was astonishing to see the favourites trail early only for them to come back and earn their victory.