The finals are here. After 25 rounds of NRL, we have six teams a mile ahead of everyone else, and two others who will be hoping to prove the doubters wrong. This is The Roar’s NRL expert tips and predictions for the qualifying and elimination finals.
An intriguing week of footy lies ahead of us. For the qualifying final, an almost guaranteed (statistically speaking) spot in the grand final is on the line.
No team forced to play Week 2 of the finals has made the grand final since the North Queensland Cowboys managed the feat in 2017. Since then, it has been teams with the week off fighting it out in the grand final.
And the qualifying finals are certainly not going to be one-way traffic this weekend. The Panthers have beaten the Rabbitohs twice this season, but South Sydney are still a strong football side, and Wayne Bennett is a master coach at this time of the year.
In the other game, the Storm have been the benchmark all year, but there are doubts around Cameron Munster, and they have looked clunky at times in the last six weeks. Clunky is not something which can be afforded when you’re coming up against the competition’s indisputable best player in Tom Trbojevic.
The elimination finals bring us more intrigue. The Roosters might be heavy favourites against the Titans, but the Gold Coast pushed them all the way last time with a 35-34 result.
Meanwhile, the Eels rediscovered form a fortnight ago and will take on the second-worst attack in the competition in the Knights, and yet, it’s hard to say with any certainty that they’ll win.
On the tipping front, David tipped the card last week. With The Barry and The Crowd both getting six, he now sits four tips off the pace with nine games (as well as grand final day novelty tips) to come.
Remember to get your tips into the form below by 6pm (AEST) on Friday evening to join The Roar’s NRL tipping competition for 2021 and be featured as part of the Crowd’s tips for the first week of the finals.
David will get us rolling this week.
Tips: Storm, Roosters, Panthers, Eels
Nine games to go. Four points the difference. That’s the equation for me as I try to chase down Barry and the Crowd. Despite getting my first full round for the year last weekend, it’s a tall order. I need Scotty to come up with some novelty categories for the grand final. Margin, first try scorer, man of the match, first player to stay down when clipped… that sort of thing.
Then I’m a chance. However, if I stuff it up this week, it’s over already. So, back to back full rounds are required. How hard can it really be?
On Friday night, we have the Storm and Sea Eagles. These teams played five weeks ago and a late Cameron Munster try got Melbourne home in a close one. Just on Munster, who’d have thought the Storm would have injury doubts for this one? Of course Munster will play. Manly have Tommy. Melbourne have strike all over the field. They will squeak home.
The Roosters play the Titans first up on Saturday afternoon. At some stage this week, we are going to hear that the Roosters are battered and bruised and the Titans are a big chance. This all sounds solid in theory.
In reality though, it’s baloney. The Roosters have just found ways to win and they will do it again this weekend. Victor Radley and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves return and the Roosters will just be too solid in a knockout game.
Three weeks ago, the Panthers beat the Rabbits 25-12 after trailing 12-0. Nathan Cleary gave Latrell Mitchell and Josh Mansour nightmares under the high ball. Neither are playing this week but the result is likely to be the same.
The Panthers belted an understrength Eels line-up last weekend but it was the manner of the victory which would have pleased Ivan Cleary. They played semi-final-style football and slowly ground the Eels down. You sense they are better prepared this year and are a real chance of a premiership.
If the Eels were playing anyone else, I would seriously consider an upset. However, I just can’t take the Knights. Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce played big minutes against the Broncos and couldn’t create much against an inexperienced defence.
I’m not convinced that Parramatta have turned the corner but they should progress to the second week.
Tips: Sea Eagles, Titans, Panthers, Eels
I tend to think we are going to see some upsets this weekend – I really do.
The Sea Eagles could almost go into their game on equal footing with the Storm. In fact, I’m not sure which way The Crowd will go.
They have pushed the Storm harder than any other team in the last six months, and while they do have their flaws, Tom Trbojevic is simply unstoppable when he flicks the switch.
Manly won’t win by much, but Melbourne have been clunky, so I’ll take the upset.
The other upset is the Titans. This will surprise the vast majority, but their attack is dangerous. David Fifita is dangerous off the bench and they have points in them. Not to say the Roosters don’t, but this was a high-scoring shootout last time and I expect similar.
The Titans aren’t overly disciplined, but the Roosters have made more errors than any other side, sit second in penalties conceded and have to deal with the league’s fourth-best tackle busters, and the fifth-best offloaders. There is just a smell of something special.
The other two games should more or less go to script, though. The Rabbitohs have been trounced twice by the Panthers, and with Nathan Cleary back to his best, it’s hard to see that changing.
The Knights simply don’t have the attack to go with the Eels. Even with Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce and Jake Clifford on the field, they have struggled to run up points.
No matter who they rested or what the circumstances were, they should have beaten the Broncos last week too. That’ll kill the confidence.
Tips: Storm, Roosters, Panthers, Eels
It’s a new season, a new time. And I will bring my best to amend for the debacle that was weeks 1-25 and remind you all I am The Roar’s premier tipper.
The Storm will beat Manly and get a week off. Manly match up well against Melbourne and their latest meeting was reasonably close at the end, but that ignores the Storm taking control in the last 20 minutes after Manly had thrown everything at them.
There’s also the small matter of finals football being the domain of Craig Bellamy and Melbourne. Bellamy versus Hasler is my most intriguing match-up of the weekend, but Tommy Turbo or not I’m not going against the purple horde.
Roosters and Titans is an interesting enough match-up but in all seriousness, if the Gold Coast get within 20 I’ll be amazed. The Roosters’ third-string line-up took out a 35-34 slap-fest during Origin.
The Titans really have little business being in the eight but they are there and they’ve earned their shot as others tumbled around them. A Gold Coast upset sounds romantic but if you can’t bank on the team who finished six wins ahead of them to do them over, I don’t know what you can bank on.
A few weeks ago the Bunnies gave their best shot at the Panthers, who were still in cruise mode into the finals. The game seemed close but overlooked amidst all the ‘downtown’ controversy is the fact the Bunnies didn’t score for 50 minutes while letting in 25 unanswered. Penrith’s defence is just too good and without Latrell Mitchell, there are less keys to try to unlock that gate. Panthers reasonably comfortably.
Finishing off the weekend is the Eels and Knights, both teams capable of making games interesting. I’m having real trouble taking the Knights seriously because they just keep laying eggs against decent teams.
Newcastle are 2-7 against finalists this year and they’ve just been pasted every time. I trust the Parramatta defence more than the Knights’, and I think the Eels know their way around a final a fraction better.
Tips: Storm, Roosters, Panthers, Eels
September, here we are at last. Normally at this time of year I have the first pangs of regret that I could have, should have watched more games than I have. Did I really need to spend as much time with my family? Surely I could have fit in one more Super Saturday.
But not so much this year. Short-priced favourites, predictable results, lopsided scorelines and rules and interpretations changing week to week seemingly on a whim have meant I’ve got less joy out of this season than any I can remember.
Yet I still come onto September with a sense of hope. Have the Storm and Panthers recent stutter steps and injuries brought them back to the pack? Is Manly’s Turbo driven resurgence enough to cause late-season upsets?
Can crusty old Clint Eastwood work his finals magic one last time? Can any of the bottom half of the eight string together four season-best performances to make a dream tilt for the title? I’m pretty sure the answer to all of the above is no, but hope springs eternal.
I’m all aboard the Manly bandwagon. Their rise and Tom Trbojevic’s dominance has been the compelling narrative of the season. While their form has been outstanding, they’re 0-5 against the top five teams, albeit with three of those games played in their disastrous opening month to the season.
The Storm have had great success playing a utility off the bench for the past couple of seasons, but they almost have too many good players (if there is such a thing). Having Harry Grant and Nicho Hynes doesn’t look like a super balanced bench, particularly with some of their middle min light for game time.
If everything goes right for Manly and Turbo fires Manly are a huge chance but all things being equal I think the Storm edge them.
Congratulations to the Titans for winning the eighth spot shootout and earning their first semi-final berth in a long time. They’re another outfit that has struggled against the top end of the table with and 0-9 record against the top six. The Roosters have been brave all year and should account for the Titans.
It’s really hard to see how a Latrell-less Souths beat the Panthers. Souths are 0-4 and 42-157 against the Storm and Panthers. I think Penrith win comfortably.
It was daft for the Knights to rest players last week. They could have been coming into the semis on the back of six straight wins and a modicum of mojo even if it was misplaced but instead they bumbled to be beaten by the Broncos. Eels easily.
Tips: Storm, Roosters, Panthers, Eels
I’m looking forward to all of the finals match-ups, but am going to be boring and tip the favourites for each match.
The Melbourne Storm seemed to be back on track last week with the combination between Nicho Hynes and Ryan Papenhuyzen working a lot better. Tom Trbojevic is still a class above every other player, but I think the Storm are strong enough defensively to slightly nullify his impact. I’m tipping the Storm but am expecting the Sea Eagles to make them work for it.
How incredible is it that the Roosters managed to finish fifth. It’s a real indication of what a great coach Trent Robinson is. The Titans may have lost more games than they won, but have been playing with some confidence in recent weeks.
The only challenge is that the Titans have not been able to match it with any team above them on the ladder. The Roosters have had a couple of players return from injury so I think they will win, but the Titans certainly do have a point to prove.
Without Latrell Mitchell, I’m not gutsy enough to pick the Bunnies against a red hot Panthers side. No doubt Nathan Cleary will also be targeting the Rabbitohs backline given the reshuffles that have happened due to Mitchell’s absence.
The Eels should beat the Knights, but there are a couple of things that worry me. Some interesting selections by Brad Arthur including Ray Stone at hooker. If the Knights can work out how to get Bradman Best some quality ball, this should markedly improve their attack. But based on recent form, I’m tipping the blue and gold.
|Finals Wk 1||AJ||Mary||David||The Barry||Scott||Crowd|
|MEL v MAN||MEL||MEL||MEL||MEL||MAN||MEL|
|SYD v GLD||SYD||SYD||SYD||SYD||GLD||SYD|
|PEN v SOU||PEN||PEN||PEN||PEN||PEN||PEN|
|PAR v NEW||PAR||PAR||PAR||PAR||PAR||PAR|
Remember to get your tips in on the form below by 6pm this evening to be counted as part of The Crowd for this weekend.