Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 8 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Week 1 finals matches.
|Dylan Edwards||1||Clinton Gutherson|
|Taylan May||2||Maika Sivo|
|Izack Tago||3||Will Penisini|
|Stephen Crichton||4||Tom Opacic|
|Brian To’o||5||Waqa Blake|
|Jarome Luai||6||Dylan Brown|
|Nathan Cleary||7||Mitchell Moses|
|Moses Leota||8||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
|Apisai Koroisau||9||Reed Mahoney|
|James Fisher-Harris||10||Junior Paulo|
|Viliame Kikau||11||Shaun Lane|
|Liam Martin||12||Isaiah Papali’i|
|Isaah Yeo||13||Ryan Matterson|
|Mitch Kenny||14||Makahesi Makatoa|
|Scott Sorensen||15||Jakob Arthur|
|Spencer Leniu||16||Oregon Kaufusi|
|Jaeman Salmon||17||Marata Niukore|
History: Played 47, Panthers 24, Eels 23
Last Meeting: Round 20, 2022: Eels 34 def. Panthers 10
Final Thoughts: The Penrith Panthers sent an unrecognisable team out against the Cowboys in Townsville and it showed on the scoreboard in a 38-8 loss. The Parramatta Eels, on the other hand, put together an impressive 22-14 win over the Storm.
Nathan Cleary is back for the Panthers along with all of the big names that took Round 25 off to rest. Meanwhile, Brad Arthur has named the same 17 Eels again this week.
We can’t take much out of last week for the Panthers. Instead, we need to go back over five weeks to remember just how good this Panthers side has been this year. Nathan Cleary is back to guide them back to their best. They will charge the middle of the field and play patient footy through the centre-third. Isaah Yeo will act as the foil in yardage to pitch his big forwards one-on-one with single defenders to get the team up the field. Once in good ball, the Panthers don’t rush to score points. They lead the NRL with 35 tackles inside the opposition’s 20-metre line per game. Without forcing the issue, they wait for the defensive line to break down in front of them. The Eels take a similar approach. They will try to get up the field through their edge before firing a shot down the other. The problem: They don’t do it all as well, or as consistently, as the Panthers. While the Eels have played well in recent weeks and impressed in their win over the Storm, the Panthers in Penrith in September looks a step too far for this group.
|Nick Meaney||1||Xavier Savage|
|David Nofoaluma||2||Nick Cotric|
|Marion Seve||3||Matthew Timoko|
|Justin Olam||4||Sebastian Kris|
|Xavier Coates||5||Jordan Rapana|
|Cameron Munster||6||Jack Wighton|
|Jahrome Hughes||7||Jamal Fogarty|
|Jesse Bromwich||8||Josh Papalii|
|Harry Grant||9||Zac Woolford|
|Nelson Asofa-Solomona||10||Joseph Tapine|
|Felise Kaufusi||11||Hudson Young|
|Kenneath Bromwich||12||Elliott Whitehead|
|Josh King||13||Adam Elliott|
|Brandon Smith||14||Tom Starling|
|Tui Kamikamica||15||Emre Guler|
|Trent Loiero||16||Corey Horsburgh|
|Chris Lewis||17||Corey Harawira-Naera|
History: Played 51, Storm 36, Raiders 15
Last Meeting: Round 18, 2022: Raiders 20 def. Storm 16
Final Thoughts: The Melbourne Storm are in unfamiliar territory at the moment. They dropped to 5th on the NRL ladder following their 22-14 loss to the Eels. Despite the concerns over a nightmare finish to the regular season, the Canberra Raiders thrashed the Tigers 56-10 last week.
Jahrome Hughes has been named to return for the Storm this week with Cooper Johns dropping to the reserves. Kenny Bromwich and Nick Meaney are nursing injuries but should be fine for this one. For the Raiders, Jack Wighton and Elliott Whitehead are rested and ready to return which sees Corey Harawira-Naera drop to the reserves and Matt Frawley out of the side.
If there is a team that will back themselves to get the job done in Melbourne, it’s the Raiders. They beat the Storm three times in Melbourne throughout the 2019 and 2020 NRL seasons and are familiar with the underdog tag at this point of the year. The Green Machine matches up favourably against the Storm. Joseph Tapine is arguably the best prop in rugby league right now and leads a Raiders pack that has been getting up the field fairly consistently of late. The Storm, on the other hand, have spent the year as a middling team in yardage to average only 1,555 running metres per game. Cameron Munster is in superb form and Jahrome Hughes is a dangerous attacking player, but they need the pack to lay a platform ahead of them. While the Raiders may be able to hold their own in the middle, their inability to turn possession and field position into points is a concern. Jamal Fogarty and Jack Wighton have never really clicked as a halves pairing and they’ll struggle to crack the Storm defensive line. The Storm hasn’t convinced in recent weeks. However, at home and with Hughes returning, they should have enough to advance to Week 2 of the NRL Finals.
|William Kennedy||1||Scott Drinkwater|
|Connor Tracey||2||Kyle Feldt|
|Jesse Ramien||3||Valentine Holmes|
|Siosifa Talakai||4||Peta Hiku|
|Ronaldo Mulitalo||5||Murray Taulagi|
|Matt Moylan||6||Tom Dearden|
|Nicho Hynes||7||Chad Townsend|
|Toby Rudolf||8||Jordan McLean|
|Blayke Brailey||9||Reece Robson|
|Royce Hunt||10||Reuben Cotter|
|Briton Nikora||11||Luciano Leilua|
|Wade Graham||12||Jeremiah Nanai|
|Dale Finucane||13||Jason Taumalolo|
|Teig Wilton||14||Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow|
|Cameron McInnes||15||Tom Gilbert|
|Braden Hamlin-Uele||16||Coen Hess|
|Andrew Fifita||17||Griffin Neame|
History: Played 49, Sharks 32, Cowboys 17
Last Meeting: Round 18, 2022: Sharks 26 def. Cowboys 12
Final Thoughts: The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks picked up another fairly easy win by beating the Knights 38-16 in Newcastle to finish the regular season. Meanwhile, the North Queensland Cowboys took their chance to play an understrength Panthers side by hammering them 38-8.
Dale Finucane, Will Kennedy, Toby Rudolf and Connor Tracey are all back for the Sharks this week. Cameron McInnes and Braden Hamlin-Uele drop to the bench, Lachie Miller to 18th man, and Matt Ikuvalu and Aiden Tolman out of the side. The Cowboys welcome back Coen Hess from suspension with Jamayne Taunoa-Brown dropping to 18th man.
Few saw either one of the Sharks or Cowboys finishing the NRL season inside the top four but the two will go head-to-head in a crucial battle that will provide one team with a week off, and the other with a difficult semi-final. The two teams are roughly on par with each other this season. Both are effective with the ball. The Sharks use quick play-the-balls and wide-ranging slingshot shifts to pile up points out wide. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are more methodical. Chad Townsend and Tom Dearden poke and prod until the defensive line opens up. In defence, the two line up exceptionally well. Only three points separate their totals for points conceded throughout the regular season. It’s the venue for this week that could be the deciding factor. The Sharks are 10-2 at home this year. They’ve made Shark Park a fortress and will fill it on Saturday. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have struggled in Sydney. They’ve not beaten a Top 8 team in Sydney all season and will struggle to do so in this one. The Sharks, while relatively untested, are in superior form, have the pack to match the Cowboys through the middle, and the wide attack that will promote fatigue in a defensive line that relies on working hard from the inside out.
|James Tedesco||1||Latrell Mitchell|
|Daniel Tupou||2||Alex Johnston|
|Paul Momirovski||3||Isaiah Tass|
|Drew Hutchison||4||Campbell Graham|
|Joseph Suaalii||5||Taane Milne|
|Luke Keary||6||Cody Walker|
|Sam Walker||7||Lachlan Ilias|
|Jared Waerea-Hargreaves||8||Tevita Tatola|
|Sam Verrills||9||Damien Cook|
|Siosiua Taukeiaho||10||Mark Nicholls|
|Angus Crichton||11||Keaon Koloamatangi|
|Nat Butcher||12||Jai Arrow|
|Victor Radley||13||Cameron Murray|
|Connor Watson||14||Kodi Nikorima|
|Egan Butcher||15||Hame Sele|
|Adam Keighran||16||Thomas Burgess|
|Matthew Lodge||17||Siliva Havili|
History: Played 47, Roosters 29, Rabbitohs 18
Last Meeting: Round 25, 2022: Roosters 26 def. Rabbitohs 16
Final Thoughts: These two provided us with a preview of things to come by opening the new Allianz Stadium last week. The Sydney Roosters started strong and came out on top of the South Sydney Rabbitohs to win 26-16.
The Roosters lose Joey Manu for this one with Paul Momirovski to take his place in the centres. In better news, Victor Radley is back. Cameron Murray is in some doubt for the Rabbitohs but is expected to be good to go for Sunday. Campbell Graham and Damien Cook have been confirmed to return pushing Jaxson Paulo to the reserves and Siliva Havili to the bench.
What a ripper to wrap up Week 1 of the NRL Finals. The two teams went at it last week so we have some idea of how this one might go. The Roosters flew out to an early lead. While the Bunnies returned serve, dominance on either side of halftime put the Roosters comfortably in front and they never looked back. There isn’t a lot to separate the two teams at their best. The Roosters finished only three running metres in front of the Rabbitohs in Round 25. Souths are one of the few teams in the NRL that can match it with Trent Robinson’s side on current form. Easts are the best yardage team in the competition right now and it has been the catalyst to their late-season revival. With the ball, both can pile up points in a hurry. It’s consistency that has eluded Souths at times. At their best, they’re a premiership contender. At their worst, you’d wonder how they made the Top 8. They produce some head-scracthing periods of a game and are heavily reliant on Latrell Mitchell to provide that extra touch of class in attack. When he has one of those Latrell games as he did last week, the Bunnies struggle to keep up with the top teams. Expect an improvement out of Mitchell and the Rabbitohs. Put last week down as an off-night. However, the Roosters have the wood over the Rabbitohs right now and should be able to back their much-improved defence into grinding out a win in this one.