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The Finals Diary - Australian Rugby league News
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globalrugbyleague - Fri, 07 Sep 2007 12:35:00 GMT
It’s that time of the year once again when every try, every goal and every penalty could keep your team’s season alive or kill it off.

Finals football is upon us with two teams returning to September action for the first time in what seems like a sporting eternity.

Last year’s wooden spoon title holders, South Sydney, finished in 7th spot under the tutelage of Jason Taylor.

Meanwhile the New Zealand Warriors (4th) will be hoping to appear in their second Grand-final after ending a four-year absence of their own.

Since the National Rugby League was formed in 1998, no team outside the top-four has won the title. That could be about to change.

Teams 5 and 6 (Parramatta and Canterbury) on their day can beat anyone while team 7 (Souths) have beaten team 4 (Cowboys) in both of their fixtures this year.

GRL editor Josh King tries to sort out the contenders from the pretenders on the eve of one of the most exciting NRL finals series of all-time.

Melbourne: Craig Bellamy and the Melbourne Storm are overdue for a premiership and the statistics suggest so. The minor premiers have not taken out the premiership since the Panthers did in 2003. Yet while Penrith flew in under the radar, the Storm have had all eyes locked on them by 15 other NRL coaches and yet they are still lifting the bar of excellence beyond the reach of some very good teams below them. With the likes of Steve Turner and Matt King returning to the field for the finals, they can only get better. If this side wins the premiership and the AFL hands their cup over to another interstate team, watch the popularity of League surge beyond the traditional two states.

Manly: It’s hard to believe but true. The Sea Eagles have lost every single finals appearance they’ve played in under coach Des Hasler since 2005. Will anything change this year? The competition has evened out and teams 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are capable of scoring upset wins. Question marks remain on the ability of certain individuals to handle finals football. The bad news is if those individuals don’t step up to the plate this year, the fall out could be very bad in 2008 following the exit of hooker Michael Monaghan to Super League club, Warrington. They’ll make it to week 3 but for them to make the Grand Final, they’ll have to make me see it to believe it.

North Queensland: A hard working team that have the greatest halfback in the business right now. However their backline is very small compared to some of the other teams and I think physically they could be dined on by the likes of New Zealand, Manly, Souths or even Parramatta. They should be too strong mentally for Canterbury to handle but I still don’t think they know how to finish games off as well as their coach would like them to. I wouldn’t write them off completely because that’s when they come good.

New Zealand: Their first finals appearance in four-years. Savour the flavour boys, because there are many clubs who’d love to be in your position right now. Coach Ivan Cleary invested very well in the off-season in two former Eels players, Wade McKinnon and Michael Witt. McKinnon’s support play has gone from strength to strength while Witt – who was being wasted by Manly in premier league last season – has taken no time in proving he’s got the skill, execution and patience to make it in first grade. New Zealand also have the best try-scoring halfback in this year’s finals series in the form of Grant Rovelli who has crossed the line a staggering 10 times while running third behind Jonathan Thurston and Matt Orford in the point-scoring category. I am tipping New Zealand to play Melbourne live in Sydney in this year’s Grand Final.

Parramatta: A team that loves to play cruel mind games with their fans under coach Michael Hagan. One week they turn up and play teams right out of games inside the first half and then the next week they lose to teams they should be capable of beating. With one of the youngest, quickest and biggest backlines in the game, they could trouble any of the top four teams. But do they really want the title this season and can Tim Smith and Brett Finch click for four weeks? I think they can make it to week three. From there, it’s anybody’s guess. I wouldn’t be surprised if they became the first team outside the top four to make it into the Grand Final since the Bulldogs of 1995.

Bulldogs: The Bulldogs have stumbled into the finals but being the under dogs might actually do them a favour. Certainly they are a team other sides don’t look forward to playing because with Canterbury you have to play the full eighty minutes to beat them. Their five-eighth Ben Roberts is a talented star of the future but his youthful inexperience has proven costly in some vital games this season. I can see the Dogs making it to week 3 but going no further against the likes of Melbourne, Manly, New Zealand or Parramatta.

South Sydney: A double achievement for the boys from redfern. Not only did they return to football finals for the first time in 18-years, they also finished in 7th spot. Their loss to the Roosters in the final week of the regular season concerns me but it could be the kick up the pants they needed to keep up the intensity and concentration that is required if they are to be a real surprise packet. They’ve beaten Manly once this season, scored double victories over North Queensland, only narrowly lost to Melbourne, beat Parramatta in round two yet went down to the Bulldogs and Broncos. This side is unpredictable and if the opposition run out onto the field believing all that hype that teams 7 and 8 are simply making up the numbers, there will be hell to pay.

Brisbane: When Darren Lockyer was hit by a season ending knee injury in round 18 against the Cowboys, the Broncos chances of retaining their title went out the door. They were lucky to take out 8th spot after the Tigers did the unthinkable and lost to Newcastle in round 25. However the Broncos will turn up with the same workhorse attitude that got them to the Grand Final last year and put up a fight. The problem is they’ll only be able to go so many rounds before the Storm land the knock-out blow. Not since 2003 have the Broncos bowed out of the finals in the opening week but their chances are extremely high this year.

Finals Week 1 Predictions:

Josh King:

Warriors
Cowboy
Souths
Melbourne

The GRL Phantom:

Eels
Bulldogs
Manly
Melbourne - Read More, Here