Almanac Rugby League – Five Metre Gap: NRL Finals Week 1, 2017



Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the first weekend of the NRL finals series. Eight became six by Sunday evening with Manly and defending premiers Cronulla going out after losing their elimination finals. Starting their game as 100-1 outsiders to win the premiership 2015 winners the Cowboys produced the stunning result of the four games beating the Sharks 15-14 in extra-time.


Sunday afternoon’s dramatic finish at Allianz Stadium means North Queensland will return to Sydney on Saturday night to face the Eels and Paul Green’s side did so after a field goal five minutes into extra-time courtesy of Michael Morgan. After the game Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan bemoaned the exit of the 2016 champions with a prepared list of ‘errors’ from the referees. What Flanagan didn’t acknowledge in-depth was the 18 errors his side made in the contest, comfortably the most of the eight sides who played on the weekend, nor did the once-banned coach focus at any length on the poor options some of his experienced representative players made at crucial times of the encounter. This was typified by Australian forward Andrew Fifita late in the contest needing to help shift the play to the middle of the field and closer to the posts before crabbing across field and cruelled any chance of an equalising field goal. This is not forgetting they held a 14-6 lead with 24 minutes to go facing a side playing away from home who were missing future immortal Johnathan Thurston and key middle forward Matt Scott.


The Cowboys will play the Eels, who gave the minor premiers Melbourne an almighty scare, in the second semi-final. The Eels qualifying final defeat 18-16 was hugely meritorious, especially as the home side scored four minutes into the contest. Brad Arthur’s Eels only scored one try when it was 13 on 13 (Melbourne’s Cameron Munster was sin-binned after 24 minutes) but their completion rate of 87% (27/31) replicated against the Cowboys would mean Parramatta will be tough to beat. However in round 14 when these two sides met the Cowboys ran in five tries in a comprehensive 32-6 win. But Thurston played that game and Eels mid-season acquisition recruit Mitchell Moses was only just getting used to his new teammates. That fixture was also played in Darwin so in a sense it was a Cowboys home game give location and climate.


Friday night will see the Broncos, who were beaten by the Roosters 24-22, host Penrith who defeated Manly 22-10. Anthony Griffin’s side performed a 28-point turnaround in the space of a week having been beaten 28-12 in round 26 by the Sea Eagles. You have to go back to round nine when the Broncos last played Penrith which resulted in a 32-18 win for home side in the Queensland capital. Down 28-0 after 52 minutes the Panthers scored three second-half tries but it was a error-riddled first half display on that occasion. With Penrith making 17 errors for the game and completing at only 56% (9/16) in the first half. The match was the last game in a five-match losing streak for Penrith from which they went on to win the next four games. But there is no second chance on Friday for the mountain men.


Brisbane’s two-point defeat on Friday night was another of the weekend’s tight encounters and a highlight was the match-winning try to the Roosters’ Latrell Mitchell after he burst through the Brisbane defence with a right-hand fend on centre James Roberts but it is not just Roberts who missed three tackles which is a concern for Wayne Bennett’s side ahead of the game this Friday versus Penrith. Edge defenders Alex Glenn and Matt Gillett missed five and four tackles respectively. Both were good at stages in attack, Glenn ran for 120 metres in 13 runs, but the edge defence was a bit of a concern for the Queensland side.


Melbourne, despite their win, will have plenty to improve on in their preliminary final in a fortnight when they will meet the winner of Broncos/Panthers contest. Despite having four more sets in the game and spending more time in the Eels’ half the Storm failed to exert extra pressure via repeats sets in forcing goal line-drops out. Craig Bellamy’s side failed to number up when Munster was off the field so there is area for improvement as hard as it is to believe. The title favourites might have won this game but they might have got the shock which sees them run away with their next two games. It would appear their title to lose.


NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series – Week 2
Semi Final: Friday, September 15, 7.55pm, Suncorp Stadium
NRL: Brisbane Broncos v Penrith Panthers
Holden Cup: Penrith Panthers v Brisbane Broncos; 5.15pm
Semi Final: Saturday, September 16, 7.40pm, ANZ Stadium
NRL: Parramatta Eels v North Queensland Cowboys
Holden Cup: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles; 5.00pm
NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series – Week 3
Preliminary Final: Friday, September 22, 7.55pm, AAMI Park
NRL: Melbourne Storm v Winner of Broncos/Panthers
Holden Cup: To Be Confirmed
Preliminary Final: Saturday, September 23, 7.40pm, Allianz Stadium
NRL: Sydney Roosters v Winner of Eels/Cowboys
Holden Cup: To Be Confirmed


This NRL wrap first appeared on From the sideline of sport



About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

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