Almanac Rugby League – Five Metre Gap: NRL Finals Week 3 plus PNG games



Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the third week of the NRL finals. The weekend’s rugby league results means NRL Grand Final day will have an international flavor in the Interstate Challenge with the PNG Hunters winning through to the national second-tier decider. The Melbourne Storm will attempt to win their fifth grand final, but what would be their third legitimate title after their salary cap breaches last decade, whilst the Cowboys are aiming to win a second crown in three seasons.


Saturday night’s 29-16 triumph for the Cowboys meant Paul Green’s side became the second team since the Eels in 2009 to come from eighth place and make the grand final (in this finals format.) A calm Michael Morgan field goal three minutes from time sealed the win before Scott Bolton crossed for good measure. Morgan’s boot wasn’t only key with the one-pointer but his role was influential throughout the night. By way of example the Cowboys forced five drop outs during the game (including one from an immense defensive play) and Morgan played a key role in a statistic which the Roosters didn’t manage any of. In Melbourne the night before the Storm beat the Broncos 30-0 but it took until two minutes out from halftime when home side crossed for their first four-pointer. Up until that point it had been a very fractured contest with the Storm making an uncharacteristic six first half errors. The Cowboys will take heart from the fact Cronulla forced the Storm into five errors in the first half of the 2016 Grand Final.


The week in which the Bulldogs axed coached Des Hasler former Canterbury forward Dale Finucane thrived on Friday night running for a high for the Melbourne pack of 127 metres from his 14 runs and got through 27 tackles in his 54 minutes on the park. Bega-born Finucane is a threat from second phase play with a handy ability to offload. The NSW Country Origin representative will be making his fourth grand final appearance, he is yet to win one with the 2012 decider when the Storm beat the Bulldogs 14-4 his current club’s last NRL title. Somewhat opposite to Finucane’s trifecta of grand final defeats is Cowboys centre Justin O’Neill. The Maroons representative has a 2-0 record in grand finals, winning with the Storm in 2012 and the Cowboys in 2015. The Warwick-born left centre has also scored a try in each decider plus to go with that he scored in 2009 when the Storm won the Under 20s decider when they beat the Wests Tigers.


On each team’s recent grand final history. In the 2012 decider when Melbourne won by ten points all points were scored in the first half with the Victorian outfit seeing Ryan Hoffman, Billy Slater and O’Neill cross for tries. Interestingly skipper Cameron Smith notched only one from five of his attempts on goal that day. The Cowboys maiden crown in 2015 came courtesy of a famous Johnathan Thurston field goal after they outscored the Broncos three ties to two in normal time but the game had finished at 18-18 after 80 minutes before the one-pointer three minutes into the golden point extra time period.


Sunday’s NRL decider will be preceded by two games with the final under 20s competition contest to commence proceedings at the Sydney Olympic Park venue on, and it’s an all-Sydney affair. Manly, despite some drama around four players getting involved in a car accident on the way to the game, beat the Dragons 34-18 in the first preliminary final. The Sea Eagles, who finished eighth on the ladder will meet Parramatta who beat Penrith 28-6 in the second preliminary final. The National Youth Cup will cease at the end of this season with a change in the pathways and state-based competitions. The second fixture on the day will feature an overseas side playing in the Interstate Challenge after the PNG Hunters beat the Sunshine Coast Falcons in dramatic circumstances in Sunday with a try 90 seconds from time to secure a 12-10 triumph in the Instrust Super Cup (aka Q Cup.) The victory at Suncorp Stadium comes in only the Hunters fourth year in the competition. The Intrust Super Premiership NSW (aka NSW Cup) title went to Penrith after their 20-12 win over the Wyong Roos (Sydney Roosters affiliate) at Leichhardt Oval. Earlier at the Lilyfield venue the Redfern All Blacks won the inaugural NSW Women’s Premiership prevailing 26-16 over North Newcastle.


On Saturday in Port Moresby the Jillaroos played an historic first international fixture in Papua New Guinea beating the Orchids 42-4. The first women’s test in the country was highlighted when Maima wei scored the hosts’ only four-pointer during the game which was played in such hot and humid conditions it was split into four quarters. Following the women’s test the PM’s XIII (the best Australian players not featuring in the latter stages of the NRL finals) saw off Papua New Guinea 48-8 at the National Football Stadium in a key tune up for the World Cup which starts on October 27. The only unfortunate aspect of the double header was the date meant the Hunters qualification for the Q Cup final and the NSW Women’s final saw both games miss key players.


This league 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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