Almanac League: Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Week Three

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the third weekend of the NRL finals. Melbourne and Cronulla are grand final-bound after victories over Canberra and North Queensland, respectively. We will also look at some of the other action below the top tier fixture with two other deciders this Sunday afternoon at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.

The Storm will look to secure their second NRL title this decade, having beaten the Bulldogs in 2012, when they run out at Sydney Olympic Park’s main ground but it could have been a different story if late drama in Melbourne had fallen Canberra’s way. The 14-12 victory for Craig Bellamy’s side was their least impressive win for some time and the Storm’s defence (plus some Canberra errors) only got them home. However there is a weakness in Melbourne’s wide left defence with winger Marika Koroibete and centre Cheyse Blair missing three tackles each on Saturday night against Canberra. The use of second man plays and a confident running game of James Maloney if he switches sides occasionally can expose this for Cronulla.

Shane Flanagan’s side look to add to their sole top flight victory which was a 1979 Amco Cup (Knockout Cup) win in Sunday’s denouement to the season. A comprehensive 32-20 win over North Queensland might not be the best guide to the grand final but there are aspects the Sharks can take from their triumph. The impact of fatigue on North Queensland was apparent early, even allowing for the weight of possession on Friday evening in Sydney with the Cowboys making seven errors in the first half. After a try early in the second half things only got worse for Paul Green’s side and this was typified with bench forward John Asiata conceding three penalties, with two of those coming early in a tackle count allowing Cronulla to make easy metres against an already tired side. If they can catch Melbourne (who have had a day’s less rest) on the run by passing wide early in their tackle counts and targeting the Storm’s bench forwards, that aren’t quite at the elite level of their starters this could be beneficial.

From an attacking standpoint Melbourne, interestingly, only scored 14 points in their grand final triumph four years ago – the lowest for a winning team since Brisbane in 2000 who also notched 14 in beating the Roosters. It’s often irrelevant going back too far in the record books when you consider rule changes etc but it’s a stat Cronulla will be buoyed by. However it is worth keeping in mind Melbourne beat the Sharks 26-6 to secure the minor premiership in round 26 with tries coming on both sides of Melbourne’s attack, one from a deft Cooper Cronk kick which was spilled by Cronulla’s defence, and a late Jesse Bromwich try close to the posts. Cronulla did lose three players due to injury in the first half of that encounter which gave Melbourne a significant advantage. Melbourne’s formula for Sunday might be playing Cronulla wide early when on attack but attack their tiring middle forwards in the second stanza. After the round 26 game Sharks centre Jack Bird would have had it pointed out to him about Blair blowing past him twice to score.

Making 228 and 176 metres in each of Cronulla’s two finals game to date Matt Prior, who featured in the Dragon’s 2010 grand final win, has been crucial in laying the platform for his team which has allowed his side to be in a position to usually make, at least, an attacking kick at the end of each set. Whilst for Melbourne Kiwi middle forward Bromwich (190 and 168 metres) has been Melbourne’s best performer in that regard. Keep an eye out for their half-time stats as anything under 80 metres for either in their first stints in the run-up to the intermission would be below par.

St George Illawarra’s second-tier side the Illawarra Cutters secured a spot in the State Championship fixture to be held before the NRL decider beating Canberra-affiliated Mounties 21-20 at Parramatta Stadium on Sunday. Drew Hutchinson’s late field goal secured the NSW Cup title and means they will face the Burleigh Bears who comprehensively beat Redcliffe Dolphins 36-16 to win the Queensland competition. The victory was Burleigh’s first Queensland Cup title in 12 years and means they will get the chance to secure a treble of Queensland wins in this match with the Maroon state having won the first two editions of this playoff. Prior to the ‘Mini-Origin’ fixture on Sunday the national youth (under 20) competition final will see Penrith face the Roosters, the former drawing from one of the state’s biggest pool of junior players and the latter drawing from one of the smallest. However it should be noted that despite the fact their junior zone is small the Sydney Roosters, due to their relationship with Wyong on the Central Coast, have recruited shrewdly from the district just north of metropolitan Sydney. A mention also to the game played in Port Moresby on Saturday afternoon, the Prime Minister’s XIII (made up of players not featuring in the latter stages of the NRL finals) dispatched Papua New Guinea 58-0. There was plenty of joy in the locals seeing their NRL heroes after a recent tragic incident in their own domestic competition which resulted in the death of a fan.

This review and preview piece on the NRL first appeared on From the sideline of sport.

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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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