Almanac Rugby League – Five Metre Gap: NRL Finals Week Two, 2016


Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the second weekend of the NRL finals. Both home sides were victorious as the Cowboys won on Friday night in Townsville in a match that went into extra-time whilst the Raiders got over Penrith in Canberra on Saturday evening. North Queensland now face Cronulla on Friday night at Allianz Stadium whilst the minor premiers Melbourne Storm meet Canberra at AAMI Park on Saturday.


After a week or so of off-field controversy Jason Taumololo was key in laying the platform for the Cowboys 26-20 extra-time win on Friday night over Brisbane. Running for over 247 metres the edge forward was always a threat and also made eleven tackles breaks. Related to the tackles breaks, and metres, gained Taumololo made an impressive 90 metres after first contact (by an opposition defender.) Taumololo was the best in his team for that key statistic studied by NRL clubs. The 90 metres was significant, and ironic, in that it matched as many metres as the Kiwi international ran in total when the Cowboys lost in week one of the finals 16-10 in Melbourne. He admitted he was below par in that contest and more than made up for it to have his team 80 minutes from back-to-back grand final appearances.


As Brisbane bowed out on Friday night it was interesting to note, despite the humid conditions and extra-time period of five minutes each way, Broncos coach Wayne Bennett used bench player Tevita Pangai Jnr sparingly with the former Knights lower grader playing only five minutes late in the contest. Bennett at one stage had Alex Glenn playing left centre when Tom Opacic went off after an hour. Despite Glenn’s versatility the Cook Island and Kiwi international was possibly fatigued when he was caught out of sorts as Cowboys centre Justin O’Neill crossed for his second try after 62 minutes. Brisbane was back in the game when Corey Oates dotted down seven minutes later but one wonders why Pangai Jnr, who played 21 minutes last weekend against the Titans, was given so little time.


It seemed a meaningless penalty as the Raiders wound the clock down to secure a 22-12 triumph over Penrith but getting to 21 points has been an important benchmark for Canberra this season. Ricky Stuart’s side has scored 21 points or more in every win this season but if they don’t pass 21 they don’t win either. Notably Melbourne have scored 16, 26, 16, and 15 in their last four home games so the men from the nation’s capital should go in with some level on confidence to their game in Melbourne if they can shore up their defence and maintain their attacking flair.


Canberra will need to counter Melbourne’s dynamic attack with impact from their bench and they showed it again on Saturday evening with Joseph Tapine running for 94 metres in his 41 minute stint but playing four minutes less off the bench Luke Bateman made an impressive 29 tackles, missing none. Kurt Baptiste is a capable dummy half runner if Englishman Josh Hodgson comes off, as he sometimes does late in the game, so this trio could be crucial to the Raiders success on Saturday night.


Despite the Storm’s favouristism Canberra have won in two of their last three trips to the Victorian capital, couple that with the Storm’s recent totals at home (not dominant even if they won three of those four games noted above) and the Raiders have every hope of making their first decider since they won the title in 1994. However Melbourne has a slim window left with Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk at their peak and it’s hard to see Craig Bellamy’s side throwing that away. The first preliminary final sees Cronulla host the Cowboys. Shane Flanagan’s side are bidding to play in their first grand final since 1997 (when Brisbane beat them in the one Australian Superleague decider) and have had a boost on Sunday with skipper Paul Gallen and fellow forward Sam Tagataese cleared to play. Focusing back on game planning by tomorrow (Monday) after two days of recovery reigning premiers the Cowboys didn’t pick up any new major injuries on Saturday evening and, like the Sharks, are set to see two key players return with winger Antonio Winterstein and centre Kane Linnett likely back from injury. Paul Green’s team, despite the travel they have to contend with, can absorb pressure in defence and launch long-range tries. I favour them to return to the grand final this year.


This look at the NRL 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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