Almanac Rugby League: 2021 NRL Finals, Week 1

 

 

 

 

The preliminaries are finally over and it’s time to get down to business. After the ebbs and flows of 25 minor rounds, I think we probably have the finalists who deserve to be there. An exception could be argued in the case of the Titans who come into September with a 10-14 record. But, along with the Knights (14-14), I think they’ll simply make up the numbers this week and then bow out.

 

Let’s just make a few comments about the rest before they head off to a break. Canberra failed when it counted most but theirs has been a disjointed season both on and off the field and so, in the end, they don’t deserve to be in the finals. The Sharks had a hot and cold campaign and, similarly, can’t complain about bowing out – close, but no cigar. The Dragons started the season like a bomb but managed to blow themselves up, ‘barbequegate’ simply the final instalment in a disastrous demise. The Warriors, bless them, gave it their all and it was sad to see them capitulate so badly on the weekend. But thanks for all you gave (again) this year. The Wests Tigers are a source of dismay with their enigmatic performances, rounded out by one of the poorest efforts of the entire season on Sunday afternoon. I feel sorry for ‘Madge’ Maguire. The Broncos drifted badly for most of the season but at least showed several hopeful signs in the latter weeks of the competition. Next year should be better. The Cowboys never lived up to expectations and the final couple months of the season were little less than a disaster. The Bulldogs struggled all year but it was good to see them have a positive final game that might give them a good vibe to return to come pre-season training.

 

But now it’s on to the finals. The Storm v Sea Eagles match-up is a beauty to get the series underway. It’s an immovable rock confronting a rushing tide; Paps v Turbo; excitable mastermind Bellamy v mad scientist Des; Hughes v DCE; two formidable forward packs; skills aplenty on both sides; speedsters everywhere. Melbourne look a little less formidable without Addo-Carr but we know that whoever fills his place will click into the patterns. I’m not sure if Manly can match it up front with the hardnuts of the Storm. I hope both teams play to their attacking strengths – if they do, we’ll have one very exciting game rather than the all-too-common dour grind of finals matches. I’ll go with Melbourne by less than 6.

 

The Roosters doubly deserve to be in the finals after overcoming a season from hell on the injuries and retirements front that would have destroyed most clubs. It speaks to their character and depth, regardless of whether you like them or not. The Titans have fallen in at the death and have the capacity to bring an unstructured style of play that might unsettle the patterns of others. But it’s hard to go past the experience, quality and depth of the Roosters who, in spite of their stretched roster, will still have selection headaches, so well have their ‘second stringers’ performed. The return of JWH and Radley makes them even stronger. Congrats to the Titans for making the finals, and enjoy the off-season. Roosters by 12+.

 

The Panthers will start hot favourites over the Rabbitohs and I expect them to win. Again, I hope both teams play their natural games and entertain what will be a sellout crowd up north. Both teams are exciting to watch when they put their collective feet to the accelerator, so defence will be crucial. The Bunnies have a better attacking record but the Panthers have the best defence in the comp. The forward packs look pretty even on paper. Cleary v Reynolds will play a big part in deciding this game, especially with their kicking skills. Yeo v Murray should be a classic encounter. Souths’ defence worries me a bit and Penrith’s Burton is the wildcard. Penrith by 10+.

 

The Eels v Knights Elimination Final looks the easiest to pick after the Knights’ very poor effort against Brisbane on Saturday. Sure, the Eels were ineffective against the Panthers, but played understrength. With the cavalry back this weekend, I expect Parra to be too strong across the park. But Newcastle welcome the return of the Saifiti brothers to toughen their pack but I don’t think they have enough points in them to challenge Parra. Eels by 12+.

 

So my winners this week are the Storm, Roosters, Panthers and Eels.

 

Friday September 10

Qualifying Final
Storm v Sea Eagles, Sunshine Coast Stadium, 7.50pm

Saturday September 11

Elimination Final
Roosters v Titans, Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 5.40pm

Qualifying Final
Panthers v Rabbitohs, Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 7.50pm

Sunday September 12

Elimination Final
Eels v Knights, Browne Park, Rockhampton, 4.05pm

 

Times and venues correct at the time of publication but please check for late changes.

 

 

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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of Footy Almanac's online editors, I moonlight as an editor for hire - check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au

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