Almanac Rugby League – 2022 NRL Preliminary Finals and NRLW Semi-Finals, and consecutive titles for the Gundagai Tigers

 

It was a case of contrasting matches in Week 2 of the 2022 NRL Finals even though the scorelines suggested two one-sided clashes. In the NRLW, the Roosters confirmed their premiership favouritism while the Broncos slumped to an all-time low.

 

In the NRLParramatta showed just what they are capable of as they smashed Canberra 40-4 on Friday night. It was a contest for all of seven minutes until a Rapana error deep in his own half offered the Eels an opportunity which they grasped with both hands, then took control and never looked back. Clearly, the Raiders played their ‘grand final’ the previous week against the Storm and were out of gas. As the match progressed it was a case of a well-drilled team taking on a disjointed group of individuals. Although this made the Raiders try harder, it was a case of 17 separate players each trying his best but without much apparent co-ordination with the other sixteen in the same jersey. Meanwhile, the Eels were a slick combination with a well thought out plan executed with precision. Mitchell Moses controlled the game on the back of sustained drive by his pack while ‘King’ Gutho was at his organisational best at the back. But full credit to the Eels’ forwards for their powerful display in both attack and defence. Canberra did well to get this far and can look forward to a positive 2023.

 

Although Saturday night’s Rabbitohs v Sharks scoreline read 38-12 at the end, it was a closer game than that with the Bunnies only breaking clear in the final 20 minutes. It was an entertaining match with lots of ball movement and audacious attack. Souths’ pack was on top for most of the night but it was their defence in the first 20 minutes that kept them in the game and blotted several scoring opportunities for the Sharks. Then strikes by Milne and Murray before half-time further deflated Cronulla. The teams traded tries for the next 20 minutes before Walker and Milne (again) put the outcome to bed. The Sharks may have erred by playing three aging forwards (Fifita, Tolman and Finucane) in a rollicking game played at full speed while the younger, more mobile Souths pack ran through and around them. Cameron Murray was simply superb, Campbell Graham had yet another blinder in both attack and defence, and Walker and Mitchell again kept their cool, playing the ball rather than the man. Mitchell’s goal-kicking was a pleasure to watch – graceful and assured.

 

This weekend sees the Cowboys hosting the Eels in Townsville while the Panthers take on the Rabbitohs on Saturday night. It will be a warm reception awaiting Parramatta up north with the match-time temperature likely to be in the mid-20s and the humidity well up, quite a change from Sydney. Then there will be the rested Cowboys, fresh and straining at the bit. The Eels possibly didn’t have to use up too much petrol in their win over Canberra but the demands of three consecutive finals has to be a drain. The clash of the forward packs, both of them mobile and looking for expansive play, should be a cracker! At their best, the Parra six are as good as any on their day; the Cowboys’ group is a good mix of the experienced (Maclean and Taumalolo) and the relentless (Robson, Nanai, Gilbert, Cotter). Moses and Brown v Townsend and Dearden will be crucial, and Gutherson v Drinkwater is another key match-up. I’m sure the bookies will have the home side as firm favourites, and probably rightly so. But there’s no doubt that Parra have it in themselves to cause an upset, probably on the basis of domination (and experience) up front feeding Moses and Brown. I’m torn: I’ll be supporting North Queensland but I find it hard to see Parra giving this one away. Perhaps the Cowboys need another year under their belt to challenge for the title, a la the Sharks this past weekend. I hate to say it but I think I’ll have to pick Parramatta.

 

Anything could happen in Saturday night’s game! Undoubtedly there’s a certain irresistible spirit in the Bunnies and their playing discipline in the finals has been very good. They’re also out to reverse last season’s disappointment and have the added advantage of Mitchell both playing and in great form. They’re solid across the width of the park. But they have a few injury concerns entering this game and they made far too many errors last weekend. Do that again and they’ll be 18 points behind rather than that much ahead. Too often they play to Koloamatangi and it becomes an easy read for the opposition defence. Let’s hope Arrow is fit to spread that load. Penrith, meanwhile, is a formidable opponent, in great form, confident and even stronger across the field. Their forwards are ruthless, their halves dynamic and fullback Edwards one of the best in that position. It’s hard to go past them. But they have been exposed a couple of times this year and they have to be below their best only once more  to be forced through the exit door. For all my admiration of Souths’ recent form, I can’t see them overcoming the mountain men, so my tip is Penrith.

 

So my NRL winners this week are the Eels and Panthers.

 

And before moving on, farewell and thanks to Aidan Tolman, one of the toughest but fairest forwards of the past decade. A great servant to three clubs and, judging by his on-field comments at the end of last week’s game, a humble and team-focussed man. Enjoy your retirement!

 

In the NRLW, the Roosters continued on their merry way with a 38-12 win over the Titans, the Knights won the battle for second place when they downed the Dragons 30-8 and the Broncos reached an all-time low and missed the finals when they went down 28-16 to the improving Eels. All in all, I think that just about summed up the minor round season for all six teams.

 

The two semi-finals will be played at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday in the lead-up to the Australian Prime Minister’s XIII clash with Papua New Guinea. First up will be the Knights v Dragons rematch where the Knights will go in full of confidence after last weekend. They’ve timed their run well, not unlike the Roosters in the 2021 season. The addition of the likes of Boyle, Upton and Johnston has rounded out what was a promising squad. The real question will be whether or not the Dragons can haul themselves out of their recent modest form to provide a real contest. My gut feeling is that the Knights will roll on. In the other game, you’d be crazy to pick against the rampaging Roosters and I won’t. The Eels have done well to hang in and jag that fourth spot but that’s about as good as it will get. It’s the Roosters for me.

 

So my NRLW winners for this week are the Knights and Roosters.

 

Finally, congratulations to the Gundagai Tigers who went through the 2022 season undefeated in the NSW CRL Group 9 competition, easily accounting for the Young Cherrypickers by 34-4 in the Grand Final. That makes it back-to-back titles for Gundagai. I’m sure it went off at the Services Club on Sunday night!

 

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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.

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