Almanac Rugby League: NRL Finals Week 3 wrap – A week of anticipation ahead

Carly Simon had a fine song and album titled “Anticipation”. The word “Anticipation” certainly rings true in the lead-up to Grand Final day.

 

Following last Friday’s and Saturday’s battles, we finally know who’ll take part in the NRL Grand Final. There’ll be much anticipation for the battle involving minor premiers the Penrith Panthers and the second-placed Melbourne Storm. In the NRL Women’s competition, the Broncos versus Roosters showdown should also be hotly anticipated, particularly after their attractive battle just eight days before the impending decider.

 

In the first NRL Preliminary Final, it was no surprise to see the Storm beat the fifth-placed Canberra Raiders 30-10. The Raiders were not disgraced although they were really up against it. Coming off a hard fought 22-18 win against the team that beat them narrowly in last year’s controversial decider, the Raiders were caught off guard against a Melbourne team that was refreshed from a week’s break. The Storm were simply too slick and skillful as they blew the Green Machine off the park, with the scoreline reading 24-0 in the 25th minute. A massacre looked possible but, to their credit, the Raiders never threw in the towel. They actually outscored Melbourne in the last 55 minutes, although it must be said that the Storm were somewhat in cruise mode for that time. The Storm neither went into survival mode nor did they go for the jugular, as their intensity dropped off somewhat. The expert leadership and influence of Cameron Smith ensured Melbourne would never fritter away its strong position, even if Canberra had several scoring chances and bombed a few of them. A superb try-saving effort from Cameron Smith showed that the 37-year-old had not lost any pace, let alone determination, motivation and competitiveness.

 

The Storm had plenty of strong performers, including Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and replacement Dale Finucane in the forwards while Justin Olam, Josh Addo-Carr and Ryan Papenhuyzen were ominous in the backline during the onslaught. Following endless speculation about whether or not Smith would play on next year, he waved to the crowd towards the end of the match and was held aloft by a couple of team-mates afterwards. Was this a farewell to a Brisbane crowd? I’m sure we’ll find out in the next week or so.

 

The Panthers earned their Grand Final appearance after notching their 17th consecutive victory, although they didn’t have it all their own way as they edged out the sixth-placed South Sydney Rabbitohs 20-16. The Rabbitohs had amassed 144 points in their previous three matches – all against top-seven teams – but it was little surprise that they could not maintain this. Souths opened the scoring against Penrith following a deft crossfield kick from Adam Reynolds to Alex Johnston, before the minor premiers gained the upper hand. Their first two tries also resulted from kicks. The Panthers played a much more up-tempo game than their opponents, and a vital penalty goal gave Penrith a 14-6 half-time lead. But the margin could have been much greater, considering the Panthers had a try disallowed due to a forward pass and had a couple of other near misses. The Rabbitohs did enough to hang in there, and they trailed just 14-12 after scoring first in the second stanza. The try was mired in controversy as The Bunker overturned the on-field referee’s signal of ‘no try’. It appeared to me that Dane Gagai failed to ground the ball properly. Fortunately it didn’t decide the outcome. A great bust from Isaah Yeo set up a try for Dylan Edwards to put Penrith ahead 20-12, but then a speculative try to Corey Allan entertained hopes of Souths stealing the game. Reynolds came achingly close to landing a 40-20 kick in the last few minutes, and this was another turning point as the Panthers held on. Having failed to convert pressure into points on a number of occasions, the minor premiers have plenty to work on if they are to have any chance of beating the Storm.

 

In the women’s competition, the Warriors ended their season on a high while the Dragons finished without a victory after the New Zealand team scored five tries to two in a 22-10 triumph. Already below full strength, the Dragons were missing a replacement from the get-go as Maddie Studdon was a late withdrawal. Sam Bremner starred in a losing cause while Jessica Sergis was on the receiving end of a couple of bone-rattling tackles. Teenage debutant Teagan Berry was bundled over the sideline near the left corner as she nearly scored for the Red V with her first touch before she atoned soon afterwards. But the Warriors quickly hit back with a try from a scrum, with Evania Pelite giving Sergis a ‘don’t argue’ to set up a four-pointer for Ellia Green. Kirra Dibb set up the next try with a cut-out pass to Shontelle Stowers, who released a brilliant one-handed unload to tryscorer Madison Bartlett. In the second-half, a brilliant dummy-half dart and one-handed offload from Dibb set up a try to Shaniah Power before a long break from Green paved the way for a try to Pelite. Power bagged another try before a consolation converted try to the Dragons completed the scoring. Wayward goal-kicking from Dibb – admittedly from wide angles – kept the margin lower than it could have been.

 

Following some fine skills in the Warriors versus Dragons match, the impending Grand Finalists turned on a fine showing even as both sides were below full strength. The Broncos completed the round-robin season without defeat as they accounted for the Roosters 24-16 in what was effectively a Grand Final rehearsal. A clever try to Tarryn Aiken and a try to Meg Ward following a scrum put the Broncos up 12-0 before the Roosters fought back. Roosters halfback Melanie Howard threw her opposite number a dummy and crossed for a smart individual try to narrow the gap to just two points in the second half. But the Broncos lifted a gear with two quick tries to gain a 24-10 lead. Aiken and Ali Brigginshaw combined to set up a try for Tamika Upton before Brigginshaw took on the Roosters from 10 metres out and muscled her way over the tryline in a tackle. Brigginshaw roared with delight, perhaps eager to compensate after falling for Howard’s ‘show and go’ a short while earlier. Roosters centre Brydie Parker crossed in the right corner after a brilliant lead-up involved 10 passes as the ball went from one side of the field to the other but the last pass was ruled forward. Replays showed the pass was fair but that two passes early in the movement could have been called forward. It appeared that the Broncos might go on and win by 20 points, but Corban McGregor intercepted a pass from namesake and counterpart Raecene McGregor and scored a 90-metre try to make the score look much more respectable.

 

As we look forward to Grand Final day, there’ll be plenty more to read about later in the week.

 

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Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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About Liam Hauser

A Queenslander through and through, Liam went out of his comfort zone as he had a thoroughly worthwhile time in Tumut and Gundagai from 2008 to 2016 before enjoying a year in Gunnedah. His strongest sporting interests are State of Origin, Sheffield Shield, Test cricket and the NRL. His sporting CV doesn’t have many highlights, although he once top-scored in a warehouse cricket match with 54 not out at number 10, and shared in an unbroken last wicket stand of 83 with the number 11 who scored an undefeated 52. Liam has written books including State of Origin 35 Years, A Century of Cricket Tests, A History of Test Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Rugby League, and The Great Grand Finals: Rugby League's Greatest Contests. Also a huge fan of Electric Light Orchestra.

Comments

  1. The NRL games played out pretty much to expectation. The Raiders were always going to find it hard to match their heroics of the previous week; Souths had to hit a wall sooner or later and the top ranked Panthers were one hurdle too much. In the NRLW, I thought the Warriors always had a game like this in them and they deserved their win but the Dragons were well under strength. The Broncos look the goods but Grand Finals are tricky devils. Ali Brigginshaw certainly made up for her defensive miss and just took the line on to even the tables. A class act.

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