Almanac Rugby League – NRL Preliminary Finals + NRLW Round 3

After a mixed bag of matches on Friday and Saturday evenings, we now know our Grand Finalists for next Sunday. In the inaugural NRLW decider, the Brisbane Broncos will take on the Sydney Roosters while in the NRL Melbourne Storm will meet the Sydney Roosters. Here’s how the weekend unfolded.

 

In the NRLW, the Brisbane Broncos completed a clean sweep of their round robin matches and go into next week’s Grand Final as firm favourites. Their 32-10 win over the NZ Warriors reinforced the view that Brisbane has the strongest squad, the best depth of talent and the best game plan of any team in the competition. Last night they conceded an early try after some poor discipline but quickly returned fire and then took control of the game, smothering any and all attempts by the Kiwis to get back into it. They were in such strong command that they rested two of their best players, Ali Briggenshaw and Brittany Brearley, for the last third of the match! And this on top of losing dynamic second-rower Maitua Feterika just after half-time. All three had starred in the first half with Feterika reminding me of Alan Cann – built low to the ground, fiercely strong, bullocking in attack and hard-hitting in defence. Props Heather Ballinger and Steph Hancock ploughed fruitfully up the middle, and replacement Ngatokotoru Arakua got more minutes this week and made her presence felt. Bench player Lavinia Gould provided excellent service from the play-the-ball. Julia Robinson had a great game on the wing and later at fullback. Her display of aerial acrobatics for her second try was spectacular. There’s a touch of Billy Slater about some of her play. Kimiora Nati played an understated but vital link role outside of Briggenshaw. For the Warriors, Apil Nicholls was the standout yet again, playing with determination and passion behind a dominated pack. Halfback Georgia Hale and replacement Lorina Papalii also acquitted themselves well. All in all, a convincing win to the Broncos.

 

After two disappointing losses, the Sydney Roosters finally showed their ability with a comprehensive 26-0 win over the St George Illawarra Dragons. Needing only a 2-point win to qualify for next weekend’s Grand Final, the Roosters had the match in hand within a quarter of an hour with three tries to speedy winger Taleena Simon who eventually finished the match with four to her name. Playing behind dominant forwards who hunted as a pack, halfback Zahara Tamara guided her team around the field and terrorised the Dragons’ back three with an excellent, pin-point kicking game. Karina Brown chimed in well from fullback to keep the Dragons on the defensive throughout. The Dragons just couldn’t take a trick and were further hindered by poor handling skills in stark contrast to their effort last week. Their standout was Hannah Southwell who attacked with great energy and defended strongly. Kezie Apps, Talesha Quinn and  Jessica Sergis all tried hard to no avail.

 

The Melbourne Storm powered their way into yet another NRL Grand Final with a clinical dismissal of a brave Cronulla Sharks by 22-6 at AAMI Park. It was always going to be tough for the Sharks who were missing Wade Graham, Paul Gallen and Josh Dugan, with stand-in captain Luke Lewis clearly playing on one leg for much of the game. The Sharks opened ferociously and battered Melbourne for twenty minutes. But such is the strength and organisation of the Storm defence that they held their line intact without too much alarm and then created a single opening at the other end that saw Brodie Croft score on the end of a movement featuring Felise Kaufusi and Billy Slater. Not long after, another right side play saw Slater drift outside of Matthew Moylan and slice through to the delight of the locals. Then, not long before the break, a typical Smith grubber for Slater took advantage of the Sharks’ forwards being distracted by a bit of push and shove. Suddenly it was 20-0 and game over. To their great credit, the Sharks did not surrender as they threw caution to the wind and ad-libbed their way through the second half, testing the adaptability and structure of the Melbourne defence. Only once did the immaculately straight line, purple wall lose shape allowing Luke Lewis a deserved final try. In fact, the Sharks ‘won’ the second half 6-2, however it needs to be said that the Storm only did what was needed to win this game in the second half and stay healthy for next week. For the Storm, Smith and Slater put on a first-half exhibition; up front, Jesse Bromwich, Felise Kaufusi and the indomitable Dale Finucane were in everything; Croft had one of his best outings and Cameron Munster dominated his opponent in Moylan (who also carried an injury into the game). For the Sharks, Fifita played big minutes by necessity but had limited impact, Prior was all aggression, Townsend made the most of very few opportunities and Valentine Holmes was given little room to move. The main talking point was Slater’s try-saving tackle on Sosia Feki, ruled as a shoulder charge by the referee. The Match Review Committee has subsequently charged Slater and he will miss the Grand Final unless he can successfully challenge the charge at the judiciary. Already on Saturday afternoon, you can buy a dozen arguments as to why he should or should not be suspended. Watch this space.

 

Joining the Storm in the Grand Final will be the Sydney Roosters who won a torrid battle of limited appeal against the South Sydney Rabbitohs 12-4 at the Sydney Football Stadium. After the masterclass in rugby league provided by Melbourne in the first half on Friday night, this was an unattractive game which featured considerable mutual negativity, especially in the tackle and ruck. Only one try came as a result of a genuine sweeping team movement. Too often the ball carrier was set upon by a gang of tacklers whose sole purpose seemed to be to dispossess him without conceding a stripping penalty. I can’t believe that so much of this was deemed ‘legal’ and went unpenalised, or that so many players lost possession so often at this level. It made for ugly viewing. Thankfully, the seeming inaction of the referees in this area did not influence the outcome. I sincerely hope, however, that the Grand Final referees penalise such tactics heavily from the get-go to force both teams to play more open, attractive footy. In the end, the Roosters took their few chances and turned them into what counts on the scoreboard. The Rabbitohs had ample possession and field position, especially in the second half, but repeatedly used their same old, same old set-piece moves which made it easy pickings for the more than capable Roosters’ defence. The forward packs nullified each other in their heavy exchanges. Luke Keary stepped up for the Roosters after Cooper Cronk was injured while young centres Paul Momirovski and Joseph Manu more than held their own against the more experienced Greg Inglis and Dane Gagai. Damien Cook was always a threat while halves Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker produced some good moments. Two issues to come out of the game revolved around the injury to Cooper Cronk and Jake Friend’s lifting tackle on Inglis. Cronk merely filled a gap throughout the second half and will do well to be available next weekend. And if Billy Slater’s tackle on Friday night was, by the rulebook, illegal and worthy of suspension, then surely Friend’s effort on Inglis meets the same rulebook proscription. Watch for howls of conspiracy theories about Sydney-centric favouritism if Friend escapes censure and Slater doesn’t.

 

In good news for the NRL, both evenings attracted full houses at their respective venues. Now we wait to see what comes of injuries and potential suspensions ahead of the decider on Sunday. More as the week progresses.

 

 

Ian Hauser judges finals matches harshly because they are supposed to showcase the best things in the code. He’s also picky about word usage in his work as an editor. You can check out his services here.

 

 

About Ian Hauser

A happy, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I appreciate those beautiful moments in sport (and life) that capture the spirit rather than the law of the game. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. I offer a comprehensive editing service for both new and experienced writers. Check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au Queenslander!

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