It is hard to believe that the dramatic NRL playoffs can match the quality and controversy of last week but you can guarantee the players will give it a shot. The pantomime villains Andrew Fifita, Paul Gallen and Daly Cherry-Evans have exited stage left, quickly followed, kicking and screaming by Shane Flanagan and Trent Barrett with Todd Greenberg throwing popcorn at them. We have two smoking hot semi finals taking top billing! Who is going to play a starring role and who will flop? The scene is set for some thrilling theatre. Break a leg, boys!
1st Semi Final
Brisbane Broncos v Penrith Panthers
The Broncos will enjoy having the comfort of Suncorp to soothe their nerves as they were a bunch of mixed nuts last week. Ordinary defence was equally met with stuttering attack. It was a very un-Bronco performance, or was it? As the injuries have mounted so has the Brisbane error rate. They gave up over fifty points recently and the usually water tight defence leaked like a sieve as the Roosters punched hole after hole in it, usually right up the middle. The Broncos must tighten up as the Panthers have plenty of fire power. In bad news Darius Boyd is out succumbing to his gammy hammy. Wayne Bennett the coach with the best poker face in the business wanted to roll the dice as there may not be a next week but in a selfless act Boyd ruled himself out. In Boyd, Bennett trusts and Wayne wanted his favourite side kick to inspire his troops. Boyd missing doesn’t mean its curtains for the Broncos as it’s the forwards who need to stand up. They were monstered by the Roosters and Penrith will attempt to pound into them early like they did against the Sea Eagles to silence the Suncorp cauldron. The start to this game is crucial. The Broncos will look to batter the Panthers with a blitzkrieg from the opening whistle giving Anthony Milford room to rock, and ultimately, roll the Panthers. Penrith were super aggressive last week and that intensity must be replicated or Mad Monday’s coming quicker to the foot of the mountains than Adam Blair hurtling at Nathan Cleary, from an offside position of course…Usain Bolt can’t reach the halves as fast as Blair! Cleary is the key to the Panthers pouncing, his kicking game must be on point but Reagan Campbell-Gillard and James Tamou need to set the platform and give the Panthers field position. Talk of Matt Moylan returning was quashed when the teams were announced so the man who can change the course of this match and blow this game apart is Bryce Cartwright. The two-try scoring hero from the Manly mauling is showing signs of getting back to his best and is a dangerous weapon to wield off the bench. A great sideline to this match is the battle of the clipboards between Wayne Bennett and his former assistant Anthony Griffin, who replaced Bennett at the Broncos then Bennett returned serve replacing Griffin. There’s plenty of history and only one will be smiling at fulltime, well potentially, they’re both about as animated as a crestfallen three toed sloth with arthritis. Come fulltime, spurred on by a seething Suncorp crowd, it will be Bennett beaming (on the inside). The Broncos were off last week, they won’t be again.
Broncos by 8
2nd Semi Final
Parramatta Eels v North Queensland Cowboys
This game is all about belief. The Eels believe they have the side to go all the way despite the narrow loss to the Storm last week. The Cowboys just believe. They willed their way to victory against the Sharks and have a deep faith that their spirit can keep their unlikely finals run going. Parramatta played excellent footy and pushed the Storm to the brink, forcing them out of their comfort zone and to pull tries out of the top drawer. The Eels know what’s coming. The Cowboys game plan may as well be slipped under the dressing room door prior to kick off, combating it is the issue. Jason Taumalolo and his powerful posse are riding straight down the main street so the Eels forwards must meet them head on. Brad Arthur has a belligerent bunch of big boppers who love the hard stuff, hello Nathan Brown and Kenny Edwards, while Beau Scott has the name of a Days of Our Lives heart throb but the demeanour of an extra from Mad Max! If the Eels gain ascendancy it spells trouble for the Cowboys as the Eels magicians Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses will weave them into their web. The Eels have speed and strike power out wide in Michael Jennings and Semi Radradra. If the Cowboys are tired this pair will tuck them in and turn the lights out on their season. The one area the Cowboys have an advantage is in finals experience and if this one comes down to the clutch the Cowboys will back themselves. The label of playoff cannon fodder didn’t sit well with these Cowboys and they showed true grit in turning the tide against the Sharks and blowing them out of the water. They are thriving with their backs against the wall but are relying too heavily on Taumalolo and Michael Morgan. Taumalolo has performed super human feats this season but he needs help. Coen Hess and Ethan Lowe need to step up and drive the side into position for Michael Morgan to orchestrate the attack. Te Maire Martin was quiet last week and needs to impose himself on this match. A key player is Lachlan Coote, his quality can relieve the pressure on Morgan and if he injects himself into the attack at the right time can deliver the goods. The Cowboys have been brave and will leave everything on the field but I fear the reserve petrol tank is running on fading fumes. The Eels have too much skill and speed and the courageous Cowboys spirited season will conclude.
Eels by 7
Enjoy the footy and remember gamble responsibly. The one thing I’d chuck a pretty pound on is the losing coach’s refrain from taking to the bunker with a baseball bat in the post-match press conference. A line has been drawn in the sand by the NRL and not a moment too soon. It’s a game of footy, someone wins and someone loses. Let’s just hope the on field excellence takes all the headlines and that the officials are invisible in the nicest possible sense.
It’d also be nice if the losing coach acknowledges they were beaten by the better side on the day… I won’t hold my breath.