We’re down to four after a pair of playoff matches that had minor melodrama compared to last week’s incredible theatre and world record whinging but still featured some fantastic footy. On Friday night the Broncos held off the Panthers to record a tight victory and win the battle to face the might of the fresh Storm, some prize hey! While on Saturday the Eels went out in straight sets after the Cowboys kept their finals fantasy alive in a dominant win to advance to take on the Roosters in the other Grand Final qualifier.
The Water Cooler – Playoff Talking Points
Knockout North Queenslanders
Tired, running on empty… talk about rope a dope! Call in the stewards and swab these Cowboys. North Queensland rode into ANZ apparently on their last legs and not only put on a finals footy clinic to account for the Eels and knock them out of the playoffs with ease they ran away with the game in the second stanza when most expected the Cowboys to fade. The Cowboys played perfect finals footy. Michael Morgan controlled proceedings masterfully, slip some headgear on him and you could be forgiven for thinking its Johnathan Thurston underneath! One JT may be missing but the other JT is absolutely killing it. Jason Taumalolo rolled his sleeves up and once again barged like a wounded bull into the Eels. He is routinely chalking up ridiculous numbers and his Beast Mode currently only has one setting: fully charged! Last year’s joint Dally M medal winner is playing even better this season.
NQ Tougher Together
The Cowboys are a huge side and in classic league parlance were too big and too strong. They monstered the Eels! It was a tremendous team effort but special mention must go to second rowers Ethan Lowe and Gavin Cooper who were inspirational. Cooper hammered the Eels at every opportunity, the skipper leading with his deeds. Lowe’s chase on a runaway Will Smith forcing him to score in the corner instead of under the sticks typified the effort the Cowboys put in each week. The under-rated Lowe is an invaluable member of the posse, he also saved a try stopping Mitchell Moses dead in his tracks inches short, ran tough lines all night into heavy traffic and kicked one sideline conversion bending it like Thurston! Paul Green has his men believing they can defy the odds and go all the way so write them off at your peril. They are on a serious roll and digging deep for each other. To take the title the Cowboys have to win four matches in a row in Sydney, they’re halfway there.
Eels Experience Exposed
Parramatta’s first finals fling since 2009 ended in disappointment. Hopes out west were high but the loss to the Cowboys meant they have gone out of the playoffs without a win. Their four point halftime lead was a mirage as both their tries were long range and against the run of play off Cowboys kicks. Semi Radradra’s 100m effort was a beauty, a signature effort from the Fijian flying excitement machine and a great way to sign off from the NRL. He’ll be remembered fondly and you can guarantee he’ll be back. The Eels may have led at the orange break but the Cowboys had been the better side. The Eels gave their all but couldn’t find the keys to unlock the relentless NQ defence and had trouble just getting out of their half. The red zone was a blur in the distance. The Eels magic men, Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses were well corralled by the Cowboys, they were never able to conjure the trick shots to crack the Cowboys. Parramatta’s player of the season, Nathan Brown, was once again their best. His clash with Taumalolo was colossal and though outpointed, Brown’s stocks didn’t drop because of the defeat. Brown, like the Eels, is on the rise. Brad Arthur is a fantastic coach and has his men heading in the right direction. They’ll be contenders again next season.
Broncos Outplay Outlast
The Broncos survived a tight encounter and have lived to fight another day. It wasn’t pretty but it was your typical gutsy finals footy. The Broncos lost three players through concussion and defended their line as if their very lives depended on it. The forwards scrambled and their character passed the test as it always does. Matt Gillett and Josh McGuire led the way knocking down every Panther before they could purr. The Broncos defence, and attitude, had been dented by the Roosters last week and unluckily for the Panthers you knew they were going to rectify things this week. Kodi Nikorima performed wonderfully at the back and defused plenty of towering Nathan Cleary bombs, one vital grab snatching the ball from the fingertips from a try bound Dylan Edwards. James Roberts pace was always a threat and he looks to be the main weapon the Broncos will seek to unleash to quell the might of the Storm next Friday. The Broncos hung tough and got the job done, and that’s all that matters this time of the year. Wayne Bennett will be glad they got through as Darius Boyd will return next week and they’ll need him as if the Broncos reproduce this display the Storm will pump them by plenty.
Panthers Peter Out
The season for the Panthers is now over and when the dust settles, after their ordinary start to the year, and the multiple off field distractions, they’ll be pleased they made it through to week two of the finals. The Panthers couldn’t replicate last week’s fire and brimstone battle cry and didn’t have the energy to throw much at the Broncos. The Panthers could barely lift their paws in the final ten minutes to land the knockout blow. Reagan Campbell-Gillard was the stand out, he had a huge game and was the best player on the park. Unfortunately for the Panthers cause Campbell-Gillard didn’t get much help. As hard as they tried the Panthers played busted and quickly ran out of ideas. Nathan Cleary bombed away to no avail and Tyrone May’s knee injury certainly didn’t help because when the Panthers attempted to sail home, they had no wind to propel them over the white stripe. Their execution was lacking and couldn’t punch enough holes in the resolute Broncos. Bryce Cartwright wasn’t the factor the Panthers needed, especially with May injured, and looked off the pace, while gun rookie Corey Harawira-Naera backfired in a night to forget. The Sea Eagles shellacking left them sapped and the Broncos had all the answers for the few questions the Panthers threw at them.
To Play On Or Not Play On
The main bone-of-contention from this match, was should play have been allowed to continue after the Corey Oates and Anthony Milford clash? Dean Whare tore away for what would have been a Panthers try after the Corey Oates collision around the halfway line. It would have been a try – and scores level at 6-all – if that concussion occurred 10 metres out from the try line, as Whare would have scored by the time play had been stopped. I thought it was play on but after the sickening clash the officials just reacted with humanity. They have a duty of care player safety is paramount. At the end of the day Penrith lost because they didn’t play well enough. Anthony Griffin deserves great credit for not using this incident as an excuse, it’s a shame some other coaches can’t take defeat with such grace.
The Last Word
Ole Jock loves a grumble and this week’s moan is about the Broncos tactics of slowing the play the ball down by lying all over the Panthers attackers on their line turned the game to snail pace. The match wasn’t of the same speed or quality of last week’s matches. Teams constantly slowing the play the ball down, particularly when defending their line is a blight on the game and getting out of control. Every team does it but the Broncos dragged it down to new depths on Friday night. Adam Blair was by far the biggest culprit as the Panthers attempted to lift to an unlikely victory in the final quarter and I’m still trying to work out how he wasn’t penalised for this, let alone avoid being sin binned. Blair could have watched Lawrence of Arabia the Directors Cut and paused it mid-movie for a cuppa the amount of time he laid on the Panthers players before getting off at glacial pace when they were tackled 5 metres out from the line. The referees seemed oblivious to the deliberate slowing down or unwilling to blow the whistle. Blair is the master of deception as he constantly avoids detection or must have incriminating photos of the referees in compromising positions, I’ve heard the post-season parties held in the Bunker are notoriously wild, after sipping a couple of shandies, they play Twister then all sit round reading out Tony Archer’s post-match Bunker bungle apologies mimicking Ray Warren’s commentators voice.
I’ll be standing beside the mail box every day after the Grand Final waiting hopefully for an invite to arrive in the post!