What a drama charged final round, the makeup of the finals unknown until late Sunday as the Cowboys rode the Bulldogs home to send the Saints packing and keep the dream alive in the tropics. In final round results the Broncos beat the Cowboys, the Eels slipped the Rabbitohs. Super Saturday saw the Roosters tippy toe past the Titans, the Sea Eagles pounded the Panthers and the sensational Storm rolled on as they rocked the Raiders. Sunday saw the Sharks beat a brave (yet again) Knights, the Bulldogs upset the Dragons and the Tigers whacked the Warriors. We farewell eight teams as the finals begin the real deal – the playoffs. The Storm may have been the top gun all year but now we’re reaching the pointy end of proceedings it only takes one maverick side or performance to bring down a sensational season… just ask the Dragons!
The Water Cooler – Ten Talking Points
A season that began so brilliantly ended abruptly for the Saints as the Bulldogs rich vein of form at the tail end of the year added another stud to their collar of victims. After a lacklustre start the Dragons hit the front early in the second stanza and it looked like the Red V had turned things around and saved their season but the Bulldogs lifted and sent the Saints marching out of the finals and off to Mad Monday after a sad end to Sunday. Mary McGregor’s men will be shattered but at the end of the day the Dragons weren’t good enough to take advantage of their great start to the season. They played their grand final last week against Penrith and couldn’t lift when it was needed most as the Bulldogs applied the blowtorch.
Des Hasler must be sitting back wondering why didn’t he expand the Bulldogs style earlier. The Doggies have looked a completely different side since Michael Lichaa has run from dummy half. For three quarters of the season the Dogs dummy half rarely ran just dished the ball out to an attack that had as much bite as a pensioner with a lifelong penchant for sugar. The past month Des has taken the cone off Lichaa’s head and let him off the leash, the main beneficiary has been Will Hopoate who has turned from potential nudie runner to try scoring freak in a fortnight! The Bulldogs have looked fluent in attack, dangerous and dare I say it – attractive to watch! Has the change in attitude, style and results been enough to keep Des running the ship in 2018? The Bulldogs boardroom meetings between now and next season will contain minutes more explosive than anything firing out of North Korea.
Eagles Rocking Again
What a month Manly! After looking like world beaters and potential Storm stoppers, the wheels fell off spectacularly only to get re-attached late against the Warriors. The Sea Eagles entered Lottoland in a cage fight to the finish against the Panthers neither side wanting to wait for the Dragons result. The sides came off at halftime with the game over! Manly had walked onto the field with a baseball bat shoved down their socks and whacked the Panthers into submission. Penrith were battered as a pumped up Manly ran all over them. The Sea Eagles thrilled the home fans with brilliant ball movement, running riot with Tom Trbojevic terrorising the Panthers. Tom Turbo was simply sensational off the back of the dynamic Daly Cherry-Evans and by the time the siren sounded for oranges the Sea Eagles had well and truly flown with a warning for fellow finalists: the Eagles have landed!
They say a week is a long time in league and the Penrith Panthers have reinforced that cliché as they seem to be imploding before our eyes. Seven straight wins had everyone singing the Panther’s praises yet the Dragons defeat revealed cracks in the Penrith plaster. Within seven days the Panther win column was shown to be built on pillars of sand. It’s all collapsed in a heap. Not only was the momentum stalled, rumours raged Matt Moylan was unhappy. The failure to launch at Lottoland combined with news Moylan needs time away from the game to sort out personal issues has left the mountain men a monumental task, recover their composure and work out a way to shoot down the Sea Eagles as they face them again in an elimination final this Saturday! As the media vultures circle picking at the pieces of the Panthers carcass, their pride and pack mentality will be tested. It will be a long week.
Broncos Bollocking Benefit
You knew it was coming. A week after letting in 50 you knew the Broncos were going to bounce back after copping a Wayne Bennett blast. The Broncos defensive woes lasted one week! The goal line defence was sensational as they repelled wave after wave of Cowboys attack. They also cleverly pushed the boundaries and gave away a stack of penalties slowing things down but until the referees sin bin players, teams like the Broncos will continue to do it. Wayne Bennett won’t care he got the response he wanted from his men and the Broncos bounce into the crucial clash with the Chooks with a spring in their step as we bolt into September.
Milf Looks Hot
Anthony Milford won this game in the first 20 minutes. The Milf stepped and danced through the tired and tattered Cowboys defence and was almost unstoppable as he set up try after try and set the Cowboys too hard an assignment. Injuries to key players like Darius Boyd puts added pressure on the Broncos and they’ll look to the Milf to continue his hot form and lead the charge into the playoffs. For the Broncos to push the Roosters and ultimately quell the Storm, their bogey team, it will be Milford off the back of the Broncos steel defence who can find the key and flashes of brilliance to unlock the NRL’s best.
They may have lived to fight another day but the Cowboys are finals cannon fodder. They look knackered and must find the reserves from deep within to fight on. Spirit isn’t an issue, their second half charge at the Broncos was admirable. Jason Taumalolo bore at the Broncos like a raging bull with a giant chip on its shoulder and made monstrous metres stepping like the head line dancer of a hoedown set on a hot plate. He was stat-tastic! Michael Morgan tried every trick in his book but unfortunately his assistants were too exhausted to saw the Broncos in half. Not sure what the Cowboys have left up their sleeves other than just rolling them up and giving it a red-hot crack. The Cowboys know no other way. Luckily they have a ten day turnaround to re-energise and reboot, maybe the League God wears a cowboy hat?
Chooks Nearly Choke
The Roosters had worked so hard to earn a top two spot and a home final and so very nearly blew it. They left it very late to hammer home and score two tries both converted by the man with nerves of steel, Michael ‘Flash’ Gordon. Trent Robinson will hope his men had an off day with one eye on the Broncos as a repeat of this drivel and the Chooks will be facing a straight set finals exit. Too many pushed passes and a lack of respect for the ball and the Titans nearly forced the Roosters into a trip north for week one. Zane Tetevano took it upon himself to inject some bite into the Chooks toothless display and nearly sent the home final chances flat lining after flattening Ben Nakubuwai. If Tetevano had been given his marching orders the Roosters top two aspirations would have walked with it.
Paul Gallen is a marvel. The Shire Sherriff may be 36 years of age but is still a major force to be reckoned with. He wears his badge as the Sharks leader with honour and isn’t ready for retirement or for the star to be ripped off his jersey. Gallen was monumental against the Knights, his incredible work rate and quality inspired his fellow Sharks. Without Big Gal the Sharks would have been in big trouble against the courageous Knights, who have discovered their own talisman in Lachlan Fitzgibbon. If the Sharks are to firstly overcome the Cowboys then go into deeper waters in the playoffs it will begin off the back of Paul Gallen. For Cronulla to create history and go back to back the other 16 players need to not only admire the effort of Gallen they need to replicate it and repeat it for the next month.
It wasn’t all about the race for playoff positions. The lower echelons of the NRL lifted and put in a big final display of the year to send their more vaunted opposition into heart palpitations. The Bunnies nearly flung the Eels out of the top four forcing Semi Radradra into hat-trick heroics, the Titans pushed the Roosters top two hopes to the brink, the Knights nearly shocked the Sharks and the Bulldogs of course shone brighter than all as they delighted their legion of loyal fans in dumping the Dragons out of the race. Each of these sides could have shown up with their pipe and slippers on but I dip my lid to them as the players all showed pride in their jersey, in their personal performance and gave everything for their clubs and the people who spend their hard earned to support them each week – the fans!
The Last Word
Can you smell it? The flowers, freshly cut grass, the anticipation and intensity? We’ve arrived at the best time of year, Spring which means September and the NRL finals. The preliminaries are over, it’s time for the main event. It’s a new competition from here, not only the best but the fittest squad will triumph. Any mistakes, injuries or suspensions at this stage could be fatal.
Every pass, every tackle, every decision matters, every play could make or break a season. The football played now is the highest quality played under the ultimate pressure.
Some player or team rises to the occasion and produces feats of fantasy. Who’s going to produce the magic that make memories that propels moments into mythology?
Time for heroes to stand up!