As we move into the final 2 regular season rounds of the NRL in 2007, up to 8 or 9 teams are fighting it out for the remaining 6 finals spots. The changes to the home ground rule for higher ranked teams this year makes sense, the 2 highest ranked teams continue to receive their home ground advantage in week 3 of the finals – a deserving reward for being the best 2 teams all season.
While the home ground advantage is a crucial key to NRL finals success, the other final ingredient is the ‘individual player’ from each NRL club that can single handedly change a match. Rugby League in 2007 certainly remains a team based sport, the quality and depth of the overall squad cannot be questioned. However in todays style of ‘safety first’ or ‘predictable’ type plays where many teams are very similar – the individual efforts of certain players can literally turn a game in a matter of seconds.
Which players hold the key at NRL clubs that are possible finals contenders? Some are obvious, others maybe not – we look forward to your comments at: NRLfeedback@gmail.com
Melbourne Storm: Cameron Smith. An obvious choice, not only a skilled player with great vision – his spirit easily lifts the Storm when needed. Sets up their attack and has a hand in most of their tries, but also saves plenty of tries with desperate measures.
Manly Sea Eagles: Michael Monaghan. The crafty former Raider is more important than expensive Manly men such as Matt Orford or Jamie Lyon. Continually underrated – Monaghan has a cool head and regularly puts his hand up for the Eagles at critical times. Can get momentum going in an instant.
North Queensland Cowboys: Jonathan Thurston. Closing in fast on the ‘best player in the world’ tag. While Thurstons style requires his forwards to do their work first, there is no question the power JT possesses. A dangerous runner, but extremely unselfish and sets up teammates with dynamic passing or accurate kicking. Has continually matured and has much more vision these days, his game style is complimented well by an old stager such as Jason Smith.
Bulldogs: Sonny Bill Williams. An obvious choice, SBW is simply a game breaker. Tends to take a back row seat when Willie Mason and Andrew Ryan lead the show – but if Sonny is in the mood no other NRL team in the finals will contain him. Keeps defence lines in two minds – holding the ball in his hand ready for an offload at any second. Most certainly carrying the hopes for the Bulldogs in what’s been an inconsistent year.
Parramatta Eels: Mark Riddell. Forget the backline the Eels possess. When Mark ‘Piggy’ Riddell wants to turn a game, his passion is contagious. Has the ability to motivate his team through fearless charges, stinging defence and a niggle, sledge game that fires his allies up. The Eels need fire in the belly and Piggy is the man to lift them.
NZ Warriors: Steve Price. The gracefully aging star is showing the way for all forwards. The Queenslander is not only eating the metres in a big way, he is backing up for tries and displaying defensive commitment and fitness of an outside back. In the form of his career, his experience and ability have helped the Warriors to where they are. The NZ boys need a seasoned campaigner such as Price to guide them through the Australian based minefield of NRL finals.
Wests Tigers: Benji Marshall. The talented Kiwi is quickly trying to reclaim his best form after a long layoff. Drastically working on some defensive issues that have seen him leak points in the past few weeks. Regardless, this guy is a superstar – his confidence is coming back and it’s his quick thinking of fearlessness, that see him throw outrageous flick passes or 2nd tackle chip kicks. Can turn a game quickly, the Tigers play on confidence and he is their firestarter.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Issac Luke. A bolter? Maybe, but young gun Issac Luke brings three things to the table for Souths – raw determination, toughness and scoring ability. The feisty hooker with the nickname ‘Bully’ can apparently scrap with the best of them – he takes no prisoners in defence and can burrow and smash through defence lines like a prop. As the Bunnies struggle in attack, Iassac Luke is the man to get them through the NRL finals series.
Brisbane Broncos: Justin Hodges. As the Broncos fade fast in NRL 2007 – the man who takes the pressure after Darren Lockyer and countless others submit to injury is Hodges. The king of sledge and smartness – the talent of the rangy outside back cannot be questioned. Playing close to the action at five eight – Brisbane are desperately trying to get things going. The creative Hodges has the ability to crab across field and setup his inside men for line breaks. Impossible to contain – he holds the key for Broncos if they can scrape into the final 8.
Gold Coast Titans: Scott Prince. While the Titans have some other contenders in the tireless Luke Bailey, the scheming Scott Prince is they key to success. Yet another halfback who is impossible to read, his trademark ‘dummy and go, dummy and go’ is copied by other NRL clubs. His kicking game is probably close to the best in the NRL at present (long and short) and he sets up the majority of tries for the Titans. If Prince remains healthy and on the park, the Titans are still a hope in 2007.
Sydney Roosters: Braith Anasta. Probably missed the boat to NRL finals after having a loss last weekend – but the form and desperation of Anasta cannot be questioned. The high profile pivot has seemingly got the frustration out of his game and is concentrating on Rugby League first and foremost. The assistance of Craig Wing in the halves at times has helped Anasta – his physical presence centre field is a big bonus, running like a back rower; other teams struggle to contain him. Motivates and generates for the Roosters with solo tries and sweeping passes. If a miracle occurs and the Roosters sneak into the Rugby League finals for 2007 – this guy is the man.