We have arrived at the final two teams, Manly and Melbourne will contest Rugby League’s biggest prize in 2007, after the Cowboys and Eels were swept aside – the two favourites winning through to the Grand Final.
The only certainty is that Tony Archer will referee the Grand Final, no other official has come within cooee of the man they call ‘Have a Chat’ – Archer earning his first shot at the big one for sure.
Here’s how we saw the teams in Week 3:
1. Manly Sea Eagles: Have made top spot in the Power Rankings a week out from the Grand Final. They put in a comprehensive display on Saturday night and blew the Cowboys away after the early arm wrestle period. Built pressure beautifully and fired on all cylinders. Have able replacements for injured players; Brent Kite came through fine and Michael Monaghan will be cleared to play this week. Boast attacking prowess across the park and have defence that is even more rock solid than Melbourne’s at the moment. Will probably start favourites this week in Sydney.
Power Ranking: 9.5/10
Odds of Manly unearthing another superstar like Michael Monaghan and trying to pension him off too early – 1000/1
2. Melbourne Storm: The minor premiers showed they too can play gritty and out muscled Parramatta in a real slug fest. Will be slightly concerned about their line being crossed 4 times in a match and have some minor injury worries with Billy Slater taking little part in yesterdays match. However, the Storm still got the points and are into the Grand Final for the second year. Biggest challenge for the Storm is playing away from Melbourne for the first time this finals series and will face a hostile Manly crowd. Their forward pack has stood the test this series and will be their biggest weapon against Manly.
Power Ranking: 9/10
Chances of the NRL supplying medical and mental health staff to Melbourne players and officials should they lose again in the Grand Final after being the best team all year – 50/1
3. Parramatta Eels: Fought valiantly against the fancied Storm on their own turf. Forward injuries hurt them during the match and the polish of their attack was again missing in a finals match. Created chances but couldn’t capitalise on them. Focus for long periods proved a problem, Timana Tahu’s brain snap penalty on Israel Folau turned the tide well against the Eels and they never recovered. It was their 6th Grand Final qualifier game in the past 10 years and the trend looks set to continue with the Eels making the Grand Final in both lower grades (Flegg and Reserves). Set to lose several players this year in; Tahu, Hindmarsh and Cannings – so will need to unearth some more talent to be competitive again in 2008.
Power Ranking: 8/10
Chances of Brian Smith breathing easier after his replacement coach and old troops fail at the final hurdle again, the year after he leaves – 2/1
4. North Queensland Cowboys: Injuries and long road trip were their undoing as many predicted. Were given a massive boost by the NRL, with Jonathan Thurston being handed a ‘Get out of Jail Free Card’ but still couldn’t match the might of Manly. Their young fowards toiled hard again, preventing the flood gates opening – but it really was a mismatch. Still have potentially the most dangerous attacking individuals in the NRL, but will need to work hard on their defence next year. Losing Jason Smith and Paul Bowman for next year – so will lose valuable experience; a good season considering their horror injury run.
Power Ranking: 8/10
Chances of regional teams such as the Cowboys, Storm, Brisbane and Warriors continuing to succeed in Weeks 2 and 3 at the expense of Sydney teams in the years ahead under new Regional Finals rules? – High to Extreme.