Friday Night Sept 12th – 7.30pm (4th vs 5th)
Sydney Roosters vs Brisbane Broncos
While the Roosters are at home for this clash, the Brisbane Broncos should prove too strong in this clash. A big Sydney crowd could be a serious advantage for the Roosters, but the Brisbane side are hitting form at the right time and probably have too much firepower and big game experience for the hot and cold Roosters. The impressive ruch domination by the Broncos against Newcastle show they are primed to get their finals campaign underway with a win. The Roosters have a couple of chinks in their defence, they are sometimes caught napping out wide with quick spreads and changes at the back may hamper their rhythm. For the Roosters to have any chance, they should bring an extremely physical game and try and run over the top of the Broncos forwards – heavily questioned in recent weeks, the Brisbane forwards could be upset if things were taken heavily to them early on.
Tip: Broncos by 8 points
Saturday Night Sept 13th – 6.30pm (3rd vs 6th)
Cronulla Sharks vs Canberra Raiders
The close range, enclosed atmosphere of Toyota Park at Cronulla will be electric for this clash. The Sharks will fancy their chances against the Canberra Raiders and so they should, while the Green Machine have been tearing sides apart with their attack – the Cronulla boys possess the best ruck spoiling tactics and defence in the NRL. They will slow, push, hold and peel off the Raiders and suck the life out of their usually flashy attack. For the fans it will be ultimate battle of attack vs defence, the referee will have a big bearing on this game as interpretations will be critical. The Sharks have been consistently good at dominating the ruck all year at Saturday night shouldn’t be any different, for the Raiders to have any chance – the key for them will be energy while on the ground. The Green Machine can keep the game tempo up by ‘thrashing’ their bodies around while being held down, consistently fighting to get up. If their fitness allows this, they can really put some pressure on the referee and draw some penalties. Teams have tried this on Cronulla and have been unable to sustain the fitness on the deck for long periods.
Tip: Sharks by 4 points
Saturday Night Sept 13th – 8.30pm (2nd vs 7th)
Manly Sea Eagles vs St George Illawarra Dragons
If there is to be any major upset in Week 1 of the NRL Finals for 2008, we feel that punters should tip the Dragons. Yes, Manly have been good most of this year and yes, they are at Brookvale Oval – however, the Northerners have had their problems at times. So often in big games, the Sea Eagles get the wobbles and their precision of execution can really fail them at times. The Dragons have a great record not only against the Sea Eagles, but specifically at Brookvale too and they will fancy their chances. The Dragons seem to be taking a ‘carefree’ approach to 2008 and it has really worked for them. They spread the ball around well and they key for them will be a strong early start, the St George Illawarra side gain so much by getting on top early and probably struggle to run down sides. While Manly have been good in recent weeks, they still lack the X-Factor and may be vulnerable to being gunned down here. Take the first week of the NRL Finals in 2007, had the referee not given Manly a massive helping hand – the Bunnies were into that game up to their ears and could have produced something special had they had some more luck. In saying that, if Manly were to lose – it might just be the best thing for them to get them ‘up’ for the big weeks ahead.
Tip: Dragons by 6
Sunday Sept 14th – 4.00pm (1st vs 8th)
Melbourne Storm vs NZ Warriors
The New Zealand Warriors face the toughest match of any team in Week 1, trying to deal with the might of the reigning premier Storm side. Impossible to tip against the Melbourne men at home, barring a complete disaster – they should do this one fairly easily. The Warriors should come into this game to throw the ball around at all costs, they have little chance of defeating the Storm at the play the ball and the Warriors haven’t shown enough presence to ‘bash’ sides out of games, something the Storm can struggle with at times. If the Warriors bring a ‘hot-potato’ style game, while risky it just might give them a sniff. In saying that the brilliance of Billy Slater, Israel Folau and Greg Inglis can burn you in an instant and from anywhere.
Tip: Melbourne Storm by 12+
Summary: So assuming results go as predicted and tipped above, the NZ Warriors and Canberra Raiders will exit the NRL Finals in Week 1 and the Melbourne Storm and Cronulla Sharks should have a weeks rest.