The NRL Finals kick off for season 2009 with the blockbuster game between the Melbourne Storm and Manly Sea Eagles. The Storm have moved the game from the Olympic Park venue over to Etihad Stadium in the hope of drawing an even larger crowd.
Here’s how we see things going –
Storm v Sea Eagles:
The bitter rivals meet early in the piece for the 2009 finals, with both sides looking slightly different than previous seasons. The Storm have some troops returning in Adam Blair and Jeff Lima, but overall the Melbourne forwards haven’t been their usual penetrating-selves. The Storm too haven’t been able to pile points on like they have done in previous seasons which may be a concern for Craig Bellamy.
The Manly boys have been a little inconsistent in 2009 also. however they’ve hit some form in recent weeks. The key for these boys is obviously Jame Lyon, currently not 100 percent – if Lyon is able to get on the field and remain in-tact, he should prove the difference.
The Sea Eagles forwards have really stood up in recent weeks, big Georgie Rose bashing and barging and the unstoppable man Anthony Watmough chiming in at ideal times to carve up in broken play.
Finally, with Brett Stewart now settled back in the side – it’s hard to tip against Manly. Regardless of the home ground, (Melbourne should have stayed at the Graveyard!) – it seems Manly will have too much in this game and should progress to Week 2 of the finals.
Titans vs Broncos
Another mouth watering match-up here, with plenty of punters starting to jump on the Broncos as they hit some late form. But while big Dave Taylor has been killing it for Brisbane, lets not forget one critical statistic –
The Broncos have NEVER beaten the Titans at Skilled Stadium. It will be a packed house on the Gold Coast and we see this as really lifting the young Titans side. They’ve been consistent all year and possess all the ingredients – well coached, mobile forwards and fast, elusive backs. Concerns for the Titans remain with the fitness of Mat Rogers and possibly the targeting of Preston Campbell. Little Presto is a champion player, but when really pumped he can turn in a horror performance – look for the Broncos to try and terrorize him.
For Brisbane, it all lies in the experience. They are THE most experienced side (in terms of Finals, Origin and Test caps) out of all the Top 8 sides. Many insiders suggest the likes of Darren Lockyer and Justin Hodges will prove such an asset, given the vast amount of big matches they’ve played. Another finals series won’t phase them at all.
Final verdict, the young Titans side should be too good at home and will be primed for their first ever finals appearance.
Bulldogs vs Knights
All the talk has centered around the missing halfback Brett Kimmorley. Noddy has been in sensational form during 2009, missing last week – the Bulldogs did look a little lost. Suddenly their 2008 (Wooden Spoon) halves pairing of Holdsworth and Roberts were back at the helm and this would be concerning everyone cheering on the Blue and Whites.
Possibly offsetting this loss, is the Bulldogs forward pack. A great pack with the likes of Hennant, Eastwood, Stagg and Ennis – the old Broncos boys have proved the buys of the year. All can bust the line and prove to be workhorses in defence. Don’t underestimate Michael Ennis – his niggle factor could prove a real pain for the Knights, he will no doubt be able to put someone off their game.
The Knights have looked refreshed after a coaching change and some last up wins. They have one of the most mobile forward packs in the NRL and remain the only finals side to have beaten all of the Top 4 finishers. If these guys get a confident early start, they have the power to really press on with this game. Many talk about the talent of the young halves Mullen and Dureau – but look at the raw power on the edges; Cooper Vuna, Junior Sau and old schooler Mad Dog who can really turn it up.
This is the game for an upset, the Knights can win here.
Dragons v Eels
A rematch from last week, the table topping Saints remaining at home to the stuttering Eels. Along with Storm / Manly – this is shaping as the killer clash of Week 1, with the Eels welcoming back Hindmarsh and Grothe.
The Dragons forwards really stood up last week, they bashed and barged all night – driving the Eels backwards. Some have suggested that Parra coach Daniel Anderson took the foot off the accelerator; but there is not question the Dragons flexed some serious muscle.
The Saints have speed to burn in Brett Morris, this guy is so hard to stop. Raw speed and a classic in and away to dazzle his opposites, he could really run riot over the likes of Grothe.
The Eels will no doubt be much more pumped for this clash, but probably don’t have enough fire power to overcome a roaring Kogarah Stadium.
It will be a closer result, but the Saints will be too good here.