NRL Finals Week 1 Preview

Sydney Roosters back-rower Angus Crichton

Sydney Roosters v South Sydney Rabbitohs @Sydney Cricket Ground

The hallowed turf of the SCG will play host to these two bitter rivals.

Roosters Coach Trent Robinson would have been doing his best to ensure his players quickly licked their wounds from last week’s upset loss at the hands of the Rabbitohs.

The tri-colours had been on a seven game winning streak prior to last Thursday night’s loss and have only lost one game at the SCG all year – a round one loss, again at the hands of the Bunnies.

South Sydney looked in all sorts a month ago, but after losing three straight they bounced back with three wins, culminating in their confidence boosting performance against the Chooks.

Coach Wayne Bennett is a master at getting his team firing at the right time of year and he looks to have the Rabbitohs fine-tuned for another finals tilt.

Russell Crowe had the much fabled ‘book of feuds’ open out Redfern way this week and has likely written another chapter given Sam Burgess was outed by the judiciary for this contest.

Jared Warea-Hargreaves was found not guilty and free to play despite an ugly looking incident last week which left Rabbitohs bookend Liam Knight dazed and bloody.

Sydney Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary

TEAM CHANGES: The Roosters were resting a number of stars last week with Luke Keary, Brett Morris, Mitchell Aubusson and Siosiua Taukeiaho returning to the 17.

Their inclusions mean Billy Smith. Drew Hutchison, Lindsay Collins and Sitili Tupouniua drop out of the squad whilst Angus Crichton and Nat Butcher shuffle back to the bench.

With Sam Burgess out suspended, Tevita Tatola has been named to start up front. Dane Gagai has been ruled out with a hamstring strain, but strike centre James Roberts returns from suspension to replace him.

South Sydney Rabbitohs centre Dane Gagai

Roberts will likely line up on his preferred right side with Campbell Graham shifting back to the left.

Burgess twins Tom and George have been named in the 21 man squad with Tom named on the bench in place of Tom Amone and George in the reserves.

Both are expected to play on Friday night and there’s every likelihood one will end up starting.

KEY MATCH-UP: Luke Keary v Cody Walker

The absence of Keary was noticeable last week as the Roosters were unable to provide enough space for their normally lethal left-edge attack.

Walker meanwhile is just starting to hit his straps again after going into his shell a little following his failed state of origin stint earlier this year.

Respective halves Cooper Cronk and Adam Reynolds will be playing their roles in getting their troops around the park, but it will likely be a touch of Keary or Walker brilliance that ultimately decides the outcome.

South Sydney Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker

RECENT HISTORY: The Rabbitohs have a 3-2 advantage in the last five clashes and were victorious in both encounters this year.

Campbell Graham and Cody Walker crossed for tries in both matches this year. In the last finals game played between the two, the Roosters triumphed in last year’s preliminary final.

Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders @AAMI Park

After claiming another Minor-Premiership, the Storm come into this encounter after winning four of their last five including a crushing victory over the Sea Eagles at Lottoland two weeks ago which was a real statement heading towards this finals series.

The one loss during that period did come at the hands of the Raiders who overcame an 18 point deficit and two players in the sin-bin to record a remarkable win which sent a warning shot to the rest of the competition that the Raiders were in fact the real deal in 2019.

Before last week’s upset loss to the Warriors, Ricky Stuart’s men faced off against the Roosters, Storm, Sea Eagles and Sharks in a gruelling month of football that make them the most battle-hardened outfit heading into this finals campaign.

Melbourne Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr

TEAM CHANGES: Both teams chose to rest a number of players in the penultimate round of the regular season.

For the Storm, Josh Addo-Carr, Cameron Munster and Brandon Smith all return at the expense of Sandor Earl, Brodie Croft and Harry Grant.

For the Raiders, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Iosia Soliola and John Bateman return from their week off, whilst Joey Leilua and Joseph Tapine also return from suspension and injury respectively.

Rookie back-rower Hudson Young is the big out for the green machine after being handed an eight week suspension at the judiciary on Tuesday night. He will join Michael Oldfield, Siliva Havili, Emre Guler and JJ Collins watching from the side-lines this week.

Canberra Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson

KEY MATCH-UP: Cameron Smith v Josh Hodgson
The big match experience of these two men will be crucial in the outcome here.

Smith is the master of controlling the tempo of a match and Hodgson isn’t far behind these days. Expect one of these two to come up with the influential play that decides this one.

Melbourne Storm captain and hooker Cameron Smith

RECENT HISTORY: The Raiders will be full of confidence after their last start win over the Storm, but that won’t affect the psyche of this Melbourne team who’ve won four of the last five between the two teams.

Jarrod Croker scored a double in both games played between the two this year and Suliasi Vunivalu has crossed for six tries in his last four games against the Raiders.

Manly Sea Eagles v Cronulla Sharks @ Lottoland

After upsetting the Raiders in Canberra three weeks ago, the Sea Eagles were flying high and looked on track for a top four birth.

In the ensuing two weeks, they were comprehensively beaten by both the Storm and Eels, but the real story is the club being decimated by injuries and suspension that has left the Northern beaches side extremely thin on troops for the most important game of their season.

Still, Manly historically thrive when in these backs to the wall scenarios and Coach Des Hasler loves nothing more than flying under the radar coming into the big end of season games.

The Sharks meanwhile have been the sleeping giants of this

competition for most of the year.

With a squad stocked with representative stars, most people expected the Sharks to go on a run at some stage.

They have won three of their last four heading into this and the lone loss was a golden point thriller against the Raiders two weeks back.

Manly Sea Eagles lock Jake Trbojevic

TEAM CHANGES: Already missing Tom Trbojevic, Joel Thompson and Morgan Boyle to injury, things got a whole lot worse for the Sea Eagles in their last start loss.

Curtis Sironen and Taniela Paseka went down in what look to be season ending injuries and gun prop Martin Taupau was suspended for a high shot.

In somewhat of a reprieve to the injury crisis, they do welcome Jack Gosiewski and Toafofoa Sipley.

They also convinced the NRL to allow them a roster exemption with Tony Williams named in the reserves and expected to come into the game day 17.

Manly Sea Eagles back-rower Tony Williams and coach Des Hasler

Prop Sean Keppie has been named to replace Taupau up front in just his second NRL game.

Sharks Coach John Morris has selected Aaron Gray on the wing in place of the suspended Ronaldo Mulitalo.

Matt Moylan has again been named in the reserves and is rated a 50/50 chance of suiting up on Saturday night.

Cronulla Sharks fullback Matt Moylan

If he can prove his fitness, he would likely slot in at fullback with Josh Dugan moving onto the wing in place of Gray.

KEY MATCH-UP: Addin Fonua-Blake v Andrew Fifita

Fifita has been named on the bench, but if he’s promoted to the starting side as he was last week we could be in for a ferocious opening with these two going hammer and tongs.

Both players provide a rare x-factor up front for their respective sides with their ability to bust tackles and create second-phase play with their offloads.

Fifita is getting somewhere near his best at the right time of year after struggling with an ongoing knee injury for much of the season.

Fonua-Blake meanwhile is enjoying his most consistent season to date, but with no Taupau alongside him, needs to produce the game of his life to give the Sea Eagles a chance here.

Cronulla Sharks prop Andrew Fifita

RECENT HISTORY: It’s been well documented Manly hold a superior record over the Sharks and the recent history isn’t much different.

The Sea Eagles hold a 4-1 advantage in their last five clashers. Dylan Walker has crossed for a try in his last three games against the Sharks.

Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos @ Bankwest Stadium

If the golden point thriller that was played out by these two teams at Suncorp Stadium two weeks ago is anything to go by, we should be in for a cracking contest to close out the opening weekend of finals action.

Both teams have won three out of their last five coming into this match and it was only a barnstorming charge from David Fifita and a Jamayne Isaako field goal that proved the difference in Round 24.

Brisbane Broncos young back-rower David Fifita

The Eels did score three tries to two on the night with goal-kicking letting them down.

In a contrast of styles, the Broncos play off their hungry young pack whilst the Eels seem to have more direction from their key men and more strike out wide.

TEAM CHANGES: Eels Coach Brad Arthur has lost Kane Evans to suspension and he will need to be replaced after being named in Tuesday’s team list prior to his failed judiciary hearing.

The likely scenario is Daniel Alvaro coming back into the starting side with one of Tepai Moroera or Peni Terepo joining the bench.

The Eels do however receive a big boost with their forward leader Nathan Brown returning from a two week suspension to lock the scrum.

Parramatta Eels lock Nathan Brown

The Broncos will also welcome back their regular lock forward with Joe Ofahengaue returning from injury.

His inclusion will push Patrick Carrigan back to the pine where he will be joined by centre Gehamat Shibasaki who’s earned a recall to the 17.

KEY MATCH-UP: Clinton Gutherson v Anthony Milford

Different styles of fullbacks, but both are just as important to their respective teams.

Gutherson is the ultra-consistent team man who has a knack for turning up at the right time with his exceptional support play.

Milford has all the talent in the world with his skillful kicking, passing and running games.

Parramatta Eels fullback Clint Gutherson

He’s been a little underwhelming since moving to fullback, but the stage could be set for him to deliver when his teams need it the most.

With the two forward packs cancelling each other out in their recent match, it could be a bounce of the ball with one of these fullbacks on the spot that proves the difference.

RECENT HISTORY: The Eels hold a slim advantage in the last five played with the ledger reading 3-2. Michael Jennings and Corey Oates have both crossed for three tries throughout that period.

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