Only 4 NRL teams remain in the hunt for the 2007 prize; we take a look at the performances of the teams that played on the weekend and cast an eye over referee’s Tony Archer and Shayne Hayne in their own quest for a shot at the Grand Final.
1. North Queensland Cowboys: Sent a warning shot to remaining teams in the Finals race with an impressive and confident shut-out of the Warriors. Forget talk of the heat helping the Cowboys, their ‘no-name’ forwards earned instant respect but pummeling the highly fancied New Zealand big men. While the Cowboys continued to flex their attacking flair and continued accumulation of points, it was their much improved defence that deserves the accolades. They plugged plenty of holes in their previously flakey line and scrambled desperately on a few occasions to keep their line in check. Question mark remains over their form away from home, but if they can keep Thurston out of jail this week when he visits the Judiciary – they will have every chance of upsetting Manly in Sydney. Paul Bowman on current form is the man the Cowboys need just as much as JT and Matt Bowen – the veterans cover defence is top notch, ensuring the Cowboys are much tighter in defence.
Power Ranking: 9.5/10
Odds of the Cowboys installing a ‘nebulizer’ on the sideline to assist Jason Smith in playing more minutes as the Finals tempo increases – 25/1
2. Parramatta Eels: Got their revenge on the Bulldogs this weekend, finally atoning for the 1998 disaster against Canterbury in the Finals series. The Eels forwards belittling the Dogs pack that boasts 5 internationals, the likes of Fui Fui Moi Moi, Nathan Cayless and Mark Riddell running hard for nice metres in a showing that will give themselves some confidence as they head into the Storm down south.
While attacking prowess has escaped them in the past 2 weeks, their rock solid and determined defence is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Finals campaign. After earning right of passage up the middle, good second phase play enabled them to beat the Dogs with footwork and speed – eventually running away with the game in the final 10 minutes. Joel Reddy did a fine job coming in under pressure and has certainly earned his stripes for the upcoming game.
Power Score: 9/10
Odds of Brian Smith losing his last remaining ounce of coaching respect if the Eels win the Grand Final the year immediately following his departure from Parramatta – 2/1
3. Canterbury Bulldogs: The Belmore bunker is lucky to still be standing, it looked certain irate fans would burn it down late Saturday night after another poor finals effort by the former ‘Dogs of War’. Since winning the comp in 2004, the Bulldogs continue their downward spiral – the loss of key players Steve Price, Braith Anasta and Jonathan Thurston hurting their cause and now remaining players are being struck down with injury and old age. Their halves have been a spare parts setup all year with poor kicking direction and their fitness and speed has been questionable. Plenty of soul searching is to be had over the off-season, the major concern for the Bulldogs next year is the loss of more players and the improving form of teams below them. As the likes of Souths, Titans and Roosters all showed improvement in 2007 – their operations are sure to catch the dwindling Bulldogs setup quickly in 2008 at the current rate.
Power Score: 7/10
Chances of teaching ‘Old Dogs – New Tricks’ in 2008? – 500/1
4. NZ Warriors: Probably lucky that the Bulldogs stole the Sydney headlines, because the Kiwi’s were down right awful. After putting in a decent showing last week, they were out muscled and totally out enthused by the Cowboys. Didn’t have the mental edge to claw their way back after early troubles, edge defence was suspect and couldn’t foot it with the Cowboys speed game. Future outlook isn’t so bad, showed improvement in 2007 and will still be a force next year. Biggest disappointment will be losing the first home final and failing to capitalize on the perfect foundation.
Power Score: 6.5/10
Odds of hardcore New Zealand Rugby Union supporters ever being converted to full-time Warriors fans after yet another failure at the backend of the season by the Kiwi’s? – 250/1
Referee 1: Shayne Hayne – kept a respectable 10m in his game and kept with regular season policing of direct markers. Missed several strip calls for both teams at various stages, touch judges and the video ref really should have given Hayne more help here. As strips were let go, both sides tended to play at the ball and got away with it.
Power Score: 7/10
Referee 2: Tony Archer – while he may have slightly been won over by the local crowd in Townsville, Archer continues to remain the form referee of the NRL, making very few errors in his game on Sunday. Barring a total disaster this week, Tony Archer should be awarded control of Rugby League’s biggest game.
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