Only three matches remain in this year’s Telstra NRL Premiership. 16 teams began the season and 12 have bowed out. We’ve seen the rise of South Sydney and Eastern Suburbs to bring back the rivalry of old.
We’ve watched in awe as Wayne Bennett has coached yet another team, this time Newcastle, to a finals series. And once again the Manly Sea Eagles have made their mark on the competition.
So what’s in store for the final four? Souths will face off against Manly. The last time South Sydney won the premiership Jack Gibson was coaching St George. With Souths defeating the Gibson coached outfit in 1971.
Manly, on the other hand, have been one of the most consistent teams of the past decade, winning two premierships in three grand finals.
Newcastle will play the minor premiership winning Roosters. The Knights will be looking to make their first grand final since their 2001 triumph against the record breaking Parramatta Eels.
Whereas the Roosters will be hoping to get a shot at redemption for their 2010 performance against the Bennett coached Dragons. Easts will do their best to prove that lightning doesn’t strike twice.
The Manly verse Souths match-up will pit two of the best backlines against each other. The Rabbits will be looking to deliver early ball to Greg Inglis, giving him plenty of time to put the try-scoring machine, Nathan Merritt, away.
Manly will be using their deadly right side attack to open up the game. The combination between halves Kieren Foran and Daly Cherry-Evas as well as the Stewart brothers and Jamie Lyon will cause the South Sydney defence plenty of headaches.
With Nathan Merritt having some question marks over his defence in big games I’d also expect Manly to test him out early on. Possibly trying to cash in on some indecision from the veteran winger.
We have a terrific halves battle in this match. Adam Reynolds and John Sutton will line up against the aforementioned Foran and Cherry-Evans.
Both sets of halves have sublime kicking games and more than solid defence. Where Souths have the advantage here is the size and agility of John Sutton who has caused more than his fair share of damage this season.
Looking at the forward packs, it’s hard not to be intimidated by the Souths pack. Three of the four Burgess brothers have been named in the side with Sam and Luke starting whilst George is on the bench.
Isaac Luke will run things from dummy-half while Ben Te’o will be looking to continue his good form out-wide. You know Souths have a strong forward pack when Roy Asotasi is coming off the bench.
For Manly Matt Ballin will be more than solid opposition against Isaac Luke. The Sea Eagles’ forward pack is one that combines skill with aggression. Anthony Watmough was awarded the Brad Fittler medal this season as the best player for NSW.
Justin Horo has been a revelation since leaving Parramatta. He’s shown all the talent that saw him gain a regular starting position before Stephen Kearney decided he wasn’t part of his plan.
Brent Kite is showing there’s still life in the old legs as he continues to push for another premiership to add to his mantle. Glenn Stewart is back in form following his early season injuries and his combination with his brother has seen Manly score plenty of points this year.
The Roosters-Knights match-up pits the rookie against the super-coach. Trent Robinson may be in his debut year as head of an NRL team but you wouldn’t know it watching the Roosters this year. In the coach’s boxes next door is a man who continually proves he can turn any club he wants around.
Wayne Bennett has seven premierships to his name, averaging just under one every three seasons. Well guess what, this is the third season since his 2010 triumph. Alongside Jack Gibson, he is seen as one of the greatest coaches of all time. He’s right at home in the finals.
Both Newcastle and the Roosters will field well-rounded sides. The Roosters have arguably a more star-studded line-up but Bennett’s Knights have proved it doesn’t matter who you have on your roster, in the NRL if you play as a team you will win as shown in their win over Melbourne.
Easts will no doubt be trying their best to get quality ball to Sonny Bill Williams early on. His combination with centres Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Michael Jennings has been invaluable to the Roosters’ success this season.
James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce will be expected to control the match with their kicking game, making Newcastle consistently work the ball off their own line.
The Knights showed last week, against arguably the best defensive team in the competition, that they weren’t afraid to spread the ball early. Their quick interchange of passing in the forwards caused plenty of headaches for Melbourne.
Knights’ halves, Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts, have hit good form to the back-end of the season. Possessing terrific kicking games and control around the ruck, they too will look to pin the opposition in their own half.
Manly have shown terrific grit in their defence this season as have South Sydney. However I believe the Greg Inglis led Rabbitohs will be able to pierce the North Shore wall. In a tight affair I see the Rabbitohs winning 12-8.
At times this season it’s appeared as though the Roosters have scored at will. However, coming up against a Newcastle out-fit that effectively blunted three of the best players in the game will provide a different challenge. I tip yet another close match, with Newcastle winning 16-12.
So there you have it. I am tipping a Newcastle against Souths Grand Final. But, it’s the NRL. Anything is possible.