Melbourne Storm vs Brisbane Broncos – Friday night – AAMI Park
These sides have met twice already this season. Way back in round three these sides fought out a gropping contest at AAMI Park. The round seventeen clash wasn't quite as gripping, but we did see the Storm at their dominant best in a 42-12 drubbing at Suncorp. Deluded I may be, but I'm calling out the round three game as a better guide to this preliminary final than the drubbing. In round seventeen the Broncos were without Milford, Boyd and Oates and they gave us one of their most error-riddled displays all season. In round three they were better, and while the Storm dominated possession for much of that contest the Broncos led until the 76th minute, with Cameron Smith converting the late try to put the purple machine in front. The Storm still won, as they generally do, but they had to earn it. The Broncos lost, as they generally do when they play the Storm, but I'd call that game out as their best loss all season. The Broncos are one of the best in the NRL at defending their line. That was on display back in round three, and it was on display last weekend against Penrith. Boyd returns this week which should, I expect, make them an even tougher nut to crack. Unfortunately for Broncos fans, no-one cracks nuts like the Melbourne Storm. They'll keep their composure. They'll stick to their structures. They'll continue to believe that the game plan will get them the win if they stick to the game plan. Some people may call it out as boring, but some may call a top end BMW boring. The purple machine works. They hum along like a perfectly tuned piece of engineering. They are a metronome. I would describe it as hypnotic rather than boring. I'm like a cobra sitting on the couch dazzled by chief snake charmer Cameron Smith. They've been the best team all year, and they deserve a place in the grand final. Cooper Cronk, in his last game in Melbourne, can slot the field goal that gets them there.
Verdict – Storm by 1
Result – Storm by 30
Sydney Roosters vs North Queensland Cowboys – Saturday night – Allianz Stadium
The people of Sydney have just one local team to cheer for this season – let's hope they turn up in numbers on Saturday night. The Parramatta Eels brought more then 41000 through the gates for their loss to the Cowboys last week – a fantastic turnout given the local AFL team was playing in a final at the same time and drew just 14000. No doubt a couple of thousand Cowboys diehards will make the trek all the way down the eastern seaboard to support the fairytale team in season 2017. The Cowboys are winning by adopting a fairly simple approach to their game plan. In their last three games their completion rates have stood at 87%, 80% and 85%. That alone will keep your team in the game, but when you couple that with a deft kicking game you become a very difficult team to beat. Michael Morgan had the ball on a string in that second half against the Eels. The pressure mounted on the Eels and the errors came. More errors brought more pressure. The Eels led at half time, but by the 60th minute the contest was all but over, and it was only ever going to be a Cowboys victory. The Roosters had a week off on the back of their win over the Broncos but they won that game by the skin of their beaks, and the Broncos were a long way off their best that night. The Chooks deserve to be a very warm favourite on Saturday night, but I'm a sucker for a fairytale. Taumalolo needs to make 200+ metres with the ball under his arm. Morgan needs a repeat of his brilliant performance against the Eels. Ethan Lowe needs to slot two-pointers like he did last weekend. Winterstein needs to match his much taller opponent under the high ball. I'm asking for a lot here, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.
Verdict – Cowboys by 10
Result – Cowboys by 13
Wally Lewis - finals week three (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- STORM vs Broncos
- ROOSTERS vs Cowboys