Brisbane Broncos vs Penrith Panthers – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
If nothing else it will be nice to see finals football in front of a big crowd. The Broncos have won 10 from 13 at Suncorp this season – their only losses were at the hands of the Cowboys in round two and a pair of comprehensive floggings from the Storm and the Eels. All those losses were to top eight sides, and the floggings were against top four sides. The Panthers have beaten just three teams away from Sydney this year – Canberra, Newcastle and the Warriors. Not one of those teams made the top eight this year. Griffin has quite the record against the coach that replaced him at the Broncos, but that meant little the last time these sides met. Earlier this year the Broncos were convincing 32-18 winners at Suncorp, and note that the score was 28-0 up until the 65th minute – the Panthers scored three late tries when the game was over as a contest. On that occassion it was Matt Moylan who sparked their attack late in the game, and he won't be there on Friday night. My hunch is that Darius Boyd will play, with Marshall on the bench just in case Boyd goes down again. Wayne Bennett has all the time in the world for Benji Marshall, but his performance against the Roosters is an indication that the best of Benji is behind him. Ben Hunt didn't play the last time these sides met either, and his inclusion gives the home side another attacking option. The Broncos were far from their best last weekend, and they still went within a whisker of beating the Roosters in Sydney. Any improvement on that effort, and improvement is likely, should see them staying alive in season 2017 for another week. An extra day to prepare for this game can't hurt either.
Verdict – Broncos by 8
Result – Broncos by 7
Parramatta Eels vs North Queensland Cowboys – Saturday night – ANZ Stadium
I assume the Cowboys went home after the extra-time victory over the Sharks last weekend. The way the draw has fallen means that they could stay in Sydney all the way to the grand final if they wanted to...providing they keep the fairytale alive. They won just one game in Sydney during the regular season, and to win a premiership they'll need to win four games in succession in Sydney against top eight sides. It seems unlikely, and I did call it a fairytale. At full strength I'd back them in, but as we all know this side is a long way from full strength. This is the third time these sides will meet this season, but their first meeting in Sydney. In round 9 they met in Townsville where the injury-depleted Cowboys were comprehensively beaten 26-6. In round 14 they met in Darwin and it was the Cowboys at their best with a 32-6 win. What made that game different (apart from the location) was a masterclass from Jonathan Thurston, who turned up in time to show the Queensland selectors he was ready to play State of Origin football. Sadly there will be no heroics from Thurston on Saturday night. Less sadly we get at least one more week of Semi Radradra before he jumps on the next plane to France. Will we ever see him in the NRL again? I suspect we will not.
Verdict – Eels by 10
Result – Cowboys by 8
Wally Lewis - finals week two (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- BRONCOS vs Panthers
- EELS vs Cowboys