Melbourne Storm vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Friday night – AAMI Park
I'm sure the Storm could name a few other top eight teams they would rather be playing on Friday night, but there is one statistic that will fill them with a little confidence heading into their first final in season 2018 – the Rabbitohs have not won a game in Melbourne...ever. Of course the Bunnies would rather be playing someone else too, but their confidence can come from their comprehensive victory over the purple machine in round 21...just a few short weeks ago. The Storm did well in that game to not lose by more, but it was always going to be a Rabbitohs victory that night. What's more the Storm will be without Asofa-Solomona and Will Chambers this time around, while the Bunnies add Greg Inglis. Cameron Smith is (probably) playing with niggling injuries, and Billy Slater taking some personal leave means the start of their finals campaign has been a little disrupted. The Storm are the most professional club in the NRL, and I'd be a fool to suggest they can't overcome those sort of things, but I still have the Bunnies pencilled in as a 2018 grand finalist, and to do so they probably need to win this. It's time for the Bunnies to break their Melbourne drought.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 4
Result – Storm 29 defeated Rabbitohs 28
Penrith Panthers vs New Zealand Warriors – Saturday night – ANZ Stadium
These sides have already met twice this season for one win apiece, but rightly or wrongly I'll be using the round 24 clash (just two weeks ago) as my guide. On that occasion the Warriors were convincing winners by 36-16, and they led by 36-4 until the 70th minute. While that game was played in New Zealand the Warriors have been much better on the road this season, so the trip to Sydney doesn't concern me. Since the change of coach the Panthers have won two from four, but one was an extra time victory over the Titans and the other was against a vastly under-strength Melbourne Storm. It's not convincing...and I'm not convinced.
Verdict – Warriors by 10
Result – Panthers 27 defeated Warriors 12
Sydney Roosters vs Cronulla Sharks – Saturday night – Allianz Stadium
It took the Sharks a long time to win their first premiership, and right now they have a team that is capable of winning a second. If they don't win this season they may not win for a while, because their premiership window is closing fast. Gallen, Prior and Lewis are near the end of their careers. Graham and Dugan can't keep getting strapped together forever. Andrew Fifita could combust at any moment. Valentine Holmes will, I think, sign a long term deal with the Cowboys from 2020. Their time is now, but are they good enough? These sides met just once this season and it was way back in round 5. On that occasion the Roosters prevailed 28-10 at Shark Park. The Sharks had their fare share of possession in that game but they couldn't find a way through the Roosters defence when it mattered. The one player that can change this game, for better or worse, is Andrew Fifita. If he has a night out the Sharks will win, but he has a lot more nights in. Like most people I'm expecting a bruising affair – it's what the Sharks do. No doubt the winner will appreciate a week off.
Verdict – Roosters by 1
Result – Roosters 21 defeated Sharks 12
Brisbane Broncos vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Sunday afternoon – Suncorp Stadium
These sides met way back in round 1 in the very first game of the 2018 season, and hasn't a lot changed since then. The Dragons won in a canter that night, everyone thought the Dragons were the real deal again and everyone thought Wayne Bennett had lost his mojo (again). Bennett has heard that a lot over the years, and he's heard it several times this year, but in the last three weeks his team have beaten the top two teams in premiership betting and then put on a show for the locals by thumping the Sea Eagles. In doing so they picked up a home semi-final, which is pretty important in a knock-out semi and especially important when your opponent hasn't won at Suncorp since 2009. The Dragons have had a few wins in recent weeks but I still feel they peaked around ANZAC Day. Their strength is in their forwards but that's hardly a weakness for the Broncos, and this Broncos backline can rack up some points if they need to. Of all the games this weekend, this is the only one where a Dragons victory would be seen as a genuine upset. Good luck Ben Hunt...may your demons be temporary.
Verdict – Broncos by 16
Result – Dragons 48 defeated Broncos 18
Wally Lewis - finals week one selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- STORM vs Rabbitohs
- Panthers vs WARRIORS
- ROOSTERS vs Sharks
- BRONCOS vs Dragons