Canberra Raiders vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Friday night – GIO Stadium
These sides met back in round 10 at this venue, and the Rabbitohs prevailed 16-12, but the line-ups will be quite different on Friday night. Missing for the Raiders in round 10 were Rapana, Leilua, Sezer, Bateman and Tapine, while the Rabbitohs were without Doueihi, Johnston and Roberts. The backlines in particular will be quite different (although Roberts is in doubt with a thumb injury). It's unusual for a team to concede 26 points in a game and win, particularly in a final, but that's what the Bunnies did last week. That's a lot of points against a team they were expected to beat, and a team that played most of the second half with just 12 angry men. They can't leak points like that against the Raiders, whose impressive defence this season is conceding around 15 points per game. Three times they have kept teams to 0 and two weeks ago they held the Storm to just ten points in Melboune. The only risk, as I see it, is that the occasion gets the better of the Raiders. Playing at home may actually bring more pressure than playing on the road (note they have lost their last three games at home). If they handle that, they win and win easily. I hope they do and I think they will. This team, and their fans, deserve a grand final berth. It's been a while.
Verdict – Raiders by 16
Result – Raiders 16 defeated Rabbitohs 10
Sydney Roosters vs Melbourne Storm – Saturday night – Sydney Cricket Ground
One of these two sides has played in 13 of the last 18 NRL grand finals, but last year was the first time they both made it. It's a testament to the professionalism of both clubs in what is still one of the most even sporting competitions on the planet. They've met twice already this season. In round six the Roosters prevailed by a solitary point in Melbourne in what was one of the best games of the year. In round 15 they met in Adelaide and the Storm won by two points in another gripping contest. Note that the Roosters went through a bit of a lull in their season around that time (coinciding with the rigours of Origin football). So there's not much seperating them, and both sides go into this game on the back of dominant victories. Oddly enough I'm going back to the 2018 grand final as my guide here, because I'm comparing a final with a final. The Storm were a very warm favourite in that grand final, but the Roosters sprung the lids and led 18-0 and never let the game go. It was, in my opinion, one of the greatest performances by a team to win a grand final. Their chief playmaker and in-play kicker played the game with three shoulder blades and one arm. The entire game. The Roosters played one of the grittiest and tactically astute teams in the game with a one-armed halfback and they won easily. It's the stuff of folklore really. This time around Cronk has two shoulder blades and two arms..which can only help. There's been some other changes to both sides since then. The Roosters won't have Friend, Waerea-Hargreaves, Napa, Matterson and Ferguson this time. Big names there, replaced by Chricton, Verrills, B Morris, Butcher and Collins. The Storm won't have Glasby, Stimson, Welch, Croft and Slater...replaced by Papenhuyzen, Hughes, Olam, Kamikamica and King. Everyone wondered how the Storm would go without Slater. You can't replace him, but Papenhuyzen, Hughes and Munster can all play fullback (and the Storm have so many they gave another one away to the Cowboys). It's incredible really, because they aren't going to the market and buying quality players...they just keep bringing kids through their systems, and they do it all in Victoria. That should be the stuff of folklore too. As for Saturday night, I'm with the Chooks who have loved playing at the SCG all year. Waerea-Hargreaves is a big out, but the Roosters backline is almost identical to the one in the 2018 grand final. Morris slots in for Ferguson and he's a champ, Cronk has two arms and the rest of that backline are playing at least as well (or better) than they were last year. The Roosters back-row hasn't changed, and I think they have a superior interchange bench. No one has beaten the Storm by a margin all season, so this will be close...but winner winner chicken dinner.
Verdict – Roosters by 1
Result – Roosters 14 defeated Storm 6
Wally Lewis - week three finals selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- RAIDERS vs Rabbitohs
- ROOSTERS vs Storm