Melbourne Storm vs Canberra Raiders – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
Cameron Smith knows what he's doing next year, but do his team-mates? If this season is his last (and that seems to the way the wind is blowing), you would expect the purple machine will move heaven and earth to give the most important player in the history of their club a fitting swansong. Not everyone appreciates the way the Storm go about their business, but it's hard not to be impressed by their results. They've been in camp for months now, more than 1800 kilometres from home, and they've turned their temporary accommodation into a fortress. Should they win on Friday night they rack up their 20th consecutive victory in Queensland. It's an astonishing record, and it's not easy to tip against them. That said, the Raiders can win this, and they have a better record against the Storm than any other club in the competition. They've already met twice this season for one win each, and the Raiders famously beat the Storm in the finals last season. These sides last met in round 9 where the Storm won 20-14. Notably it was three tries apiece, and one of the Storm tries occured while the Raiders were down to 12 men. On Friday night the Raiders will have a stronger forward pack than they did in round 9, with the inclusions of Bateman, Soliola and Harawira-Naera. It's an awesome pack, and it could prove the difference. In round 9 the Storm were without Munster, Kaufusi and Addo-Carr and won anyway. They are such a difficult team to overcome, but there's a little big of magic about this Raiders side, and Ricky Stuart has them all believing in themselves. I think they have every right to.
Verdict – Raiders by 4
Result – Storm 30 defeated Raiders 10
Penrith Panthers vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Saturday night – ANZ Stadium
Given recent results, one can assume there will be plenty of points scored on Saturday night. The Rabbitohs have piled on 144 points in their last three outings, and all against top eight teams. Since round 15 they've been averaging 37 points a game, and you don't lose very often if you score 37 points. The Panthers haven't had issues finding the stripe either, scoring 103 points in their last three outings and averaging 31 points a page since round 15. It's scintillating form, from both sides. The Bunnies have been particularly impressive, and they've been scoring most of these points without two of their most potent attacking players (Mitchell and Roberts) available. The players brought into the Bunnies backline to plug the gaps have been a revelation...and a joy to watch. The Panthers have next to no injury concerns - young flyer Charlie Staines isn't available, but I'm not sure he'd be selected in front of Mansour or To'o anyway. They have lost Kikau to suspension though, and he is a big loss. That left edge (Luai, Kikau, Crichton, Mansour) is the Panthers most damaging in attack and Kikau is a vital cog in those combinations. His involvement created two of the Panthers tries against the Roosters, and without him they are an easier side to defend. They're still amazing, but less so. Note that these sides met in round 7 this season, with the Panthers prevailing 20-12. The Rabbitohs were far from their best with an error-riddled display, and frustration led to two of their players getting sin-binned. They're a better side now than they were then, but they need to be. The master coach at the Bunnies knows a thing or two about finals football, and he'll have his red and greens primed.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 2
Result – Panthers 20 defeated Rabbitohs 16
Wally Lewis - finals week three selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- STORM vs Raiders
- PANTHERS vs Rabbitohs