Melbourne Storm vs Manly Sea Eagles – Friday night – Sunshine Coast Stadium
First plays fourth and we have two of the real heavyweights of the competition facing off here. Their recent (colourful) history only adds to the occasion. These sides met in round 21 in front of exactly zero spectators, where the Storm prevailed 28-18. That was a proper tussle and the Sea Eagles were well and truly in the contest for much of the game. The line-ups here aren't much different than they were in round 21. The only real difference is with the Melbourne wingers, with Jennings and Lumelume replacing Ieremia and Addo-Carr. Usually wingers don't make a lot of difference, but they could here, as the Manly wingers have scored about 50 tries between them this season. Their forwards will need to match this mighty purple engine room, but they're big boppers and I think they can. It's a proper upset if it happens, but I'm Cherry-Evans to ice the game with a late field goal.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 1
Result – Storm 40 defeated Sea Eagles 12
Sydney Roosters vs Gold Coast Titans – Saturday afternoon – Queensland Country Bank Stadium
The Titans were very impressive when they needed to be against the Warriors, but the Warriors seemed cranky - given they'd received news that they are likely to be stuck in Australia until Christmas they had every right to be. Even though the Roosters are weakened by injuries this is still a step up in class, and here's the proof. The Titans have played top eight sides ten times this season, and they've lost eight. Their two wins were over the Knights (twice). That means they haven't beaten a top six side this season. Fifita will need pain-killing injections to play and there is some chance Proctor could be a late withdrawal. This isn't a walk in the park, but I expect the class of the Chooks to prevail.
Verdict – Roosters by 4
Result – Roosters 25 defeated Titans 24
Penrith Panthers vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Saturday night – Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Second plays third and the Bunnies should be feeling fresh after they rested much of their best thirteen last weekend...they still won. The Panthers were effectively full-strength against the (under-strength) Eels and got the job done. These sides have already met twice this season and the Panthers were comfortable winners on both occasions. In round 11 it was 56-12 and in round 23 (just three weeks ago) it was 25-12. Latrell Mitchell played in that round 23 game, when the Bunnies raced to a 12-0 in the first 25 minutes...then didn't trouble the scorer again. He's replaced by Blake Taafe, clearly promising but he's not Mitchell, and Cleary will test Taafe often with those towering, pinpoint bombs. Perhaps more importantly, in round 23 the Panthers didn't have the services of James Fisher-Harris or Brian To'o. That duo have delivered the Panthers upwards of 700 metres with the ball in hand during the past fortnight. Wayne Bennett is still capable of pulling off some miraculous things with his football teams (the 2020 Origin series to name one) but winning this would be one of his best yet. I think they'll fall short.
Verdict – Panthers by 13
Result – Rabbitohs 16 defeated Panthers 10
Parramatta Eels vs Newcastle Knights – Sunday afternoon – Browne Park, Rockhampton
Most seasons, there is usually one or two teams that sneak into the top eight. They've made it, but they're effectively making up the numbers, and they usually get thumped by a fair margin in week one of the finals and head for the exits. The Knights look like that team this season. While they finished in 7th place, they only played top eight teams nine times (out of 25) this year. Of those nine, they lost seven, and they weren't particularly convincing when they did win. One of those seven losses was against the Eels in round 13. That was in Newcastle in front of a healthy crowd - the Eels were never troubled and won 40-4. To be fair, Ponga and Pearce didn't play in that game, but it's hard to ignore the magnitude of that round 13 victory. The Eels rested ten of their best last week, so Gutherson, Paulo, Papali'i, Campbell-Gillard, Moses, Matterson, Blake, Niukore and Browns (Dylan and Nathan) should be feeling fresh and revitalised. The last time most of those guys played they beat the Storm. One should never make assumptions when it comes to Parramatta (they've been letting their fans down for decades now), but on form like that they must surely beat the Knights on Sunday.
Verdict – Eels by 20
Result – Eels 28 defeated Knights 20
Wally Lewis - finals week one (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- STORM vs Sea Eagles
- ROOSTERS vs Titans
- PANTHERS vs Rabbitohs
- EELS vs Knights