Australian sports fans will have a full weekend of Rugby League, when the NRL Preliminary Finals prepare to kick-off. After a 26 week regular season, weeks of knock-out football, blood sweat and toil, the best four sides will face off in two huge matches.
NRL Preliminary Finals
With the top four sides after the regular season having all reached this weekends NRL Preliminary Finals, some might say it has been ‘predictable’. That would have paid-out good odds mid-season, but as the cream has risen to the top, these sides showed their class and now compete for the Provan-Summons Trophy.
The Top Four Sides
Defending NRL Champions the North Queensland Cowboys are there–most people will say they peaked at the right end of the season.
Regular contenders, the Melbourne Storm have also reached the penultimate weekend. In a season where they ‘earned every point’ they will rely on their senior stars to earn them another title.
Back into the finals contention, the Canberra Raiders have rebounded from an early set-back but look a more capable group under Ricky Stuart in 2016.
The Cronulla Sharks entered the finals as third qualifier, but were well more advanced than that. Achieving a first round win, they carry the hopes of their fans to gain their maiden Premiership.
Cronulla Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys
Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Cronulla are the ‘darlings’ of the competition. Never having won a Premiership (out of the last four sides) they could have a fairy tale finish. Paul Gallen has re-signed for one more season, so their leader shows his tremendous loyalty yet again.
Across the field, they face the Premiers. The best team in 2015, the most gifted half in the game, Johnathon Thurston is going to play his part. Illness might remove some speed, but his vision and distribution will be significant.
The Sharks fans will be out in force–Cowboys too, but not as vocal. The blue will be a visual reinforcement that the Sydney-siders are hometown favourites. That old ‘New South Wales v Queensland’ conflict is apparent [more so than Victoria v ACT]. The emotion will be on show on Friday, with each side wanting their ‘heroes’ to perform.
If a moment can define this match, it might come down to a single kick or field goal attempt. Thurston can complete those, but you can imagine Shane Flanagan indicating an early single point in-the-bank will help his side out; if the game is tied late in the game.
Cronulla Sharks team list – click here
North Queensland Cowboys team list – click here
Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders
AAMI Park, Melbourne
In a sweet twist here, Bellamy was actually a member of the Premiership winning 1990 Raiders side for Canberra. That will be lost in the pressure-cooker atmosphere in Melbourne.
Expect a ‘sea of green’ to appear within the cauldron Saturday night. Loyal ‘Vikings’ will set sail for Victoria, all looking to create a boil over–most pundits are predicting the Storm side to be far too professional. Sport is a ‘practice makes perfect’ science, but the heart plays a big part as well.
For that reason, the more enthusiastic side also has the chance to go onto the Grand Final. How Stuart can energize his players is key. The former Raider will be conscious of the intensity of finals-football. That will be a plus, whereas the Storm players all have finals experience.
Injuries too will play a big part. The huge hits might jolt a ball free, the kick might be charge–the countless permutations would take up a full article themselves. It is a battle of well drilled sides, with some brilliance on the wing for the Raiders. Will that factor be the difference?
Melbourne Storm team list – click here
Canberra Raiders team list – click here
Both matches too close to call
Last Word On Sports find it hard to call the results. The head say’s a Sharks v Storm Grand Final, but the heart say’s Cowboys v Raiders….that would bring a smile to many fans faces.
Only the players can influence the result now. All the very best to all four sides. It’s all on this weekend!!
“Main photo credit”