You know what? Trying to avoid scores (especially two days after a match’s completion) makes life a lot harder than necessary. Over the weekend I watched every Finals game in the NRL, but I was only able to watch the Dragons-Eels game last night. Somehow, I avoided the score which meant I was just as surprised by the final result as everyone else. It was an unexpected end to a fairly eventful round of Qualifying Finals.
Melbourne Storm vs Manly Sea Eagles
It was hard not to notice that Billy Slater looked good last Friday night. By contrast, Manly didn’t. I expect they probably thought they would get a second chance, but other results now mean that the Sea Eagles have surrendered their grip on the premiership. You got the feeling it wouldn’t go well once Jamie Lyon went off injured early (a recurring theme this weekend was players taking risks on injured players). Slater was electric, Inglis was bullocking all game and the Storm forward pack looked menacing. Add to that the fact that they’ve been gifted a bye week by other results and now have a home Preliminary Final at Etihad Stadium, and all of a sudden the Storm look real like favourites from this point on. For Manly, it’s back to the drawing board. At least this means no repeat Grand Final for the third year running.
Gold Coast Titans vs Brisbane Broncos
Game of the round, easily. A proper shootout in which both sides scored some beauties, and despite Brisbane racing away to a significant lead the game somehow managed to maintain tension up until the final minutes thanks to a Titans comeback that could be described as ‘spirited’ at an absolute minimum. I’m not necessarily convinced about Israel Folau being much more than a glorified arial jumper, but my god is he good at what he does.
This game showed the value of an established winning culture, as the Broncos showed they could cope with Finals footbal even without Wayne Bennett. For the Titans, Kevin Gordon looked exciting, and I was really impressed by Brad Meyers (even if I didn’t recognize him under all that fur). Anyway, the upshot of this game is that both sides are playing next week, and I wonder if this game will have taken a lot out of both sides.
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Newcastle Knights
The Knights played their hearts out, but it just wasn’t enough. In the end Canterbury’s power was enough to see them through, but they were clearly lacking in the organization department and I’m certain they’ll be wanting Brett Kimmorley back ASAP, so in that regard winning this game was crucial because it buys them an extra week’s rest. The Doggies’ pack was impressive enough to see them through and I think Leeds will be looking forward to actually getting Greg Eastwood because he was right on form. Most impressive was probably Ben Hannant, who’s got a pretty good motor for such a big unit.
So the Knights end up eliminated this weekend, but they certainly put in the effort. Their forward pack played well, but ultimately they lacked discipline enough to see it through. They put up a fight though, and it’s a youngish side which I suspect will be the better for getting some Finals experience.
St George-Illawara Dragons vs Paramatta Eeels
Parramatta’s exciting tries seemed rather against the spirit of what was a conservative, attritional game which played right into the Eeels’ hands. I can’t really remember any examples of the Dragons trying any 2nd phase play successfully, which seems rather risky playing against a pack with Nathan Hindmarsh, Nathan Cayless and Fuifui Moimoi. Even though St George had all the possession in the first half, they did nothing with it and their decision to take a penalty kick early on when a few metres out from the line reeked of a side lacking confidence in attack.
In the end the difference between the two sides was Parramatta’s back three. Luke Burt got the first try, Eric Grothe’s intercept gutted the Dragons’ attempt at a comeback, and as for Jarryd Hayne’s try… well, it was a beaut. There’s a gif of it behind the break, and although it may take a while to load I would say it’s worth the effort. The Eels have a very real shot at becoming the first eighth-placed side to win it all under the McIntyre system. As for the Dragons, you have to wonder about their reputation as chokers, don’t you? I wouldn’t write them off, though. I remember the Broncos losing their first Finals game in 2006 (to St George, funnily enough) and they came back in spectacular style to win the comp, something I think Wayne Bennett will remember. Now Bennett has to take the Dragons to Suncorp Stadium to beat the Broncos in sudden-death football this weekend. Funny how life works out, isn’t it?
Below is a gif of a try by a man in the form of his life.