The matches last weekend weren’t lacking in story lines, but they did end up lacking in drama as the two home sides drove their advantage home to book their place in this weekend’s Preliminary Finals. Whilst two sides move on and look like they’re exceeding expectations, the two losers must reflect on opportunities missed as they both bowed out this weekend rather tamely.
Parramatta Eels vs Gold Coast Titans
For a team who managed to sneak their way into the playoffs, Parramatta are looking really, really good right now. Admittedly Gold Coast didn’t look that good at all, looking flat and deflated from the effort put into their aborted near-comeback the previous week, but the Eels exploited it perfectly. They took advantage of some lax defending and also put on some sweet moves to overcome the Titans 27-2, and the fact that they kept the Titans tryless (and scoreless for the final 65 minutes) should tell you something about the defensive effort they put in as well. Daniel Anderson has got his charges peaking at the right time and they have the best chance to win the Grand Final of any lower-placed side that I can remember.
Fuifui Moimoi was excellent in the forwards for the Eels once again, and if the back three wasn’t quite as electric as the week before they were still good enough to teach a young Titans back three a lesson in attack and support play. The Titans just looked flat and unable to build any momentum. It was as if the loss to Brisbane the week before had destroyed their season. Parramatta are heading to a Preliminary Final against the Bulldogs in front of a huge crowd with real momentum, attacking threat in both the forwards and the backs, and a top player in Jarryd Hayne in the form of his life. At the very least, they’re not going to die wondering.
Brisbane Broncos vs St George-Illawarra Dragons
Ultimately, Wayne Bennett was defeated by himself. The Brisbane Broncos machine that he created, where they kick into another gear come playoff time, was able to overcome a Dragons outfit which he hasn’t been able to mould that way yet. Darren Lockyer? Karmichael Hunt? Sam Thaiday? All men molded by Bennett into the top players they are today, and all players who helped bring their former boss down. Although Bennett was able to secure a minor premiership for the club, he wasn’t able to do anything about their finals mental block in his first year in charge. Bennett hasn’t been able to bring the culture of victory and success that he helped to instigate in his years at the Broncos down south with him to Sydney.
On a more fundamental level, the Dragons suffered in almost exactly the same way as the week before – their attacking play was mediocre for pretty much the entire evening. They were unable to break the Broncos for the most part, and offered very little threat. Jamie Soward and Ben Hornby moved the team around the field, but they were unable to open up holes for their players to run into. The Broncos by contrast must’ve done their homework because their inside passes by Lockyer and Peter Wallace were threatening all night, and Hunt showed he’ll be missed next year with his ability to exploit those chances. They also opened the game with perhaps the most efficiently brutal display of defence I have ever seen, as every hit Ashton Sims and Dave Taylor put on seemed designed to hospitalize the Dragons within the parameters of the game’s laws (Taylor, incidentally, had his second blinder in a row). The Broncos now have to go down south to Melbourne and try to overcome the Storm, but if they can defend like that again it’ll go a long way to getting them to another Grand Final. As for the Dragons, they have an offseason to endure, in which time they will hope that Bennett can conjure up some of that Brisbane bottle in Sydney.