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Home-and-away tips tough enough, now for grand finalists

NRL Finals – Week 3

Preliminary Finals

RABBITOHS v SEA EAGLES

Expert View (from wire services):

The Sea Eagles looked out on their feet towards the end of their clash with the Sharks and only a John Morris brain snap prevented Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen being awarded a potential match-winning try. How the Sea Eagles respond against a rested Rabbitohs line-up will be the main issue here.

Having nullified the Storm so brilliantly in Week 1 of the finals, the Rabbitohs will be desperate to go one better than last year and earn a grand final berth. Injury clouds hover over several players from the Sea Eagles, including Jamie Lyon, Anthony Watmough and Jamie Buhrer, while fullback Brett Stewart is again in doubt as he tries to overcome a hamstring complaint.

The Rabbitohs have no such dramas and their giant pack will be out to test the Sea Eagles’ stamina right from the kick off. If the Sea Eagles can withstand a likely barrage from the Burgess brothers and the rest of the Rabbitohs pack and keep the game tight in the first 20 minutes, they’ll be hoping nerves might creep into the Rabbitohs’ players and fans.

Sportsword View:

The Rabbitohs were too good for the Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval and Bluetongue Stadium, and on each occasion many tipsters would have had their money on the Sea Eagles. It was following that win over the Sea Eagles in Gosford that many rugby league fans would have been convinced that the Rabbitohs were a genuine premiership threat in 2013.

After a lucky win over the Cowboys in Week 2 of the finals last year, the Sea Eagles once again had the “rub of the green” against the Sharks last weekend. There was doubt surrounding the try scored by Watmough and how Taufua’s try was given the green light defied belief. The Rabbitohs haven’t done much wrong this season, but the likes of Goodwin, Walker, Farrell and Tyrrell will have to bring their A grade game to the table because they are definite weaknesses.

The Rabbitohs may have the Sea Eagles covered in the forwards, but the Rabbitohs are going to have their hands full containing the Sea Eagles backline. The match-up between halves Reynolds and Sutton from the Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles pair Cherry-Evans and Foran might well play a crucial role in the result.

The Sea Eagles are busted and, as mentioned, were fortunate to escape with a win over the Sharks, so the Rabbitohs will have no better chance than to surge into their first grand final since 1971.

ROOSTERS v KNIGHTS

Expert View (from wire services):

They’re the ugly ducklings of the NRL finals but the Knights have put in arguably the two most complete performances to reach the grand final qualifier. Confident and classy displays against the Bulldogs and Storm have shown Wayne Bennett’s “Dad’s Army” must be counted as serious contenders.

The Knights have also avoided serious injury dramas. Halfback Tyrone Roberts appeared to be in agony after crumpling to the turf late against the Storm but is expected to play against the Roosters, while NSW Origin winger James McManus will return in place of Kevin Naiqama.

The Roosters will be rested after their week off and welcome back prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves from suspension. A visit from ASADA in the middle of the week and reports the club sacked a sports nutrition company last year after some players recorded elevated levels of human growth hormone might also prove an unwanted off-field distraction.

Bennett’s game plan is the key. Last week, the Knights comfortably beat the Storm despite being behind in several key statistics. If the super coach has found a way of unlocking the Roosters’ miserly defence, it’ll be a crucial factor for the Knights.

Sportsword View:

Let’s put things into perspective. The Roosters ended the premiership season as minor premiers and the Knights finished seventh.

After two hiccups against the Sharks and Titans late in the season, the Roosters hit back in style to overcome the Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles in two classic confrontations. They turned it on in attack against the Rabbitohs and produced the goods in defence against the Sea Eagles.

The Knights have ended the season in slashing fashion, but they were no match for the visiting Roosters back in Round 20 when they succumbed to a 28-12 loss. Yes, the Knights have eliminated last year’s grand finalists in the opening two weeks of the finals; however, the Bulldogs had been consistently inconsistent all year and the Storm proved that they were unlikely to fire a shot in the finals after an inept display against the Sea Eagles in a vital match at Brookvale Oval on the eve of the finals. Remember that the Knights almost got the Storm in Melbourne earlier in the season.

The Roosters welcome back Waerea-Hargreaves and there is every chance Boyd Cordner will return. The Knights are capable of pulling off a remarkable win and if you were a Roosters supporter you’d have every right to be worried if Kurt Gidley was playing.

The last time Bennett lost a preliminary final was against the Roosters in 2002 when he was coach of the Broncos.

— David White

 

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