Peter Lang takes a look at this weekend’s Preliminary Finals in the latest edition of Lang on League…
Canberra Raiders v South Sydney Rabbitohs
7.50pm, Friday 27 September, GIO Stadium
The Raiders will never get a better chance to qualify for a Grand Final than this one. On Friday night they get to play an ‘out-of-sorts’ South Sydney side on their home turf in the nation’s capital with the victor gaining the spoils. Yes at around 9:45pm this Friday, they could be the first team into the 2019 NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final.
Canberra coach Ricky ‘Sticky’ Stuart will not want to let this opportunity slip through his fingers because an advantage like this one may never again present itself. Well not while he’s coaching anyway.
On the surface the game looks like a slam dunk for the Raiders. They’re in better form than the Bunnies, they have more individual players in the form of their career than Souths have and they know how to attack and defend better than the Rabbitohs.
The Bunnies, well they’ve been more courageous than confident and with more star players out of form than in the form of their career. Yet, somehow, here they are, one game away from their second grand final in six years. Quite a feat when you consider they’ve had three coaches during that time. Not often a recipe for success.
But it’s their current coach Wayne ‘Grand Torino’ Bennett who may just be the ace in the hand, the joker in the pack if you will when it comes to analysing just how the Bunnies have made it so far and how they can make it all the way to the big dance.
For unlike some coaches who take over a team, Wayne didn’t come in and make wholesale changes to his roster, he tinkered with it, added a player here and there but kept the bulk of the squad together. Even when they weren’t playing at their best and look where they are now. Genius.
Sticky Stuart praised his current team after his side’s win against the Storm two weeks ago saying among other things; “When you’re playing against talent you need talent. It doesn’t matter what game plan you’ve got, what strategies you’ve got, if you haven’t got talent it makes it so much harder… “It’s just nice to have some talent now.”
Bennett, the wily old fox knows that it’s not just about having talent.
Sydney Roosters v Melbourne Storm
7.50pm, Saturday 28 September, Sydney Cricket Ground
I know so many people who are disappointed that this game is on this weekend. The majority of punters wanted this match to take place eight days later.
Just on 12 months ago, the mighty Melbourne Storm were ambushed by the Roosters with a halfback and a former team mate whose arm was being held together by bandages and nothing more than sticky tape.
Meanwhile alongside him was a little five-eighth who was once read the rounds of the kitchen by a Gladiator which ultimately led to him swapping clubs to play with the enemy. I bet you ‘Rusty’ wishes he kept his mouth shut that night.
So here we are one year later. Who is going to emerge victorious this time around?
There’s no doubt that going into the game, the Roosters are the in-form team but will not playing for two weeks be more of a help or a hindrance? The Storm on the other hand will not be going into the game complacent. especially after their shock loss to the Raiders two weeks ago.
Both teams will feel a rise in intensity in this game and no disrespect intended, both teams will face opponents much stronger than who they played in their last match.
As far as coaches go you could argue until the cows come home as to who is the better going into this round. Chooks coach Trent Robinson has his team crowing at the right time of the season while Melbourne’s coach Craig ‘Bellyache’ Bellamy is a modern day master.
The Storm love to drag a side down into the dirt with them, slow down the play the ball, wrestle, get them into the grind. They’ve built a legacy on the back of it. The Roosters love to come out of the blocks fast and furious, quick play the balls, multiple runners, always more than one option for the ball carrier.
‘Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard’ …is a well known sporting quote.
Both the Storm and Roosters have buckets of both…that’s why this is such a hard one to pick.
I’ll give it a go anyway.
Rumours of the Week
* Another ‘rumour’ I got 100% right (for a change) was when I said that Panthers hooker Wayde Egan was a target for the cashed up New Zealand Warriors. This is what I said before Week 1 of the finals.
With Api Koroisau joining Penrith next year there has been plenty of speculation that up-and-coming rake Wayde Egan could be on his way out of Panthers headquarters,.. the 22 year-old won’t be short of options with the Warriors and several Sydney clubs ready to pounce should he be released.
Indeed photos and a story came out by The Australian’s Brent Read just this week confirming the news.
* The Panthers have reportedly pulled out of negotiations with Tiger Ryan Matterson and the Broncos Jack Bird.
* Don’t be surprised if former Sharks coach Shane Flanagan ends up as an assistant coach with the Roosters where his son Kyle has just signed a lucrative contract.
* Which team decided to throw the coaches game plan out the window and play their own style of football for the last round of the regular competition?
Rumours from the web: Here are some rugby league rumours doing the rounds on social media.
* Storm’s Curtis Scott to join the ‘Red V’ in 2020
* Broncos Anthony Milford to join the Titans next season
* Valentine Holmes to quit American Football and sign with the Cowboys before June 30
Peter Lang is an experienced writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.