By NICHOLAS NAKOS
OVER the next month, the best eight teams in the NRL will battle it out for the Provan Summons Trophy
Week one of the 2017 finals series treats fans to two qualifying finals and two elimination finals, all of which will be previewed right here on Rugby League Hub.
Sydney Roosters versus Brisbane Broncos
Friday, August 8
Kick-off: 7:50pm at Allianz Stadium
The Roosters stumbled their way to second place on after an unconvincing win in round 26 over a spirited Gold Coast Titans outfit. The Roosters welcome back Aidan Guerra and Dylan Napa to their side, while Zane Tetevano misses through suspension and Mitch Cornish drops out of the 17. The Broncos were hard hit by injury last weekend, with Darius Boyd and Tevita Pangai Jnr both succumbing to hamstring injuries.
Injuries to their first choice fullback and hooker mean the Broncos are turning to Kodi Nikorima at the back, with Benji Marshall expected to start at halfback.
The disruption to the Broncos’ spine over the past several weeks has led to unconvincing performances, most notably their big loss to Parramatta just a fortnight ago. The Roosters will give the Broncos opportunity, as they have yet to string together a full 80-minute performance this season.
With a full strength side and playing at home, the Roosters should expect to win this match. Kodi Nikorima playing full back is a relatively unknown prospect and something which the Roosters will undoubtedly exploit. Brisbane will be spirited, but fall just short. Prediction: Roosters 22-14.
Melbourne Storm versus Parramatta Eels
Saturday, August 9
Kick-off: 4:10pm at AAMI Park
The all-conquering Melbourne Storm host the surprise packet of the 2017 season, the Parramatta Eels, on Saturday afternoon in Melbourne. Storm captain Cameron Smith breaks Darren Lockyer’s 355 game milestone on Saturday. The Storm has celebrated Smith’s milestone all week and if they needed any extra motivation heading into the finals, they most certainly have it.
The Eels will be buoyed by a 22-6 win in Melbourne earlier this season, albeit during the Origin period. On that night, Semi Radradra caused the Storm defense enormous trouble and it will be no surprise that the athletic Fijian winger will be a marked man come Saturday afternoon.
Dale Finucane and Tim Glasby return for the Storm, whilst Parramatta has named an unchanged line-up for this match.
It is an absolutely mammoth task for the Eels to come down to Melbourne and defeat the red-hot Storm on Saturday. It is difficult to see how the Eels keep pace with Melbourne in attack, as well as penetrate their defence with any sort of regularity. Parramatta’s hopes hinge on career best games from their halves pairing of Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses as well as a heavy dose of luck. It’s impossible to tip against Melbourne, especially in Melbourne. Prediction: Storm 30-6.
Manly Sea Eagles versus Penrith Panthers
Saturday, August 10
Kick-off: 7:40pm at Allianz Stadium
The most interesting finals game of week one takes place on Saturday night when Manly ‘host’ Penrith at Allianz Stadium. Last weekend, the Panthers felt the full wrath of the parochial Brookvale Oval crowd, as the Sea Eagles romped to a convincing 28-12 win.
Penrith’s finals lead-in has been less than ideal, with consecutive losses to the Dragons and Manly, coupled with the news that their captain and playmaker Matt Moylan will not take part in this year’s finals due to unforeseen personal circumstances.
After a successful challenge at the judiciary, forward Darcy Lussick is free to play for the Sea Eagles and they are unchanged this weekend. The Panthers will also go into this match unchanged, however full back Dylan Edwards is an outside chance of returning, as he has been named in the extended reserves. (continued below)
Based on last weeks result and the turmoil surrounding Matt Moylan, Manly seem the more settled of the two sides. Penrith are flashy and can score a lot of points, but I think they’ve expended all their energy getting into the finals after a poor start to the season, and their tank is just about empty. Prediction: Manly 20-12.
Cronulla Sharks versus North Queensland Cowboys
Sunday, August 11
Kick-off: 4:00pm at Allianz Stadium
The Cowboys needed absolutely everything to go their way in round 26, and it did. The Cowboys will be hoping to inflict some pain on a familiar finals foe when they once against travel to Sydney to take on the Cronulla Sharks.
Despite a raft of injuries, the Cowboys have selected an unchanged side for this weekends elimination final. Injury clouds, however, surround five-eighth Te Maire Martin and winger Antonio Winterstein, both of whom appeared less than 100% last weekend. (continued below)
The Sharks welcome back Jack Bird and Wade Graham to their side and will be hoping to edge a game closer to the Grand Final once again.
Despite an inconsistent season, Cronulla is a force to be reckoned with over the next month. Their experience, potent forwards, and crafty halves pose a threat to any team, particularly the Melbourne Storm who have traditionally struggled against Cronulla.
The Cowboys will be jubilant at having made the finals, considering the loss of star Johnathan Thurston and a host of other injuries throughout the back half of 2017. They will be spirited, as we have seen countless times this season, but expect them to be outclassed by this well-credentialed Cronulla side. Prediction: Sharks 26-10.