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2017 NRL Finals week 1 preview and expert tips

Posted on 07/09 by Joe Gann

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Sydney Roosters v Brisbane Broncos betting
Team Odds
Sydney Roosters $1.67 Bet Now
Brisbane Broncos $2.22 Bet Now
The Roosters were fortunate to escape with a victory over a severely weakened Titans on Saturday, a win that helped to set up a coveted home tie this week. That advantage may prove to be crucial as the Roosters have only lost once at the Allianz Stadium this season, and beaten the Broncos four times in a row at the venue.

The Roosters have become experts at securing victories by the tightest of margins - this was the eleventh time this year they have triumphed by six points or less. The Tricolours have achieved a phenomenal turnaround in fortunes this year after a catastrophic 2016 season in which they ended the campaign in fifteenth place.

A top-two finish is quite an accomplishment, but coach Trent Robinson insists that there is more to come from his side.

The hamstring injury sustained by Darius Boyd put a dampener on Brisbane’s classy win over northern rivals the Cowboys on Thursday night, with the full-back a major doubt to be fit in time for this week’s showdown at Allianz Stadium. Injury concerns may dominate the run-up to this clash with Tevita Pangai Junior joining Boyd on the casualty list with a hamstring issue of his own. The Brisbane attack is looking like it will provide a headache for any defence, with the fluid interplay between Milford, Ben Hunt and Kodi Nikorima proving a particularly deadly asset for Wayne Bennett.

With 597 points in the ‘for’ column, only Melbourne has managed to score more than the Broncos, and it is this attacking arsenal that represents their best chance of success. The introduction of Hunt at number nine has presented the team with an unorthodox option at dummy half and injects yet more pace into a side that has that distinct quality in abundance. With Anthony Milford in scintillating form, the brilliant pivot may be instrumental in spearheading the Broncos' bid for Premiership glory.

Although the Broncos are in fine form, with the exception of the 34-52 aberration at the hands of the Eels, the Roosters may well benefit from their top-two finish and exploit their home advantage to earn a week’s rest here.

Selection: Roosters to win

Melbourne Storm v Parramatta Eels betting
Team Odds
Melbourne Storm $1.22 Bet Now
Parramatta Eels $4.35 Bet Now
Melbourne couldn’t be in better condition approaching the qualifying finals round; they have amassed 140 points in their last three games and finished the season six points clear of the Roosters in second, with 20 wins under their belt and a staggering points differential of +297.

The Storm will be looking to go one better than last year when they claimed the Minor Premiership but fell at the final hurdle, finishing runners up to the Sharks. The opening week of finals will see skipper Cameron Smith achieve another career milestone when he takes the field on Saturday; his 356th first-grade match will see him overtake fellow Queensland legend Darren Lockyer’s appearance record to become the most capped player in NRL history.

The management of the Origin period has been cited by director of football Frank Ponissi as playing a central role in the Storm’s strong late season form. With some players afforded a rest at that hectic period of the season, it appears to have paid dividends at the back-end of the year, with Coach Craig Bellamy blessed with the luxury of a full complement of players to choose from, and a squad in blistering form.

Friday’s scrappy win over the Rabbitohs helped to clinch fourth spot for the Eels, and they are rewarded with a daunting trip to face the Minor Premiers in the Southern Capital this week. Coach Brad Arthur has already initiated the mind games in the lead -up by highlighting some of the Storm’s perceived ‘wrestling’ tactics in attempt to influence the thinking of the officials – a point that Storm boss Bellamy was quick to rebuff. His assertion that his side has a ‘free hit’ this week, as the expectation on his team is low, is disingenuous; he will be desperate to secure passage to the elimination round at the first attempt.

It was a strange performance by the Eels on Friday night, with his side appearing to be trying to coast to victory, a tactic that almost saw them come unstuck against a valiant Bunnies. Fired up by the previous week’s demolition at the hands of Storm, a Rabbitohs outfit that was missing key personnel gave an impressive account of themselves and almost pulled off a huge upset.

It was a less than convincing win and raised the possibility that some players may have been saving themselves for finals week - a dangerous practice in such an unpredictable competition. The form of Semi Rhadradra will give them cause for optimism though, with seven tries in his last two games; the Fijian powerhouse is in a rich vein of form.

Another man at the top of his game is Michael Jennings, who has been a revelation this year in helping to shore up the right edge defence, supplementing Mitchell Moses in providing a potent attacking threat.

With nine wins from the last ten, including a win at AAMI Park in Round 18, the Blue and Golds are not quite the rank outsiders Arthur would have everyone believe.

Selection: Storm to win

Manly Sea Eagles v Penrith Panthers betting
Team Odds
Melbourne Storm $1.60 Bet Now
Penrith Panthers $2.40 Bet Now
If this clash bears any resemblance to last week’s encounter at Lottoland, the Sea Eagles will breeze into the second week of the finals.

Manly were by far the more focused and motivated of the two sides in the face of a potential finals omission, rediscovering a defensive steel that has been absent of late – the Sea Eagles have shipped an average of 32 points in each of their games since Round 20. A first half blitz in which the Panthers’ defence was terrorised by a rampant Silvertails’ offensive put paid to any thoughts that the Mountain Men might have had of clinching a home tie this week, in a clear statement of intent from their cross-city rivals.

For Manly, the victory was a welcome tonic after suffering a rocky spell that has yielded just five wins from the last ten and may serve to kick-start a surge of new-found belief for the knock-out stages. It looked like the Panthers were on course to be dumped out of the competition at one stage on Saturday, such was the paucity of their display. However, their most valuable commodity, namely their defensive resolve in the latter stages of matches – they have conceded just nine tries in the final quarter of matches this year - shone through when it was needed most.

Despite starting the year as one of the pre-season favourites, Penrith has experienced a turbulent campaign and do not arrive at this crucial juncture in the best shape. Momentum has faded away and the demoralising effects of last week’s thumping on the northern beaches will have done nothing for confidence.

Skipper Matt Moylan has been sensationally ruled out of the finals series due to ongoing personal issues in what is sure to be a savage blow to his side’s hopes; it is a situation that may have ongoing consequences for the club during the close season and is an unwanted distraction for his teammates going into this all-important weekend with their season on the line.

Selection: Sea Eagles to win

Cronulla Sharks v Nth Queensland Cowboys betting
Team Odds
Cronulla Sharks $1.35 Bet Now
Nth Queensland Cowboys $3.30 Bet Now
The loss of Ben Barba and Michael Ennis during the off-season was always going to weaken the Sharks, and so it has proven. The reigning Premiers have suffered many ups and downs this year, but despite not hitting the heights of the previous campaign, they are where they want to be at the conclusion.

Ideally, a top-four finish would have been the priority for Shane Flanagan when the season commenced, but a home fixture against this competition’s lowest ranked side is hardly a disaster. Defeat at the hands of Wigan in the World Club Series at the start of the year was a harbinger of things to come as the Sharks started slowly with two defeats from the first three matches. The indifferent form at the outset of this season gave way to a regular pattern of eking out wins without truly hitting form.

There was a smattering of outstanding results that punctuated the calendar – the Round 6 triumph at AAMI Park and the 44-12 masterclass over the Roosters being the most eye-catching – but there was always the underlying feeling that the Sharks weren’t quite clicking. Flanagan remains undeterred by his side’s struggles though and is confident that they will reveal their true selves, describing his troops as ‘finals ready.’

The question Cronulla need to answer is whether they can transform their mixed bag of displays into the standard required to emerge as Premiership winners. Injury doubts remain over Wade Graham and Jack Bird in preparation for the match, but Luke Lewis and Jayson Bukuya are expected to be fit after leaving the action early in the last round.

The Bulldogs’ heroic efforts against the Dragons left the Cowboys breathing a huge sigh of relief on Sunday. The last-minute reprieve has allowed Paul Green’s men to enter the finals via the back door and set-up a winner-takes-all showdown with last year’s champions. Victory for the Red V would have seen the Queenslanders miss out on September football for the first time since 2010. Instead, they were thrown an unexpected lifeline - one they will be hoping to grab with both hands on Sunday.

The North Queenslanders are currently enjoying a ten- day break, as opposed to the early onset of the close season thanks to the Red V, they will look to make the most of their stay of execution and in the process exact revenge for the Round 24 loss by the Sharks. The Cowboys will be clear underdogs going into this one having lost six of their last seven at Allianz Stadium, and they will have to buck that trend if they are to progress. The two most recent Premiers will go head-to-head in what is their fourth finals meeting in five years. Having seen their fortunes decline to differing degrees since their title success, both these clubs will be keen to relive their former glories and will be determined to advance to the second week of finals.

The Cowboys’ extended break offers a chance for some of the walking wounded on their exhaustive list of casualties to maximise their recuperation time and help shake off the signs of fatigue that has crept into their game over recent weeks.

Selection: Sharks to win

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