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2017 NRL Preliminary Finals preview and expert tips

Posted on 20/09 by Joe Gann

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Melbourne Storm v Brisbane Broncos betting
Team Odds
Melbourne Storm $1.28 Bet Now
Brisbane Broncos $3.85 Bet Now
Storm host the Broncos in the first of this week’s knock-out clashes; a game that will determine who earns the right to take their place in the Grand Final at the beginning of next month.

Melbourne will be hoping to book their spot in the main event for the second year running, with both sides keen to avenge defeats after ending runners-up in the previous two years - 2015 in the case of the Broncos and 2016 for the Storm.

Opponents have been yearning to see signs of weakness in the Storm after an excellent year so far, and those hopes will have been raised by the manner of their narrow win over the Eels. However, the bottom line remains that they managed to find a way to win yet again against opponents who were playing at the absolute maximum of their capabilities.

The amount of energy that the Eels expended was illustrated the following week; Brad Arthur’s side was unable to muster anything like the same performance levels in their lacklustre defeat against the Cowboys. The Minor Premiers have a whole host of players with top-level experience, but for the younger members of the squad making their finals debuts, there were plenty of nerves on display. The ferocity of the game will have done wonders for confidence, and the steep learning curve of the finals arena will accelerate their development - the standard of football in the play-offs differs significantly from what they are accustomed to in the previous 26 rounds of the season.

Some claim this incarnation of Melbourne Storm is the greatest in club history, an acclimation that is hard to live up to without the evidence of a Premiership win to back it up. The unanimous praise the team has garnered this year generates an added weight of expectation and coach Craig Bellamy will be acutely aware of the need to combat that psychological pressure. This will be the ninth preliminary final in twelve years for the experienced coach who has brought a remarkable consistency to the club.

Home advantage again this week should provide an additional boost - the crowd at AAMI Park against the Eels was the highest of the opening weekend and Melbournians would be expected to turn out in numbers once more despite having to compete with the AFL finals taking place in the City this weekend.

Currently on an eight-game winning streak, their focus will be to ensure that momentum has not been disrupted by the week’s break and use the extended period as a chance to freshen up. Storm have won twelve of the last fourteen games against the Broncos and will be desperate to extend that record and qualify for October’s showpiece - the squad remains in good health with no changes expected to their roster.

Brisbane’s hard-fought 13-6 win over Penrith was their seventh straight finals win at Suncorp and helped set up a blockbusting Grand Final qualifier in Melbourne on Friday night. The Brisbane defence was rock solid again at the weekend after a poor showing against the Roosters in week one. Wayne Bennett will be confident that the flair and creativity of his offensive players can cause Melbourne problems.

However, the performance of his defence may be crucial to deciding the outcome of this epic clash. The Broncos could welcome back skipper Darius Boyd and Tevita Pangai Junior, both of whom have yet to play in the finals series as a result of injuries. Boyd’s return could mean Kodi Nikorima switching to the halves to partner Anthony Milford with Benji Marshall dropping to the bench.

With Corey Oates suffering a sickening head clash during the win over the Panthers, and Jai Arrow and Sam Thaiday also receiving knocks to the head, the trio will be subjected to cognitive testing this week to confirm their availability.

Selection: Storm to win

Sydney Roosters v Nth Queensland Cowboys betting
Team Odds
Sydney Roosters $1.35 Bet Now
Nth Queensland Cowboys $3.3- Bet Now
Having started the finals series with five teams, the Roosters find themselves in the unexpected position of being the last remaining survivors from the Rugby League heartland. With State bragging rights on the line, former Bondi stars Anthony Minichiello and Luke Ricketson have urged all Sydney fans to get behind the City’s sole representatives on Saturday night to help ensure the Premiership trophy remains in the Harbour City.

The Roosters remain unconvincing for the entirety of the 80 minutes and their defence can be porous against the top sides, but they will enjoy the advantage of home territory at the Allianz Stadium again this weekend; the Sea Eagles are the only team to have beaten the Tricolours on their own patch this year. Daniel Tupou has declared himself fit, despite carrying the after-effects of a groin injury picked up in Round 22 and Luke Keary has been sidelined this week after suffering a bout of food poisoning but should recover in time for Saturday night's showdown.

The Cowboys received a hero’s welcome upon their return to Townsville following Saturday’s terrific win over the Eels and are clearly relishing their underdog billing. Paul Green’s men have gratefully seized on the lifeline handed to them by the Bulldogs on the final weekend of the regular season and find themselves just 80 minutes away from a Grand Final appearance. The line-up for these Preliminary finals is the same as 2015, when the Cowboys last lifted the trophy; an encouraging omen for the North Queensland side as they close on what would be an improbable success.

Despite the disruptions of countless injury problems, they have now managed to establish a settled side and talk of the missing Johnathan Thurston becomes less and less with each passing victory. The 24-16 upset over the Eels was orchestrated by Michael Morgan who has stepped out of Thurston’s shadow to emerge as the driving force of this new look side; the playmaker was sensational at the weekend with a try, an assist, a line-break and three tackle busts.

It was a quality performance from his side, who were magnificent both in attack and defence; Parramatta’s only tries were long-range, counterattacking efforts, as the Cowboys defence dominated. The only negative from the evening was the knee injury sustained by Coen Hess, the young backrower is set to have scans this week to discover the extent of the damage and may be doubt.

With momentum the key word this week, it is the side from North Queensland who possess this vital attribute by the bucket load and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them prevail again at the expense of the Sydneysiders.

Selection: Cowboys to win

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