Well, the first weekend of October has arrived, the season is humming along, and we’re eagerly awaiting a finals contest at ANZ Stadium on the Sunday before the public holiday in New South Wales.
The more things change, they stay the same.
1st Qualifying Final
Penrith (1st) vs Sydney Roosters (4th) at Panthers Stadium, 7:50pm AEST
The first final out at the foot of the mountains since 2010, which didn’t exactly end well for Penrith that Saturday night.
First of all, Channel 9 couldn’t broadcast the opening 20 minutes of the game because of that Tigers-Roosters epic going into golden point.
Then, 20 years after the Raiders had left the Mountain Men crying at the Football Stadium, the Green Machine came to town and beat them 24-22 in the 2 vs 7 final, and next thing you know, the Roosters dumped the 2nd placed team out in straight sets the next week.
I could also mention the greater achievement of the Panthers winning their first minor premiership since 2003, a year in which it wasn’t until Scott Sattler mowed down a runaway Todd Byrne in the 2nd Half of the Grand Final that you thought “Shit, the Panthers could win the premiership!”
The 2003 Panthers set a club record 9-game winning streak on their way to the premiership, but then along came these 2020 Panthers, who have made that pissy little run look pedestrian, as they come in with 15 wins on the bounce, the best by any club entering a finals series since the almighty 1975 Easts team won 19 straight.
These Panthers have been the best-performed club of 2020 by a highway, and Nathan Cleary is now probably going to win the Dally M, make no mistake about that, but the finals are a different beast, and compared to their opponents on Friday, plus the Storm, they’re relative big-game novices, and when you think about Ivan Cleary’s coaching career, finals success doesn’t scream off the page, although that said, he’s never been in charge of a team this good.
The 2011 Warriors made a Grand Final from 6th, and the 2014 Panthers knocked off the defending premier Roosters in a Qualifying Final, but lost the Prelim to Canterbury – In terms of talent, I’d back the 2020 Panthers over both.
On the other hand, when I theorised that Robbo and Uncle Nick would potentially lose to the Rabbits to increase their chances of finishing 4th and not having to play the Storm in Queensland, I didn’t exactly realise that Easts would produce one of the most historically piss poor performances by a defending premier, so much so they activated the “Concede 50 Points” curse, pretty much derailing any chance of the Threepeat in one utterly spectacular Friday evening.
It’s like that curse in the NFL where the annual passing yards leader has never won the Super Bowl – Concede 50 points in a game, you may as well give up the year.
I think the talking heads on Fox League summed it up – The Roosters conceding 60 points and losing by 52 is funny enough, but it wasn’t against the Storm, Panthers or Eels….
It was against SOUTHS.
So with Brett Morris, Joey Manu, Isaac Liu and Lindsay Collins all back, the Roosters begin their climb of a “little Mount Everest”, having conceded the most points in a game of any team in 2020, and Jake Friend isn’t available after that head knock, against a team who have Api Korisau playing like a Top 5 hooker.
Ironically, a game between a team on a 15-game winning streak and a team who just lost by 52 points looks the most competitive contest of the weekend, and the Chooks have earned enough respect from everyone to expect a bounceback, I’ll take the Panthers by the hairs on Nathan Cleary’s chinny chin chin.
1st Elimination Final
Canberra (5th) vs Cronulla (8th) at GIO Stadium, Saturday 5:40pm AEST
The Sharks finished 8th with a 10-10 record and a points differential of 0
Sticky played the reserves against the Sharks’ reserves, and with nothing resembling a First Grade spine, the Raiders were still good enough to win and win well against the Swiss Cheese Sharks, and with 15 minutes to go at Bankwest on Saturday evening, the gents from the ACT were probably sitting back on their deck chairs pissing themselves laughing, as it looked like they’d smuggled 4th place away from the flailing Eels.
Alas, the Blue & Golds came back and the Green Machine finished 5th as expected, BUT, there’s even better news than finishing 5th….
Someone tell Josh Papalii he doesn’t need to grow a caterpillar on his upper lip, because everyone’s growing milk moustaches from now on.
So the Raiders go in with pretty much everyone well-rested, and the Sharks, who in fairness did rest players, go in to the finals as the first team since the 1995 North Sydney Bears to reach the Top 8 without defeating another Top 8 team.
Quite literally, they are the first team in the NRL era of First Grade rugbaleeg to make the finals without defeating a Top 8 team.
Even the 2020 Brisbane Broncos defeated a Top 8 team.
Even the 2020 Canterbury Bulldogs defeated a Top 8 team.
Even the 2002 Canberra Raiders, had a 10-1-13 record with a -170 points differential, and only got in to 8th spot because the Bulldogs cheated the salary cap, making them the worst Top 8 team record, defeated a Top 8 team.
As you can probably gather, I will pick the Raiders in their last game in our Nation’s Capital in 2020.
2nd Qualifying Final
Melbourne Storm (2nd) vs Parramatta (3rd) at Suncorp Stadium, Saturday 7:40pm AEST
Well, the Brisbane locals would’ve been hoping to see some finals action at Lang Park back when the season began, and guess what, THEY’VE GOT IT!
So in a normal world, the Storm would’ve played a home final at AAMI Park and looked mighty hard to beat.
Now, they get a home final in Queensland, where they’ve lost once in 11 years.
One of those classic ‘pick your poison’ scenarios.
I doubt Craig Bellamy or anyone at the Storm will even bother looking at the tape from Sunday, considering pretty much the entire starting lineup, with the exception of The Pap, got the weekend off, and the end result was that the Dragons inflicted the Storm’s second defeat in their last 15 games.
Eels fans will rightly point out that they also gave the Storm a whooping back in Round 15, but the common thread between that game and the Dragons game is that Cameron Smith didn’t play.
Dylan Brown might be back for the Eels, but he is not Cameron Smith.
Of course, the Storm are getting re-accustomed to the classic outside noise – Last year there was the furor about their dodgy wrestling tactics in the ruck, the dirtiest set of wrestling tactics since Mick Foley had Mr Socko, which apparently distracted them enough to lose to the Raiders and derail a 20-4 season.
This year, if you don’t count having to leave their own state, it’s Hip Drop tackles, will Cameron Smith retire, and the Courier Mail’s Operation Overlord campaign to get Craig Bellamy back to the Broncos.
Not smooth sailing in any sense of the word.
Still, in the last 15 years, the Eels have made the finals 5 times, with this being the 6th.
Every single time, they’ve lost to the Storm:
Week One, 2006*
2007 Preliminary Final*
2009 Grand Final*
2017 Qualifying Final
2019 Semi Final
Throw in the trauma of the blown lead in the 1999 Prelim, and the Eels are winless against the Storm in the finals.
I think that might just continue.
2nd Elimination Final
South Sydney (6th) vs Newcastle (7th) at ANZ Stadium, 4:05pm AEDT
Daylight Savings are kicking in on Sunday morning, which means you can inevtably expect some people to not realise that things are occurring an hour later than normal.
For example, don’t be surprised if the Knights wait until the 60 minute mark to realise they’re playing a final, by which time Souths will probably be 30 points up on them and preparing for a Semi Final.
Last Friday night could not have been any more different for two of the more flaky teams going around.
The Knights had just belted the Dragons, and only had to win against the Titans to get the home final, but they ended up being nothing short of pissweak, TO THE POINT that the Titans were able to do this to them.
That was the moment there and then that you knew the Knights were up the creek, because that was softer than satin sheets.
Hahahaha, say that with a lisp.
And Souths, a week after losing to Canterbury, clearly reaped the positive karma that came from helping consign Brisbane to last place, and produced the craziest form turnaround since the Cowboys lost a final to Wests Tigers 50-6, only to make a Grand Final 2 weeks later.
AGAINST THE ETERNAL ENEMY.
And the Rabbits looked on their knees 8 minutes in.
Russell Crowe was probably flying around on his quadbike up on the farm, re-enacting scenes from gladiator every time Alex Johnston walked over the line and scored those 5 tries.
He’ll probably be doing the same thing come Sunday, because Cody Walker’s going to keep playing himself back into a Blues jersey, and the Rabbits are going to a Semi Final.