JT’s Random NRL Picks: Finals Week One, 2021

Will we see this again in a month’s time? Probably not, considering it won’t be at Stadium Australia.

Well, who’d have thought we’d have been able to suck our way through an entire season’s worth of footy given the Mount Druitt-sized hurdles the entire rugbaleeg community had to overcome, but here we are, the finals have arrived, and for the next month up until the first Sunday in October at Suncorp Stadium, the game will be doing the same bloody thing it’s done for the last 2 months….

A giant-arse tour of Queensland.

Townsville and Rockhampton this week, Mackay next week for the Semi Finals and you’d assume the Cauldron that is Lang Park will get the Preliminary Finals to go alongside the Grand Final.

Staying on the subject of the Sunshine State, Billy Slater is in the box seat to take the Queensland Origin coaching job after Paul Green was unceremoniously knifed, and if that does happen, you shouldn’t be surprised if the voting panel for the Wally Lewis Medal somehow find a way to give yet another medal to Slater, just as they did in 2018…..

Bloody tokenism it was.

Total Score = 145/192

Picks are Underlined

1st Qualifying Final

Melbourne Storm vs Manly Sea Eagles at Sunshine Coast Stadium, Friday 7:50pm AEST

Another chapter in one of the great modern day rivalries in Australian sport, as the Storm and Sea Eagles meet in a final for the first time since 2012, and Craig Bellamy and Des Hasler oppose each other for what feels like the 36th time, and apparently despite losing the last 4 encounters, Hasler is the only coach alive with a winning record against Bellyache.

Winning last year’s Premiership after spending 3 months on the road was a hell of an achievement for the Storm, and this year was almost even better, because despite Cameron Smith retiring, Clive Churchill Medalist Ryan Papenhuyzen dealing with concussion issues, and not being able to play at AAMI Park since the start of May, the defending champs won 21 out of 24 games, matched the longest winning streak in First Grade history, set a new record for Points Differential, and reclaimed the minor premiership with some quite sumptuous footy.

There’s plenty of worthy candidates for Coach of the Year, but Craig Bellamy probably has the best case of them all, although it’d be foolish to leave out Des Hasler, considering Manly were stone motherless last after Round 4 with a Points Differential of -122, and we can’t forget they were 12-6 down against the Warriors in Round 5, which would’ve had them in the $4 range to take the Wooden Spoon.

Next thing you know, Daly Cherry-Evans kicked a field goal with the last play of the game, Tom Trbojevic came straight back into the team for Round 6, and with Jason Saab and Reuben Garrick on the wings, they spent the rest of the year carpet bombing opposition defences, positively bolting into the Top 4 like Kiwi in the 1983 Melbourne Cup.

Just on that, obviously Reuben Garrick shattered the record for the most points in the regular season and broke the 300 point barrier, but I went back and looked through those first 4 games – He had a mere 22 points next to his name after Round 5, which would mean that he racked up 282 in his last 19 games.

If Garrick had only played 19 games, he still would’ve won the Pointscorers title by a good 34 points to Adam Reynolds.

So on that note, as good as the Silvertails have been since mid-April, I’ve got to take the Storm in front of their loyal home fans on the Sunshine Coast, and I don’t think I’ve ever used a reference to The Munsters on here before, so with Cameron Munster back in the starting line-up for Melbourne, here is the colorised version of the opening to The Munsters, starring Butch Patrick as Eddie Munster, Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster, and Cameron Munster as Cameron Munster:

1st Elimination Final

Sydney Roosters vs Gold Coast Titans at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Saturday 5:40pm AEST

Cowboys fans were hoping they’d be seeing a final at North Queensland Stadium within a few years of it opening at the beginning of 2020, and they’ll get their wish this weekend…

With the Roosters and Titans going at each other’s throats in a knockout final.

Obviously the Chooks have got that brilliant recent history with 3 premierships under Trent Robinson’s reign, while the Titans came from 3 pairs back entering Round 25 to make the finals for the first time since 2016, and as everyone knows, the Glitter Strippers only have 1 finals win in their history, which came against the Warriors in Week One of the 2010 final, and thanks to the funky world of the McIntyre Final Eight system, the Titans went straight into a Preliminary Final after 2nd and 3rd both lost that weekend…

Where they ran into the Todd Carney Roosters, and lost 32-6.

Interestingly, Jared Waerea-Hargeaves is the only player from that game who will feature in this game, which could also be the farewell for the retiring Josh Morris, who made his NRL debut for St George in the Titans’ inaugural game way back in Round 1 of 2007.

On both occasions, the Titans team had Preston Campbell at Fullback, and now Josh is finishing his career playing against Preston’s son Jayden Campbell.

Apparently that’s some kind of proof that time is a flat circle.

So typical me, I’ll pick Easts to win with a few key players back in the forward pack, namely Radley, Crichton and Waerea-Hargreaves, which should mean they’ve now got 10 fully fit players in the line-up this week, and they’ll need them all against a Titans team that seems to have a fetish for bringing David Fifita off the bench.

So in conclusion, here’s an artist’s impression of Trent Robinson going to bed with his favourite Teddy:

2nd Qualifying Final

Penrith Panthers vs South Sydney Rabbitohs at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Saturday 7:50pm AEST

For the second year running, the Panthers and Rabbitohs meet in a final in which Souths won’t have Latrell Mitchell at fullback, and the Panthers come in having won both games against the Rabbits this year, and the last 5 in all, which will undoubtedly be weighing itself in the back of the mind of every Souths player, because even though they won 20 out of 24 games and set a couple of club records this year, they couldn’t sniff either the Panthers or Storm through four attempts.

We should also remember that in the Dubbo game back in Round 11, the Panthers won 56-12, putting the Rabbits directly under the dreaded ’50 Point Curse’, in which no team that has conceded 50 points in a game has won the premiership through approximately 114 years.

No wonder Andrew Johns predicted that the Rabbitohs were going to get knocked out in straight sets…. That ball don’t lie.

So as we sit and wonder why the Rabbits are even bothering to travel up to Townsville, I’ll pick the Panthers to win and continue their quest for vengeance against the Storm, and I believe Ivan Cleary has a special player ready to make his debut for the Chocolate Soldiers this weekend…

Elmer Fudd.

2nd Elimination Final

Parramatta Eels vs Newcastle Knights at Browne Park, Rockhampton, Sunday 4:05pm AEST

Rockhampton gets a guernsey for the finals, and it seems appropriate that the Eels and Knights would play each other in the finals a full 20 years after they played in the 2001 NRL Grand Final, which wound up becoming the new normal for NRL Grand Finals, in that it was the first Grand Final to be played at night, and it was played on the first Sunday in October.

Funnily enough, touching back on the subject of no team winning a premiership after conceding 50 points, the 2001 Knights have the record for the highest score conceded by an eventual premier, when they gave up 49 points in Round 22 against Cronulla at Shark Park… Mat Rogers kicked 8/11 in front of the sticks that day, so you have to think, if he’d kicked 1 more goal, the Eels premiership drought would’ve ended at 15 years.

And who can also forget when that Eels team, who were the greatest attacking team in the history of the game, and had won 10 straight games, rocked up to the Grand Final breakfast looking like the cast of Miami Vice with their black suits and sunglasses in an attempt to look cool as cucumbers, while underneath that flashy exterior they were crapping out logs, while the Knights were just there for a good time, which they probably had considering who was in Joey Johns’ phonebook during those years.

Moving on to recent history, which neither team wants to enjoy, and Brad Arthur knew exactly what he was doing when he rested captain Clint Gutherson and half a dozen other Eels against the Panthers, as the Eels pretty much sacrificed momentum for freshness in a 40-6 loss, not even 6 days after they’d ended the Storm’s 19 game winning streak.

Meantime, the Knights have made consecutive finals series for the first time since the Joey Johns years between 1997-03, and they enter as one of the most utterly unconvincing teams remaining, which is a big achievement considering who they’re playing, and that comes despite winning 5 consecutive games (All by under 10 points) prior to the Broncos defeating them on Saturday.

The main reason the Novocastrians so unconvincing is that despite winning 12 games, the Knights had a points differential of -143, and their attack was the second-worst of any team in the league, with their main saving grace being the fact the Bulldogs took 5 months to figure out what a try line looked like.

So as you can probably tell, I think the Eels will have a bit of September joy this Sunday, and given it is a team nicknamed the Eels, I better use a song by the Eels, which I haven’t done once this season, and here’s a song that appeared on a family iPod 15 years ago – Mr E’s Beautiful Blues!

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