JT’s Random NRL Picks: 2021 Semi Finals

Pictured: Wayne Bennett to Ivan Cleary last weekend

So with two unworthy teams banished from the game until 2022, it’s time for Semi Final weekend up in Mackay, the sugar capital of Australia, and the hometown of luminaries like Cathy Freeman, Wendell Sailor, and Karen Jacobsen, the Australian English version of Siri, and from here on in, it’s win or go home, and after you go home, you can’t even spend a few months on the golf course commiserating another season from hell, at least until we get to 70% vaccination rates, after which the authorities decide to let rip, and find a quick, and some would argue unethical, solution to the issue of an aging population.

On an off note, did you know today is exactly a full decade since the Wests Tigers last played in a Final, as the Warriors permanently traumatised them with a try to Krisnan Inu 3 minutes from time to win 22-20, and a decade later, the Tigers are still rolled up in a ball crying in the corner.

The current longest finals drought in the league…. And it doesn’t look like ending anytime soon.

Total Score = 148/196

Picks are Underlined

Manly Sea Eagles vs Sydney Roosters at BB Print Stadium, Mackay, Friday 7:50pm AEST

Winner plays South Sydney in the Preliminary Final

In a classic case of ‘When life gives you lemons you make lemonade’, former Mackay native Daly Cherry-Evans will get to captain the Sea Eagles in a once in a lifetime final in his old hometown, and on another note, I suppose it’s fitting that in the year in which ‘Bozo’ Bob Fulton left us, that the two clubs he coached and played for, will play each other in a Final.

It probably would’ve been more appropriate if the Silvertails and Chooks played in a Grand Final, but beggars can’t be choosers, as I found out when I went in the General Public queue to get AFL Grand Final tickets.

Started at 12,000 in the queue, and I finally got to the front the very same minute the damn thing sold out.

Moving back to the more relevant sport, the Sea Eagles will have to use the Top 4 double chance to good effect in this game, given they were absolutely creamed up the middle by the Melbourne Storm defence, so much so that Tom Trbojevic ran for 151 metres and was still as good as a ghost, while the Roosters nearly took themselves out of the 2021 season with several stupid errors against the Titans, the main one being Matt Ikuvalu losing the ball 10 metres out from his own line, which ended in Jarrod Wallace getting the ball and having so much daylight that he prepared himself a cup of tea before scoring the last Titans try, and the ultimate difference between the teams was that Patrick Herbert’s right eye was ripped out of his head before the game, which can be the only plausible explanation for the final 30 seconds.

And thus, Josh Morris survived another week.

Friday night will also be the first finals meeting between the teams since 2013, when the Roosters won the Qualifying Final 4-0 despite not recording a single linebreak, in what is easily the lowest scoring final of the 21st Century, then they met again 3 weeks later in a thrilling 2013 Grand Final, when the Roosters came back to win 26-18.

In recent times, the Chooks may have won 4 out of the last 5 games against the Sea Eagles, with Manly’s only win coming by a point last year, but based on what I saw last weekend, the Chooks are just about ready for a date with The Colonel, given Sam Verrills got suspended in some apparent case of the judiciary thinking they’re bigger than the game itself.

So on that note, in this epic No.1 duel between James Teddy Tedesco and Tommy Turbo Trbojevic, I’ll go with the Serbian to beat the Italian, and on a topical note, here’s the late Norm Macdonald as Colonel Sanders, showcasing what the Sea Eagles are going to be eating on Friday night:

Penrith Panthers vs Parramatta Eels at BP Print Stadium, Saturday 7:50pm AEST

Winner gets to lose to the Melbourne Storm in a Preliminary Final

For the first time since the year 2000, it’s a Western Sydney Derby in the Finals, and in a game between the only teams to defeat the Melbourne Storm this season, history is on the side of the Blue & Gold brigade, because the Eels have won both finals against the Panthers, with the other win coming back in 1985, which was also the Panthers’ maiden finals appearance after entering the league in 1967.

One thing you can guarantee from this grudge match is that whoever loses will never hear the end of it, because you’ve got Parramatta looking down the barrel of going another year without even making the Preliminary Finals despite another hot start to the year, and after Souths reduced them to water in a great display of finals defending, the Panthers are looking down the barrel of a straight sets finals exit…

Which would be utterly hilarious if it did happen, given they’d filled themselves full of hot air for the last 12 months as a result of barely being pressured all season long, but along came the wily old fox Wayne Bennett with a pin to pop the balloon by commenting on Nathan Cleary being a protected species, and it must’ve been a sharp pin, because judging by that press conference, Ivan Cleary’s mind went pop as well, and look at the end result – Souths won 16-10 and Cleary was shut down.

The Storm-Panthers Grand Final rematch at Suncorp looked like a foregone conclusion for well over 3/4 of the season, but that’s probably why it didn’t happen…. It was so much of a certainty that reality had to intervene.

Meantime, there is another team playing in this game, and the Eels got over the line over the Knights in Rockhampton, sealed by the late penalty try that probably wasn’t a penalty try, and was also a missed knock on after Clint Gutherson’s grubber completely missed his boot and turned into a drop kick.

The Eels won that game by sticking their snout in the trough and getting down and dirty in the forward pack, which is exactly the same way they defeated the Storm in Round 24, which is probably why people still regard them as being thoroughly unconvincing, given they didn’t win either of those games by comfortable margins.

So as for the tip, the Panthers don’t have any room for complacency and need to hit back and hit back now if they want a crack at the Storm, and the Eels have everything to lose because, to paraphrase Mark ‘Tubby’ Taylor, if they lose this week, they won’t get a chance to lose next week.

So I’ll take the Panthers, and to serenade the Clearys, here’s Harry Chapin with CAT’S IN THE CRADLE:

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