We’re just one day out from the 2019 NRL finals, so who are the players who will have the biggest impact?
And which team is the dark horse to take out the title?
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Does Sam Burgess need to change his approach to the game?
Brunsdon: Yes, without a doubt. Wayne Bennett basically said as much after Burgess whacked Matt Moylan around the chops and only escaped another suspension through a judiciary bingo draw. He should be one of the most influential forwards in the game but too often he’s crossing the line and costing his team. Jason Taumalolo doesn’t get suspended for stupid acts like pulling hair … he’s the best lock in the game and has a Dally M Medal hanging on the dresser.
Dean: Aggression no, smarts yes. There’s no need for the niggly things in his game. He can have a greater impact with big tackles and runs. In the case of the hair pull on Billy Smith, the rookie was already tackled on the ground so who knows what Burgess was actually trying to achieve.
Clarke: Sorry Sam, but you’ve done some daft stuff in recent years. Wayne Bennett has been telling you to cut down on below-the-belt antics, since the 2016 Four Nations when you landed one square on David Klemmer’s nose. Three years on and you’re still landing yourself in trouble. You are one of the best players in the game, don’t spoil it with stupid stuff.
St John: Yes. The big fella might not think it, but what if his track record had cost him a grand final, which is still a possibility in the future. Thuggery is for players that don’t have talent and even then you can’t get away with it in the modern game. Sam has immense talent and toughness and he should rely on that and not foul play to intimidate his rivals.
Who is the biggest loss out of the suspended players in week one?
Brunsdon: Marty Taupau. Given the huge injury toll which has depleted the Sea Eagles’ pack already, losing Taupau was a headache they just didn’t need. He should have been there leading from the front in a game his club needs to win.
Dean: Sam Burgess. He’s the Rabbitohs’ pack leader and has a wealth of experience that’s invaluable at this stage of the season. Burgess is a big physical player and he’ll be sorely missed against the Roosters who have plenty of firepower in their forwards.
Clarke: Sam Burgess. I don’t see the Bunnies pack having as much mongrel and fight without him. The return of his brothers and James Roberts should help the Rabbitohs, but sans Sam they lack bite.
St John: Marty Taupau. Sam Burgess is a massive loss for the Rabbitohs but he has been a liability at times of late and the return of his brothers Tom and possibly George will soften the blow. South Sydney get a second chance, but the Sea Eagles’ season is over if they lose to the Sharks and Taupau sets the tone for the whole side upfront.
Which two teams will win through to the preliminary finals in week one?
Brunsdon: The first one is easy – Chooks will beat Bunnies. The second one is a little harder given Canberra beat the Storm only a few weeks ago and Ricky Stuart has his men absolutely firing. But I’ll lean towards Melbourne.
Dean: The Rabbitohs will be too beat-up and missing Sam Burgess to overcome the Roosters who have Luke Keary, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Brett Morris, and Mitchell Aubusson all returning. In the other qualifying final the Storm will be out to exact revenge on the Raiders from the last time they met and I reckon they’ll do it – just.
Clarke: The Roosters won’t be as bad as they were against the Rabbitohs last week. Latrell Mitchell doesn’t have two poor games back to back.
With Boyd Cordner back, expect them to sing. The Storm will be hurting from that loss to the Raiders, when they surrendered an 18-0 lead for Canberra to win 22-18. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, so it’ll be the Storm and the Roosters who get the week off.
St John: I don’t think the Raiders can beat the Storm twice on their own turf in one season. Craig Bellamy’s men would have learned a lot from their Round 22 loss to Canberra after they led 18-0. AAMI Park is a graveyard for opposition sides in September. I also have a hunch that the Rabbitohs just might do enough to upset the Roosters for the second week in a row. Wayne Bennett and Trent Robinson both know plenty about finals footy, but I get the impression the old master has a few tricks up his sleeve. However, I expect the Roosters to bounce back next week and meet the Rabbitohs in the grand final.
Who is the dark horse for the title?
Brunsdon: Cronulla. I said start of the season they would win the comp, and I suppose I’ll stick by it as long as they’re a live chance. Also in their favour is the fact they know how to beat Melbourne and may come up against the Storm in a preliminary final.
Dean: I don’t think anyone outside the top four can win it, but if I had to pick a team outside of that, it’d be the Sharks because if they can get into their gritty style of play, they could trouble the favourites.
Clarke: Parramatta. Let’s say they win over Brisbane, they will probably face a trip to Canberra and they’ve had success against the Raiders this year. That back three of Gutherson, Ferguson and Sivo is perhaps the most dangerous in the NRL, and they can score tries from anywhere. I like their pack, and the only team to really blow them away this year was the Storm at the Magic Round. They’ve grown up a lot since then.
St John: The Sharks. They may have had a wretched run with injuries so far in 2019, but they are only down Matt Moylan and the suspended Ronaldo Mulitalo as the finals start. If they can account for an injury-hit Sea Eagles team as expected they are two games away from a grand final and they have the experienced players that have been there before at this time of year. Gallen, Fifita, Townsend, Prior and even Shaun Johnson know how to get to the final game of the season and if they can make the big dance anything can happen.
Who will be the player of the finals series?
Brunsdon: Cameron Munster. He’s a star and a big-game player and his individual brilliance can drag Melbourne across the line if it comes to crunch.
Dean: I can’t go past James Tedesco. As we’ve seen in Origin, he’s a big game player and I feel as though he’s started to dominate club football on a consistent basis even more this season.
Clarke: Ryan Papenhuyzen. The kid is electric and his speed and step will destroy teams. With only a handful of games in the NRL under his belt, Papenhuyzen will be relatively fresh going into the next few weeks compared to his rivals. And with that kind of agility and pace in his arsenal, he will blow a few teams away.
St John: Damien Cook. The Rabbitohs rake’s form fell off a cliff after Origin, but he has been on fire in the last month and is peaking at the right time of the year. Add to that he gets back three Burgess brothers for the finals and he will be near on impossible to stop out of dummy-half.