IT?S Finals time! And with the first of the Qualifying Finals kicking off tonight, we break down the two key men in each game.
While the Top 8 system remains in place for financial reasons to be fair the first week of the Finals has some delicious games on offer. That being said a Top 5 system would have two absolutely cracking games with the Bulldogs facing the Broncos in the Major Preliminary Semi Final and the Knights against the Sea Eagles in the Minor Preliminary Semi Final, but what is the sanctity of the Finals Series versus the income generated from another two games of football this weekend?
But we digress.
Here are the two key men in each Qualifying Final.
Friday ? Knights v Sea Eagles @ Energy Australia
Andrew Johns, Knights
We all know he is still the most dominant player in the game and the two week rest he had for some creative language was probably a good thing for the 32 year old. Looked to have been carrying some knocks in the previous couple of months and a little downtime surfing etc will have this champion primed for a big one against the Sea Eagles. Will particularly want to silence his critics by beating the Sea Eagles well before the last minute when a referee/touch judge call can have a significant impact on the result. Expect a big one from the game?s Number One.
Ben Kennedy, Sea Eagles
Will he be fit? There is no doubt Kennedy will play but regardless of the strong rumour that he wanted to play against the Storm in Round 26, Kennedy being 100% for this game is a pipedream. Manly?s vaunted backrow looked fairly average without him, although to be fair Steve Menzies has tried hard to fill in for Kennedy?s absence. Could be playing his last game of Rugby League so expect a huge hit up count and an 80minute performance from the big fella (even if he isn?t fully fit). Kennedy won?t be a major threat to run through the line but his ability to offload halfway through defenders will be devastating if Brett Stewart lurks around his captain every time he takes the ball up.
Prediction: Johns? err Knights by 7
Saturday ? Broncos v Dragons @ Suncorp
HERE we are just three rounds from Finals Football and the Chief Executive of the NRL David Gallop has openly castigated his Referee?s boss Robert Finch and former top referee Bill Harrigan for not knowing the rules. From memory one of Gallop?s key pleas to the clubs and fans when he took over from David Moffat towards the end of 2001 (and officially for 2002) was to unify the differing factions within the Rugby League community. Yet here he is openly calling out his Referee?s boss and one of the most accomplished referees of all time.
An article on Foxsports.com.au by James Hooper (http://www.foxsports.com.au/story/0,8659,20140188-23214,00.html), quotes David Gallop with the following attack on Finch and Harrigan for their publicised views on a non-call on the allegedly off-side Canberra in their game against the Wests Tigers on Sunday.
WHY is it that in a competition featuring fewer teams than during the 1988-1994 era, the NRL persists with a Finals System that allows more teams now to have a shot at the Premiership come September?
Sure we all know the current format is solely about money but isn?t the NRL cheapening the achievement of simply making the Finals?
From memory the key reasoning (again it was all about money but this was the line trotted out) behind starting the whole Super League era was the intent to reduce the number of teams which would then increase the quality of games week in week out. And lets be fair dinkum, that was the same reasoning trotted out by the NRL when they decided to punt a few teams during the early post-Super League years.
So why with the teams reduced, did the NRL decide to stick with the clearly inferior McIntyre System, enabling over half of the teams in the competition to qualify for the Finals? again it was all about money.
With the Gold Coast Titans entering the competition next season the NRL will mirror the old NSWRL?s number of teams who competed in that that 1988-94 period when the game experienced one of its truly golden eras both on and off the field. This 16th team creates a great opportunity to return to the days of the Final Five and bring some credibility back into simply making the month of September. And with the elimination of meaningless Finals games (which DO exist in the McIntyre format) the crowds and TV ratings (the two biggies financially) will increase and the achievement of making the Finals will be once again meaningful.
The beauty of the Final Five is the fact it creates blockbuster games over four weekends and in doing so makes the road to glory as tough as possible ? as it should be.
Given the current NRL Table there is a clear cut Final Five and although the media loves to talk up and talk down sides every second week during the year, there is only one side that has had a great season and that is the Melbourne Storm and they will as a result win the Minor Premiership.
Incorporating the Byes still to come this would be the table (sorted by Differential):
1. MELBOURNE STORM 34
2. BULLDOGS 30
3. BRISBANE BRONCOS 28
4. MANLY SEA EAGLES 28
5. ST.GEORGE-ILLAWARRA 28
Leaving the following teams just outside the Final Five after good but quite frankly not outstanding seasons:
6. NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 24
7. CANBERRA RAIDERS 24
8. NTH QLD COWBOYS 22
9. CRONULLA SHARKS 22
Given the up and down nature of the teams just outside the Top 5, the process of sorting the contenders from the pretenders is done before September and the teams that truly deserve to be in a position to win the competition are rewarded with a ticket to the big games.
Also in reverting to a Final Five there is no longer the need to have Home Finals because like in the ?good old days? the Finals were a separate animal entirely and only the teams in the Top 3 deserved a second bite at the cherry in the form of any advantage for finishing high on the table. As a result the six games of football could be split between the three best Rugby League stadiums in Australia with no preference to any team and a set schedule to avoid favourable ground draws.
? And for those who argue no one will show up to games featuring out of town sides, check out the crowd figures for the 1993 and 1994 Finals Series in which Brisbane and Canberra featured heavily in the games played. All the games were played at the Sydney Football Stadium (capacity 42,000) and in 1993 a total of 222,288 people attended 6 games at an average of 37,048 and in 1994 a total of 230,383 people attended 6 games at an average of 38,397.
With the Final Five decided how about this for a mouth-watering month of football.
? Friday Night - Minor Preliminary Semi Final
#4 Manly Warringah Sea Eagles v #5 St. George-Illawarra Dragons
@ Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
? Saturday Night - Major Preliminary Semi Final
#2 Bulldogs v #3 Brisbane Broncos
@ Aussie Stadium, Sydney
? Friday Night - Minor Semi Final
#3 Brisbane Broncos v #5 St. George-Illawarra Dragons
@ Aussie Stadium, Sydney
? Saturday Night - Major Semi Final
#1 Melbourne Storm v #2 Bulldogs
@ Telstra Stadium, Sydney
? Friday Night - Preliminary Final
#1 Melbourne Storm v #5 St. George-Illawarra Dragons
@ Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
? Sunday Night - Grand Final
#2 Bulldogs v #5 St. George Illawarra Dragons
@ Telstra Stadium, Sydney
* Friday Night games are far bigger events than Sunday Afternoon fixtures and are the perfect way to end the working week and the Preliminary Final in particular must be a Friday Night so there is truly a Grand Final week and the team who plays in the Preliminary Final gets enough rest to take on the well rested team which won the Major Semi Final.
If a lineup of games like that can?t get the fans off the couch and to the stadium then they are just too hard to please.
A Final Five has to return as the game needs to bring the glory back to the month of September when the best of the best fought for the Premiership.
IN 2007 the NRL welcomes their 16th member club when the Gold Coast Titans (formerly Giants, Seagulls, Chargers and for a short time ? Dolphins) join the competition. Armed with a completely vacant roster and an uncompromised Salary Cap, the Titans have been extremely aggressive in building a side that can compete from day one. Coach John Cartwright and the Gold Coast management deserve a lot of credit for luring some very good players to the club. In doing so they have transferred a lot of pressure onto their own shoulders for the next two seasons as the playing roster is a lot stronger than say South Sydney had in 2002.
WE are just past the halfway mark of the NRL season and it is time to announce the inaugural TV Commentator Awards for 2006.
NSW clinched the 2006 State of Origin series last night with a commanding 26-12 victory in Game 2 at Suncorp Stadium and in doing so validated the media?s forecast that the concept is dead as a spectacle.
THE South Sydney Rabbitohs have started the 2006 NRL Season with 11 straight losses and the club with the most Premierships in the history of the game looks odds on to collect their third Wooden Spoon (could be a 4th had it not been for the Bulldogs) since returning to the competition in 2002.
IN the NRL every week there are things that go unnoticed by the mainstream media. Perhaps it is because there are politics involved or perhaps they are simply bad judges. Here are three things that are happening in the NRL right now which have either been glossed over or simply missed or for no apparent reason.
YES we all know the Newcastle Knights cannot win when it matters (and when it doesn?t apparently see Round 4 v Warriors) without Andrew Johns and every scientific formula known to man has come to that conclusion but does the same ring true with the St. George-Illawarra Dragons and their halfback Mathew Head?
SO which genuine rookies have been the most impressive thus far in 2006? NSC takes a look at the Top 5 Genuine Rookies (5 career games or less entering 2006) of the season so far and lists their LPR Total & Average for 2006.