THE cream has risen to the top. No matter how loyal a fan you are to your team surely nobody can claim that the better team didn?t win either of the Preliminary Finals on the weekend. The Broncos produced arguably the greatest second half of football seen not only this year but perhaps for many a year to overwhelm the Bulldogs; while the Dragons just couldn?t turn back the Storm?s methodical and efficient style and saw another season pass by without that much anticipated title.
But to the games and the standout individual performances.
1st PRELIMINARY FINAL
A little birdie told me today that picking a winner in Broncos and Bulldogs game tonight was tougher than picking a broken nose and given his melon resembles that of Dane Carlaw?s last Saturday night, I guess I?ll have to take his word for it.
AND then there were four. After two one-sided semi finals over the weekend, the Newcastle Knights and Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles are no longer in the running for the 2006 Telstra Premiership. With their comprehensive victories the St.George Illawarra Dragons and Brisbane Broncos live to fight another day in the Preliminary Finals this weekend. League Player Ratings is the only non-newspaper affiliated Ratings service covering the NRL and after completing the regular season for subscribers, NSC is covering the Finals for League Unlimited. The LPR is a ranking out of 10, as a guide 3 is the lowest score and for a very early injury, 4 is for an mid-game injury if nothing significant was done or a player has a very poor performance, 5 is a poor performance below standard, 6 is a standard performance, 7 is a very good performance, 8 is an excellent performance, 9 is an outstanding performance and 10 is an unbelievable performance. Here is the LPR for every player in Week Two of the Finals, and for those who like the 3-2-1 method it is included after each Team List incorporating the LPR. 1st Elimination Semi FinalST.GEORGE-ILLAWARRA 28 def MANLY-WARRINGAH 0 Man of the Match ? Luke BAILEY, STIAnd you thought Bailey had a superb game last weekend. This was the best performance from a front rower this season and even though his stats don?t have the gaudiness you?d think would accompany a statement like that ? just re-watch the game tape and see how the front row position should be played. Every hit-up had vigour in it, every hit-up had interest metres tacked on the end, every hit-up was a statement that Bailey was not prepared to end his career at the Dragons just yet. If the Dragons are to get by the Storm and into the Grand Final, they need Bailey (and his partners in crime ? Justin Poore and Jason Ryles) to reproduce another sterling effort like this. POS DRAGONS LPRFB GREENSHIELDS, Clint 7 WI NAIQAMA, Wes 7 CE MILLARD, Daryl 6 CE COOPER, Matt 7 WI MORRIS, Brett 8 FE BARRETT, Trent ? 7 HB HORNBY, Ben 7 PR BAILEY, Luke 9 HK GORRELL, Aaron 6 PR RYLES, Jason 7 SR BICKERSTAFF, Matt 7 SR SIMS, Ashton 7 LK TIMMINS, Shaun 6 BN CREAGH, Ben 7 BN WICKS, Danny 6 BN POORE, Justin 8 BN HEAD, Mathew 6 TEAM TOTALS 118 POS SEA EAGLES LPRFB STEWART, Brett 5 WI ROBERTSON, Michael 6 CE HICKS, Chris 6 CE MATAI, Steve 6 WI STEPHENSON, Paul 5 FE BURNS, Travis 5 HB ORFORD, Matt 6 PR KING, Jason 6 HK MONAGHAN, Michael 5 PR KITE, Brent 7 SR MENZIES, Steven 7 SR WATMOUGH, Anthony 5 LK KENNEDY, Ben ? 7 BN DUNLEY, Shayne 6 BN WILLIAMSON, Luke 4 BN LEULUAI, Kylie 6 BN BRYANT, Mark 5 TEAM TOTALS 97 3 ? L Bailey (9/STI) 2 ? B Morris (8/STI) 1 ? J Poore (8/STI) 2nd Elimination Semi FinalBRISBANE BRONCOS 50 def NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 6 Man of the Match ? Darren LOCKYER, BRIIn a game when the Broncos were ruthless after withstanding Newcastle?s opening 15 minutes, Lockyer was only one of six players who had excellent games. Just edged Shaun Berrigan for the award on the back of a strong kicking game and his constant movement to get into position for possession on both sides of the field. This is Lockyer?s greatest strength since moving to five-eighth. He lost an element of his support play shifting from fullback but he has evolved into a playmaker who touches the ball regularly on both sides of the field. His Try Involvement Ratio (Tries+Primary Assists+Secondary Assists/Total Team Tries) was an impressive 62.5% (from 1 Try, 2 Primary Assists and 2 Secondary Assists) ahead of Berrigan at 50% (2PA+2SA). We told you he was in great form entering the Finals and that the Dragons game may have been an aberration and Lockyer proved that correct. POS KNIGHTS LPRFB GIDLEY, Kurt 8 WI CARNEY, Brian 5 CE GIDLEY, Matthew 5 CE CARMONT, George 5 WI QUINN, Anthony 5 FE MULLEN, Jarrod 5 HB JOHNS, Andrew ? 6 PR PERRY, Josh 4 HK QUIGLEY, Luke 6 PR WOOLNOUGH, Adam 6 SR REYNOLDSON, Kirk 5 SR NEWTON, Clint 5 LK TANNER, Reegan 5 BN DAVICO, Luke 5 BN SMITH, Craig 6 BN BROWN, Riley 5 BN LOWRIE, Todd 5 TEAM TOTALS 91 POS BRONCOS LPRFB HODGES, Justin 8 WI BOYD, Darius 7 CE TATE, Brent 7 CE STAGG, David 7 WI HUNT, Karmichael 8 FE LOCKYER, Darren ? 8 HB PERRY, Shane 6 PR WEBCKE, Shane 7 HK BERRIGAN, Shaun 8 PR CIVONICEVA, Petero 8 SR THAIDAY, Sam 5 SR THORN, Brad 7 LK CARROLL, Tonie 8 BN PARKER, Corey 7 BN CARLAW, Dane 6 BN HANNANT, Ben 5 BN McGUIRE, Casey 6 TEAM TOTALS 118 3 ? D Lockyer (8/BRI) 2 ? S Berrigan (8/BRI) 1 ? P Civoniceva (8/BRI) CENTREBET PREMIERSHIP MARKET ? September 18, 2006$3.20 Dragons (Last Week: $4.65)$3.25 Bulldogs (LW: $3.00)$3.75 Broncos (LW: $6.00)$4.25 Storm (LW: $3.40) The Player of the Finals [must play in 3 games (incl. Grand Final) to qualify and sorted on Average LPR]After 2 Games Minium8.5 - L Bailey (STI)7.5 - P Civoniceva, S Webcke, J Hodges (BRI), C Greenshields, B Morris (STI) League Player Ratings will return following the completion of next weekend?s Preliminary Finals.
THE first week of the NRL Finals for 2006 have come and gone, with Canberra and Parramatta no longer in the picture and just six teams remaining in the hunt for October glory. With the Semi Finals kicking off Friday night, let?s take a look at the differences between the lineups the Sea Eagles, Dragons, Knights and Broncos had in their last game of 2005 and the sides they named for this weekend.
WEEK One of the Finals has thrown up just the one ?surprise? with the Dragons traveling to Suncorp to take the chocolates from the Broncos, but the rest of the games saw the favourite emerge victorious. League Player Ratings is the only non-newspaper/magazine affiliated Ratings service covering the NRL and after completing the regular season for subscribers, NSC is covering the Finals for League Unlimited.
The LPR is a ranking out of 10, as a guide 3 is the lowest score and for a very early injury, 4 is for an mid-game injury if nothing significant was done or a player has a very poor performance, 5 is a poor performance below standard, 6 is a standard performance, 7 is a very good performance, 8 is an excellent performance, 9 is an outstanding performance and 10 is an unbelievable performance.
Here is the LPR for every player in Week One of the Finals, and for those who like the 3-2-1 method (which is sketchy at best in providing the games best and most consistent player) it is included after each Team List incorporating the LPR.
1st Qualifying Final
NEWCASTLE 25 def MANLY-WARRINGAH 18
Man of the Match ? Andrew Johns, NEW
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.