2012 NRL Match Previews - Preliminary Finals
The Grand Final is just over a week away... Paul's look at who'll make the cut this preliminary final weekend is here - check it out. Who's your tip?
All times AEST
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Melbourne Storm v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
AAMI Park, Friday 7:45pm - live updates
The most heated rivalry of the last decade and what a story it has been. Not only have the regular season meetings been fierce and sometimes violent; but Melbourne and Manly have met a number of times in the finals and each meeting seemed to make them hate each other even more. They bring this perfectly evolved animosity to your first Preliminary Final on Friday night and both clubs are in familiar territory. Won't be hesitant. Won't shy away from the occasion. They've been here before.
This time last year, the Storm were beaten by the Warriors and at the time, it seemed like their blueprint for winning had been completely destroyed. Their attack was starved of possession, their defence out- smarted and their pants pulled down. Manly, by contrast, were playing the role of bully against a Broncos team without Darren Lockyer and here they are 12 months later, one win away from the GF. Another big game for two powerhouse clubs.
And what a game it will be. A furious opening 20 minutes will have you begging for more and when the forwards settle down and the brains of each operation takes over, it will be Cooper Cronk who leads the way. Cronk is among the leaders in the LeagueUnlimited player of the year standings, and on the back of an amazing season, he proves the difference again here. But the Australian halfback won't be alone in delivering the spectacular.
The home side have been waiting for this moment for a long, long time and Craig Bellamy will have them pulsating with rage and high on angry pills. The mighty Eagles will have their premiership winning forward pack at the ready and with the return of Steve Matai, could break a record for players on report in the opening exchanges. In the end, Melbourne are a better team than 12 months ago and they prove it in front of an adoring home crowd.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs v South Sydney Rabbitohs
ANZ Stadium, Saturday 7:45pm - live updates
Through all the changes our code has been through, Sydney rivalries are still the most beloved by NRL fans. These two famous clubs have met on 144 occasions and their two meetings this year have been as good as any of them. Round 6; where Greg Inglis denied the 'Dogs attack by repeatedly bringing the ball out of his own in goal when he had no right to do so. Then, round 13; when Ben Barba saved the game for his team with a try saver in the dying moments.
The stakes are just a little higher this time. At kick-off their will be the roar of 70 odd thousand heaving souls and 34 footy players who won't give a flying frisbee about the past, only the next 80 minutes of a desperate future. Souths have come so far this season; it