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Week two of the finals is upon us and only one Sydney team takes the field this weekend in the peoples favourite, the all-conquering Wests Tigers.
Personally, I found the first week of the finals a little disappointing with blowout scores in two matches robbing us of a true contest but there?s a long way to go before the end of the season and this weekend?s matches offer us a glimpse of what?s to come.
The Storm take on the Cowboys and although the Cowboys had fifty put on them last weekend, I think they have the mettle to come back and give Melbourne a good run for their money and as we have seen countless times this season, a teams fortunes can go from rock bottom to mountain high in the space of a week and if you are not on your game or take the opposition lightly, then you will get beat.
The Storm are playing good footy but all season I have questioned their credentials and consistency and this is the match for the Storm to prove they are the real deal. Matt Orford and Steven Bell are leaving for Manly while Robbie Kearns is retiring after an illustrious career that has spanned more than thirteen years in first grade with three different teams (Sharks, Reds and Storm) and what better way for Kearns to leave the Rugby League arena than a winner.
My only question over the Storm is their undersized forward pack but they dominated the much larger Brisbane pack last weekend so they should be able to handle the Cowboys pack but if Paul Rauhihi is able to get his arms free and offload at will, the Cowboys little men will tear the Storm apart.
Both sides match up well with Orford taking on Firman, a player who has been extremely disappointing so far for the Cowboys since joining them from the Roosters mid-season but Dally M player of the year Jonathan Thurston has the ability to break the game wide open with a good mix of long range and short range kicks and won a premiership with the Dogs in 2004. You can never underestimate the ability of the Cowboys backs, especially Matt Bowen who is the most unpredictable player in the NRL but make no mistake, his brilliance can be countered by the Storm backs including Orign star Matt King and boom rookie Greg Inglis who comes in to replace the injured Billy Slater.
Playing the match in Sydney offers no side and advantage and on form you can?t go past the Storm although I think the result will be in the balance until the last ten minutes of the match and should prove to be highly entertaining. Storm by 8.
The second match between the upstart Tigers and the aging Broncos should be a finals classic in front of a sold out Aussie Stadium full of Wests Tigers fans who are willing their team on to the grand final qualifier against the Dragons next weekend.
The Broncos have lost six straight matches and their confidence would have be dented by their recent run of outs abut if any team can turn it around in the finals, it?s the Broncos. As an again team, the Broncos struggle at times to keep up with the pace of the game and this is where the Tigers have no problem. A team choc full of youth and enthusiasm, the Tigers will back their own ability against any side and they showed that against the Cowboys last week, but blowing them off the park then continued to turn up the heat until the very end.
Like the Storm, the Tigers have momentum on their side and every year we get the fairy tale team and this year it?s the Tigers turn in the spotlight and they have handled themselves beautifully, conquering all before them in the second half of the season to finish in the top four. The Tigers have given themselves a legitimate crack at a premiership and that is thanks to Tim Sheens, arguably the most patient coach in Rugby League today. Sheens implemented a plan when he came to the Tigers and it has blossomed perfectly, which has resulted in unprecedented levels of support for the club at every level, with both home grounds sold out consistently regardless of the calibre of opposition.
Should they prevail over the Broncos, they can look forward to a no holds barred clash with the Dragons, a team they beat convincingly a few months back.
The Broncos are the masters of finals football and although they have a poor record in the finals in recent years, Wayne Bennett will have his team ready for the Tigers and will try and take the Tigers on through their perceived weakness, up the middle. Other teams have tried and failed but with Webcke and Lockyer on deck, the Broncos have the firepower to not only beat the Tigers, but to win the premiership.
The Achilles heel for the Broncos is their inability to consistently convert four points into six through mediocre goal kicking whereas the Tigers have Brett Hodgson kicking them from all angles and this point could prove decisive should the match be an even flow of possession and tries.
I think this match will be the best of the finals so far and whilst the Tigers are riding high on the crest of the wave, I think their season will come to an end but they will go down fighting and it gives the Tigers a map to future success based on what they have already achieved this year. Broncos by 2.