Time to look ahead to Sunday's decider! Rob Crosby has a full look at both teams and what to expect ...
35 hours ago
A STICKY SITUATION
I think it's time that the Cronulla board ask their coach Ricky Stuart to kindly move on. Let's face it the club is going nowhere fast under Stuart's stewardship.
This is a classic example that a great player doesn't necessary develop into a great coach. Stuart has had success when he's had a roster or a representative team that was chockful of superstars. In 2002 the "planets aligned" and he jagged a premiership at the Roosters in his first year as an NRL coach.
That season the rampaging Canterbury Bulldogs were jettisoned out of the competition leaving Stuart's Roosters to steamroll the New Zealand Warriors to take the title. But cast you eye over his squad and you can see why they won - Fittler, Minichiello, Fitzgibbon, Morley, Hodges, Cayless, Fletcher, Wing, Crocker etc. With such a star-studded roster, Humphrey B Bear could have coached them to victory.
During his tenure as New South Wales Origin coach, he was fortunate enough to face Queensland when it was at its weakest. Outside of Darren Lockyer, Shane Webcke, Gordon Tallis and a few others, the Maroons were hardly a line-up that could mount a decent challenge.
Even when Stuart had a dominant team there was no guarantees the team would win - alas the 2008 World Cup. Stuart's Australian side was at unbackable odds to take the tournament yet somehow, some way New Zealand emerged world champions.
If Stuart ever hopes to achieve future success as a coach than he has to set aside his giant ego which has had a negative effect on his judgement. I mean the decision to exchange Brett Kimmorley and Isaac De Gois for Trent Barrett and Corey Hughes, would have to be one of the biggest blunders in recent memory - perhaps ever. Cronulla supporters will never forgive him for that.
And what about his stubborn defiance in keeping rookie recruit Albert Kelly at fullback. It seems Stuart was the only person on the planet who saw merit in that decision.
DOG OF A SEASON
This year promised so much for the Canterbury Bulldogs. The club was coming off a terrific season, it was celebrating its 75th year in the premiership, had recruited well, was re-introducing 'Canterbury' to its name, attracted a major sponsor and was launching a new logo.
But sadly for the club's army of fans a third of the way into the season and everyone's turned to "mud" for the mighty blue and whites.
Indifferent form, a raft of injuries and question marks over the immediate future of several of the team's senior players, has pundits writing off Canterbury not only as a premiership threat but as genuine prospects for the top eight.
The biggest concern is with captain Andrew Ryan whose form to be honest is poor. Veteran halfback Brett Kimmorley is trying hard but his game is suffering playing behind a forward pack that is being dominated in virtually every match. Luke Patten has given great, great service to the club, but even "the General" is lacking the punch required when returning the ball.
A major concern for coach Kevin Moore, is the fact his team seems incapable of challenging the defence by mounting a decent attack. The team is so predictable with all its plays coming off Michael Ennis. If I see Andrew Ryan cut back in off an Ennis pass and "die" with the ball one more time, I'll vomit.
There is a distinct lack of pace out wide and fabulous a talent that Josh Morris is, you need a court order to get him to pass the ball to a support. Opposition know it and he's easily shut down.
The club needs to bolster its ranks with the likes of a Josh Dugan and/or a Kris Keating in the backs and an Aiden Tolman in the forwards - especially if Ben Hannant leaves.
It hasn't all been doom and gloom, with the form of Jamal Idris, Ben Barba and Yileen Gordon giving Canterbury something to build on in going forward.
You had to love the way Idris monstered Timana Tahu last Friday night. Tahu fancies himself as a stand-over man and most times he comes out on top, but not this time. If it were a boxing match the referee would have stopped the fight.
What a talent Idris is! I mean, if he continues his rate of improvement he is destined to be a superstar of the game with his future surely in the backrow. This kid has the potential to be bigger than All Blacks cult hero Jonah Lomu than size alone.
BOYS, YOU ARE A 'COW' OF A SIDE
Is there a more disappointing team in the NRL than the North Queensland Cowboys?
The club is unchallenged as the competition's greatest under-achievers. Despite a powerful roster headed up by the world's finest player in Jonathan Thurston, a quality coach in Neil Henry, a parochial fan base and a homeground where the conditions favour them enormously over the opposition, the team languishes at the bottom of the ladder.
I honestly thought that when Henry took over from Graham Murray that the Cowboys were poised to enter a golden era, how wrong was I. The club has lurched from disaster to disaster, showing no signs of emulating its feat of 2005 when it reached the grand final.
Take a look at the club's roster...on paper one of the best in the NRL. Trouble is once they hit the football field it's a case of paper-thin defence and toilet paper attack. The team seems incapable of sustaining a high standard of play for more than five minutes. And if Thurston doesn't rescue the team then it's 'curtains'.
I would suggest the only remedy to the malaise the club finds itself in, is a major shake-up at all levels - the board room, the coaching staff but most of all, the playing staff. There are players in the first grade squad that must be embarrassed to put their hand out come pay day. Antonio Kaufusi for one. Has there been a bigger fall from grace than this player? From an Australian Kangaroo to someone whose form since joining the club would have him struggling to get off the bench in the Queensland Cup. Then there's Manase Manuafoa who came to the club with big wraps yet delivered very little.
Luke O'Donnell, good a player as he is, is a liability. His stupid behaviour against the Wests Tigers where he showed scant regard for his teammates was unforgivable and should have landed him an even bigger punishment from his own club than what the judiciary handed down. I dare say rival clubs will be steering clear of the off-contract backrower. Undoubtedly, there will be special clauses built into any contract entered into with O'Donnell. It would be derelict of a club's duty if they didn't.
And who's the genius who arranged the Michael Bani/Ben Farrar swap? Manly coach Des Hasler must have thought all his Christmas's had come at once with the Sea Eagles much the stronger for that trade.
If I were Thurston I'd want plenty of say in the future direction of the Cowboys, before I signed any contract extension - could be the re-emergence of the captain-coach. Or perhaps Thurston could take it a step further - captain/coach/retention and recruitment manager.