Tigers halfback Luke Brooks' battle with Raiders opposite Mitch Cornish will be one to savour.
Raiders v Wests Tigers
Friday, 3.05pm, Allianz Stadium
A semi-final 50 weeks in the making, this clash of the titans – a replay of the 2012 decider – will be one full of pain, passion and pride.
The Raiders have been a dominant force all year, but are potentially 80 minutes away from being bundled out of premiership contention in straight sets.
For the Wests Tigers, 2013 has been a season of ups and downs as they attempted to live up to their premiers’ image. If they want to go back-to-back they will have to overcome their arch nemeses, the same team they beat in a jaw-dropping grand final last September.
Last Week: Golden-point heartache and golden-point heroics defined the Raiders’ and Wests Tigers’ first leg of the finals race.
Canberra were relegated to sudden-death football by a field-goal from Bulldogs fullback Patrick Templeman in the 84th minute – the custodian’s fifth attempt of the afternoon.
The Wests Tigers survived a late-match surge from the Brisbane Broncos and sealed a hard-fought win after 86 minutes of rugby league through a try to winger Salesi Funaki.
The dramatic results also saw Canterbury-Bankstown march through to a grand final qualifier and Brisbane eliminated from the competition.
Last Time They Met: A double to winger Kurtis Rowe helped the Wests Tigers to a decisive 36-24 victory over the Canberra Raiders back in Round 15, their first encounter since last year’s grand final.
Key Match-Ups: The Raiders’ backline boasts two speedsters who earned nods in the Holden Cup Team of the Year. Fullback Jack Ahearn and winger Jonathon Reuben are among the best players in the competition and can turn a loss into a win like Jesus turned water into wine. It is essential for the Wests Tigers that their own No.1 Kurtis Rowe and also centre Manaia Rudolph bring their A+ games.
The two halfbacks Mitch Cornish (Raiders) and Luke Brooks (Wests Tigers) also made the Holden Cup Team of the Year and are further proof that this game will be won by the playmakers and the magicians out back.
The Verdict: It’s difficult to remember a rugby league team dominating a season quite like the Raiders managed throughout 2013. They have been veritable juggernauts and have shown they don’t take long to recover from a loss. But if they have a bogy side, it’s the Wests Tigers.
Annihilated in the big one last year and beaten solidly when they met again in 2013, the Green Machine can call the Wests Tigers their kryptonite. Both sides rely on expansive, exciting football and can turn the course of a game on its head in a few minutes.
If you are a neutral observer, this one will be pretty to watch. But fans of either side might need to remember their anti-anxiety medication because this one is going to go down to the wire in a high-scoring affair.
Tip: Wests Tigers by four points.
Roosters v Warriors
Friday, 5.15pm, Allianz Stadium
A top-four team gets smashed. The sixth-ranked team wins by two. That was last week. This week, the two are equal. For the Roosters, still recovering after an ugly mauling at the hands of the Penrith Panthers, farewelling the competition now would be such sweet sorrow. They were six points away from a grand final berth last year, having earned their spot in the qualifier with a big win against their Friday opponents. They want to do one better in 2013.
New Zealand, meanwhile, are wearing the underdogs tag with comfort. The Warriors scraped through against the Rabbitohs and now have little to lose. Their memories of last year’s semi-final loss to the Roosters will still be vivid. Their thoughts? That revenge is a dish best served cold, on a Friday night at Moore Park.
Last Week: A second-half blitz from the Penrith Panthers blew the Roosters off the Allianz Stadium turf. Panthers centre Waqa Blake scored a hat-trick in the 48-22 romp that ate up Sydney’s one and only life.
Conceding seven penalties to three and missing 41 tackles, it was not the sort of match the doctor ordered this late in the season.
But while the Roosters endured anguish, the Warriors enjoyed ecstasy. A late try to centre Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard handed them a 20-18 win over South Sydney and ticket to the second week of the finals campaign.
Last Time They Met: A pristine effort from the Roosters saw them snatch a 31-26 thriller against the New Zealand Warriors in Round 14.
Key Match-Ups: In a mouth-watering battle of the big men, locks and Holden Cup Team of the Year teammates David Bhana (Warriors) and John Asiata (Roosters) will captain the forwards. Out back it will be captivating to see which try-scoring machine prevails as centres Rhyse Martin (Roosters) and Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard (Warriors) let loose.
Halfbacks Tyler Cornish (Roosters) and Mason Lino (Warriors) are both brilliant playmakers and will need to be at full throttle if their respective side is to triumph.
The Verdict: Despite a shaky showing against the Panthers last weekend, it’s impossible to go past the Roosters. They’ve had the better of the Warriors on both occasions the teams have met this year, and were deserved top-four finishers.
Both sides can score at a rate of knots but the Roosters concede an average of nearly two points less than the Warriors per game. It doesn’t sound like much, but in finals football, where every tackle is worth two and every point that much harder to come by, it will prove crucial.
Tip: Roosters by 12 points.