It looks like we’re in for another cracking weekend of rugby league this week but I can’t go past the two favourites in Manly and Melbourne to move through to the grand final qualifiers even though they both suffered losses last week.
Manly had a very tough encounter with the Roosters and it will be interesting to see if they can bounce back physically and mentally tonight. That game would have taken so much out of them with the fact that they played fantastic football for 80 minutes yet were still beaten by four points. It takes a strong side to overcome that, but they’ve had a week to do so and I’m sure the coaching staff would have put a lot of work into getting them back in the right frame of mind to go into another tough, challenging 80-minute performance tonight.
The key for Manly is to realise that although they lost, they played some great football against the Roosters who simply showed how hard they are to score against. As long as they look at it as a positive I think they can get the job done. They’ve got the finals experience and with Anthony Watmough leading the battle in the middle third, I think Manly will get there.
In saying that, Cronulla has nothing to lose. They have gone through this season with a tremendous amount of adversity yet find themselves playing for a preliminary final spot.
It’s obviously been an interesting week for them with all the talk about the “seventh-tackle try” against North Queensland last week but I don’t see that affecting them. If anything, they’ll have a lot of energy knowing they are one step closer to a grand final appearance. They have played some fantastic football despite all the off-field dramas that have happened this year and have given themselves an extra week to survive in the competition, so full credit to them.
Can they overcome the loss of Todd Carney? It will be tough but they have players there that can do a job. Luke Lewis can certainly fire in the halves position. I played with him there at the Panthers when he filled in and he was always a good performer. But it’s hard to replace a guy like Todd and I think it might just be one hurdle too many for them.
I expect Manly will be joined in the final four by Melbourne. Newcastle are a side that wasn’t expected to push this far into the finals and they have done tremendously well to improve on their 2012 performance. They were a bit indifferent at the start but have stormed home playing some good, solid football.
I look at Melbourne and I’m a bit disappointed by their performance last week. There were some uncharacteristic mistakes made by some of their key men but the pride and the big game experience of their senior men should be enough to overcome the Knights.
Obviously Wayne Bennett has done a tremendous job for Newcastle and he is such a big-match coach you can never write them off. I have no doubt he will have them fired up but it’s going to be hard to overcome the Storm on their home turf. The big three are the key again and they will be hurting form their performance last week knowing it was a big game and they didn’t get the job done. They will certainly want to lead the way and ensure a powerful Melbourne Storm win.
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I was pleased to see Jarryd Hayne state publicly this week that he would stick solid with Parramatta despite all the dramas that have gone on there again over the past week with coach Ricky Stuart leaving. It would be the final nail in the coffin if Jarryd was to head elsewhere being their No.1 marquee player. Hopefully, all going well, he will be part of the rebuilding process and drive them forward.
But it has to be tough for the fans to see Ricky walk out just one year into a three-year contract. The most disappointing thing for anyone involved in rugby league would have to be hearing about the dramas at board level at certain clubs – Parramatta included. All you want is for your clubs to function as best as possible to provide a great foundation for your coach and players to work with, but when you are continually hearing about the bad decisions being made at board level it does concern you.
I’m sure it concerned Ricky Stuart. Parramatta isn’t functioning at 100 per cent and they need to ensure they have the right people running the club if they are to move forward.
I feel for the fans with all that is coming out of the place. For whoever is appointed new coach it’s not going to be the most stable environment to be working in and he will have to try and his first job will be to find a way to shield the players from that.
Ricky’s departure also makes 2013 a wasted year, but the decisions that have been made have been made. What can you do? It’s time to get on with it and it’s up to the senior players at the club need to provide a steadying influence on the rest of the squad as they start the long climb back.
It’s time to pick up the pieces and start doing the hard work.