Steve Mascord, NRL.com
WE keep reading that no team in the AFL has won the competition from outside the top four since the formula we are about to adopt in rugby league was first introduced.
Based on what the coaches of winning sides at the weekend had to say, they’ve been reading this too – and they believe it.
We are used to sides going into an NRL finals series being bullish – happy to talk up their chances, get their fans excited, motivate their players. I won’t call it body language – it was language that was very different at the weekend between the clipboard men who have qualified for the top four and those who finished in lower positions.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey and his charges were completely dismissive about any fears of second-half fade-outs after they finished fourth with a 24-16 win over Gold Coast on Saturday. The Sea Eagles have scored just 10 points in their last three second-halves.
“We’re a quality side, we’re a smart side, and I’m sure we’ll step up when it’s required,” Toovey said.
“It’s not a concern at all. Our boys are experienced, they lift when necessary and that’s what we’ve done, I think, over the last month.”
Halfback Daly Cherry-Evans’ attitude bordered on disdainful to the suggestion the Sea Eagles have a problem with their second halves. “I don’t think it’s a concern,” Cherry-Evans said. “We’ve been ahead by good margins in the last three weeks so it’s hard to stay motivated when you’re ahead by such good leads.”
Compare this with Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin, who was asked the night before by Courier-Mail reporter Steve Ricketts – covering his last game at Suncorp Stadium after more than three decades –if the Broncos would be doing any more than making up the numbers in the finals.
They had just scored a scratchy 19-12 win over Penrith.
“We’ll worry about that next week,” was all Griffin would say. Asked a similar question, he said: “We’ll be a chance next week”.
A chance? Even after scoring six unanswered second half tries against the Warriors on Sunday at Mt Smart Stadium, Canberra coach David Furner seemed to be doing his level best to appear underwhelmed. His side has won five on the trot.
“Semi-finals are different altogether – I said that to the players,” Furner said. “That 26-round comp is gone. We’re in a situation which we’ve probably been in the last five or six weeks or seven weeks, where it’s sudden death.
“We certainly need a better start than we had today.”
For Canterbury, Melbourne, South Sydney and Manly, there is every reason to be optimistic and excited about the month ahead. But for North Queensland, Canberra, Cronulla and Brisbane, dreaming just seems like too big a dare right now. It’s a case of hoping for the best and expecting the worst.
Sure, though, it would be typical of rugby league to kill off a long-running AFL bogie in the very first year, and crown a premier from positions five to eight. That’s just the sort of stuff we do isn’t it?