Key finals match-ups
FINALLY, the semis are here after 10 months of gut-wrenching training and seven months of brutal matches.
The weak have left us, the strong remain.
And what a round of finals footy we have. The pressure will be there, so will the expectation. I love this time of year. I love the urgency and desire. The match-ups are everywhere. Hasler v Toovey, Maguire v Bellamy.
And on the field, the big names will be out. Here are the four biggest individual confrontations - as they say, strap yourself in.
KIERAN FORAN (Manly) v JOSH REYNOLDS (Canterbury)
There are so many individual match-ups in this game that it's difficult to narrow it down, but I have opted to focus on the Foran-Reynolds battle. Foran plays left side for Manly and Reynolds floats from side to side so they will come into contact with each other through the 80 minutes.
Many suggest Manly is potent on their right side with Glenn Stewart and Jamie Lyon. That is true, but don't underestimate their left edge either. When Foran plays right at the defensive line, he creates space for Tony Williams and Brett Stewart. It is a dynamic combination.
Foran has battled injury all season but it's no coincidence that Manly's form over the past six weeks has surged at the same time Foran has been fit.
Reynolds might wear the no.6 jumper but he plays more like a no.7 at the Bulldogs.
He has a great short kicking game and wonderful combination with Ben Barba. Reynolds plays an up-tempo game which teammates feed off.
This will be a tough and fiesty contest.
GREG INGLIS (Souths) v BILLY SLATER (Melbourne)
Boy, does it get any better than this? It truly is the best of the best. Inglis is the form player of the competition while Slater can lay claim to being the best player in the competition.
They have contrasting styles. Inglis likes to go straight over the top of defenders while Slater uses his speed, timing and a swerve. Both sides rely so heavily on these two.
Slater is the best positional player in the game; Inglis is the most devastating runner in rugby league. Both players are great at returning the ball and getting their respective sides off to strong starts in each set.
It really is a mouthwatering confrontation.
MATT SCOTT (North Queensland) v BEN HANNANT (Brisbane)
Johnathan Thurston does some amazing things on the footy field - but even he would would admit most come courtesy of Matt Scott and James Tamou.
Scott lays the platform for Thurston.
Many say Scott is the best prop in the game. I can't disagree. He is the leader of the Cowboys' pack and a player Thurston and Matt Bowen feed off. Tamou and Scott are the best front-row combination in the NRL.
Hannant has struggled at times this year but he is a big game player. Brisbane's lack of points can be traced back to their lack of go-forward. Hannant needs to step up and confront Scott and Tamou head-on. The Broncos' chances rest with whether Hannant can get them moving forward. I reckon he will aim up.
It should be a thunderous confrontation.
TODD CARNEY (Cronulla) v JOSH McCRONE (Canberra)
Carney is the key to Cronulla. The Sharks' forwards have matched it with most this year so their backs have to make their mark this Sunday. Cronulla will need plenty of points to win this game and that's where Carney is the key.
He is the Sharks' ace, their X-factor. He has that amazing ability to create something.
We probably haven't seen enough of it this year but big games bring out the best in the best. I have a huge opinion of McCrone. In fact, I don't think he would look out of place in a NSW State of Origin jumper.
He is vastly underrated. When an opposition defence is retreating, McCrone is one of the most dangerous attacking players in the game. He has an uncanny knack of sneaking through unsettled defensive lines. This match-up will decide the winner. It should be an absolute ripper.