I can tell you from experience that this weekend anxiety will confront all club officials. Players and coaching staff will attempt to shrug it off but knowing that you are one step from the big dance, the 2012 NRL Grand Final is difficult to ignore.
Losing this weekend is very difficult to swallow. No one will remember where you finished and effectively you have participated in the playoffs but you have achieved little. In a couple of years there will be no difference between finishing 3rd and 10th. The agony of falling one step short can haunt you for a long time.
MELBOURNE STORM V MANLY SEA EAGLES
This is a classic game to start the weekend. Combined they have participated in five of the last six grand finals and have been crowned premiers in 2007*, 2008, 2009*, 2011. I anticipate a drag them out affair as both teams have methodically beaten opponents in September for many years. In many ways they are similar in their philosophy of being composed and waiting for the opposition to provide an opportunity.
Manly have improvement in them from last week’s win against the Cowboys. Both Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans can raise a level. Kieran Foran’s kicking game and pressure on Billy Slater returns will be a focus along with his combination with Tony Williams and Steve Matai down the left side of the field. DCE has been very smart in standing in the ‘mousetrap’ start then rolling out down the right side to provide an extra man for Glenn Stewart and Jamie Lyon to exploit.
Melbourne are healthy and in form. Kevin Proctor will be the unlikely pivotal player. Opposition have peppered Manly’s right edge defence trying to expose T-Rex. Billy Slater will run the ‘sweep’ line off Cooper Cronk and this will probe the resilience of Manly. None of this can happen without Cam Smith providing the craft around the rucks. He will continually question the honesty of the Manly middle men.
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS V SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
Big crowd, loads of excitement, plenty of footy. Different to Friday night, I predict that this game will be won by the better attacking team.
Souths have some huge weapons. Sam Burgess playing on the left edge in attack is the ‘go-to’ player for both ends of the field. He will skittle the defence and play-the-ball quick in yardage so Isaac Luke can dart and harass the retreating defenders whilst Big Sam can break a tackle, score or assist at the good end. Expect Greg Inglis to ask for a high ball around the posts so he can contest against Ben Barba… hardly a fair play whilst Adam Reynolds needs to continue his excellent general play and goal kicking.
Bulldogs have a varied, subtle attack. There are many options for the one type of play. Dave Taylor will be having nightmares now thinking should he take Frank Pritchard or Ben Barba (be careful of the show-n-go as well). Down the right side in attack they are combative with Krisnan Inu and Sam Perrett. Going left brings in the quickest man in the NRL Josh Morris. If Souths decide to defend the width of the field then the big, skilful props will lap up the easy metres and soft wrestle.