What a fantastic finals series we have witnessed so far. The speed of the games, the intensity in defence and the desperation shown by so many players is a great indication of where our game is at. It’s been incredible to watch. We’ve seen some wonderful games of football with so much on the line. And now a season of hard work comes down to an 80-minute performance to see who makes the grand final. I can’t wait to see how that plays out this weekend with no side leaving anything behind.
There have also been some incredible individual performances so far, but for me the standout player has been Daly Cherry-Evans. Without him, I’m not sure Manly would have made it this far. He is someone who has gone to a new level since the finals started. We’ve always appreciated the talent he has brought to Manly but the maturity he is playing with now is phenomenal. He has maturity beyond his years and has been the star of this finals series in a team that has really had to battle to get where they are now. He has played a huge role in that and they’re going to need him at his best again when they face South Sydney on Friday night.
I’m keen to see how Manly have recovered after what has been a huge couple of weeks for them. It would have taken a fairly big physical toll on them in those two brutal clashes against the Roosters and Sharks and they’ve really had to fight tooth and nail to be in the position they’re in. At the same time, there will be the realisation that they’re 80 minutes away from another grand final appearance. I’m sure they will be doing their very best to get past the fatigue factor.
I saw some footage during the week of them in the pools trying to get their bodies right for what’s going to be a massive clash. It’s great news for them that Brett Stewart is likely to be back. That’s a huge bonus for them because he is such a crucial part of their success. He will help their potency in attack and the leadership he brings from the back of their defensive line is crucial, too.
They will need every bit of that against a South Sydney side which has been so good this year. The Rabbitohs will be primed for a big performance and no doubt their supporters will be in full voice come game time. It will be a huge challenge for Manly to stop the momentum of this South Sydney pack led by Sam Burgess and directed by Issac Luke. They’re going to take some stopping.
I have no doubt Souths will target Manly’s big men knowing the fatigue factor is likely to play a role. It will come down to the start and the intensity. The goal for Souths should be to put as much doubt as possible into that Manly forward pack. They’ll be looking to physically challenge them one after another and just break down the Manly defensive line. If they manage that I think they’ll be the team that advances to the decider – albeit in a tight encounter.
The second preliminary final throws up a very different scenario, with a Newcastle side that will start as big outsiders but knowing they have nothing to lose against the Sydney Roosters. Who better to be directing the Knights than Wayne Bennett, who has been in this position before? I remember playing for the Broncos in 2006 when we won the comp. We weren’t expected to challenge for the title that year heading into the finals but one thing we did have was momentum and that’s exactly what Newcastle have. That attitude of just playing with nothing to lose can be very freeing. You know you just have to throw out your best 80-minute performance and that could lead to a grand final appearance.
I was very impressed with the way they took the game to the Melbourne Storm and basically out-hustled them in defence last week. The energy they played with was the key in that win and there is no doubt we’ll see that intensity again come game night.
Hats off as well to Danny Buderus, who I think has been their best player the past few weeks.
For a guy in his last season, there is no doubt he would be feeling it with the intensity of playing week-in, week-out but he has shown what a champion he is. He has been playing for such a long time and what he has been able to do in this finals series – he is such a big-game player and a leader of a young team of enthusiastic players so he has been crucial to their success.
Having said that, the week off couldn’t have come at a better time for the Roosters. The way they play, with a high energy game, the week off will have done them the world of good and they will be boosted by the return of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves who is such an important member of their pack. What a player JW-H has been for the Roosters this year. To get him back in such a huge game is a massive bonus at this stage of the season and for all the momentum Newcastle have built they are going to have to rise again to knock over this brilliant Roosters side. I see them falling short – just.
It’s going to be a great weekend.