Get ready for some finals blockbusters
Andrew Voss on this week's winners, the Dally M race, how the Roosters are under the salary cap and more.
1) Who wins this weekend?
Lock me in for a Souths-Roosters-Cowboys-Storm quadrella!
However I would be surprised if there are any score blowouts.
I am least confident about the chances of the Bulldogs in Melbourne given their record of only two wins from their past eight matches heading into the finals. But now that Des Hasler has his team there, I can't help but think they will lift significantly.
Souths versus Manly could be a finals epic to kick things off. The Sea Eagles will love the fact they have been written off by some due to injuries. But try telling me any side with Cherry-Evans, Foran, Lyon, Matai, Watmough and Brett Stewart in it isn't capable of a big performance?
Each of the four matches has plenty to offer, and are well worth getting along to see even if it's not your team competing.
2) Who wins the Dally M Medal?
Joint winners: Johnathan Thurston and Jarryd Hayne.
Now that the 26 rounds of the NRL are complete, and the awarding of points is over, I'm tipping a unique tie between the leading pointscorer for 2014 and the leading tryscorer.
May I stress I have no knowledge of what points have been accumulated since counting went behind closed doors, but I wouldn't be surprised if on the big night in Grand Final Week, the race goes down to the final round.
I am sure both Thurston and Hayne will have polled points last weekend, but not necessarily the maximum three.
And I don't think that a medal each for these two superstars would be such a bad thing.
Coincidentally, it is 25 years since we had our first tie for the player of the year award. In 1989 Cronulla's Gavin Miller and Newcastle's Mark Sargent finished level.
Neither would play in the grand final. As a matter of fact, Miller's Sharks were knocked out week one of the finals, while Sargent's Knights failed to qualify.
Apologies Cowboys, but will history repeat?
3) Have we got the penalty for shoulder charges right?
No. And the penalties dished out for the incidents involving Roosters Dylan Napa and Aidan Guerra from last Thursday's game against Souths highlight that once and for all.
Ask any fan what they believe is the more serious offence and the bigger blight on the game – the tackle involving Napa on John Sutton or Guerra's chicken wing?
The fact that Napa was facing a possible four-game ban, and Guerra would be sidelined for only one, is indefensible in my opinion. (Napa since had his suspension downgraded to two matches at the judiciary on Tuesday night.)
I spoke with former international Brett Kimmorley on the Radio 2UE Sports Today show during the week, and he could not have been any stronger in calling for a minimum four-week ban for 'wrestling' type tackles like the chicken wing.
I agree with Brett on tougher penalties and believe that is what we should be looking at doing in 2015 if we are serious about stamping this practice out of the NRL.
I don't think the shoulder charge is the game's main problem. It's certainly not one that warrants double or four times the penalty.
4) Are the Roosters over the salary cap?
I don't believe so.
Look, the facts are simple. If you were to renegotiate every contract of their current playing roster today, then you probably would exceed the cap. And that may even be by a considerable amount.
But that's not how it works. We don't work month to month, or season to season on a notional salary system.
Players are paid the figure negotiated at the last occasion they signed a contract. And in the case of players such as Daniel Tupou, Sam Moa and Dylan Napa to name just three, it is fanciful to think that the Roosters paid absolute top dollar for them.
Quite simply, they didn't have the 'scrapbooks' then that they do now.
It has long been said that well-run clubs don't let their players come off contract. It's a balancing act, and with the exit of Sonny Bill Williams and Anthony Minichiello, others will get upgrades. Some might be squeezed out. The Roosters though are a well-run club.
The same can be said this week of Penrith who extended the deals of young stars Matt Moylan and Bryce Cartwright, despite the fact they were already signed until the end of 2015.
5) Did any of the teams who missed the finals have successful seasons?
Playing finals should not be the only criteria for defining success in the NRL.
Lets not overlook, it is only a superior points differential that sees Brisbane competing in the playoffs ahead of the Warriors and the Eels.
The Eels have had a very good year for mine, winning more games than their two previous seasons combined. What's more, they earned back respect after claiming back to back wooden spoons.
The Warriors could also say they had a good season after going through the upheaval of a change of coach just five rounds into 2014. Ultimately though they underachieved, as in my opinion at their best they were capable of having an impact in the finals series.
Perhaps they will look back with regret at playing the final five minutes of their Round 21 match with Canberra with only 12 men. Leading 54-nil at the time, they conceded three tries and 18 points in those closing minutes. What a critical difference those 18 points made to their points differential five weeks later. However, don't let that stat alone define success or failure.
I didn't tip the Dragons or the Tigers to make the finals, yet I consider they made positive progress during the year.
For the rest, they cling to the notion of hope: "there's always next year."
6) When and where is the first big end-of-season final to be decided?
Next Wednesday, September 17, 11.30am at Kogarah.
Mark down the final of the GIO Schoolboy Cup between Patrician Brothers Blacktown and Endeavour Sports High as a match not to be missed for the real fans of rugby league.
There will be wall-to-wall junior rep stars on show. It's hard to split these two very talented sides.
Can I point you towards Endeavour though who include Luciano Leilua, the younger brother of Joey at the Knights, and Souths NYC centre John Olive.
I had the pleasure many years ago of calling Greg Inglis as a 16-year-old schoolboy at Hunter Sports High. In Olive, I see a player of at least equal ability at the same age, if not better.
If you can't get to Kogarah next Wednesday, you can catch the broadcast of the final on Saturday week on Fox Sports.
Enjoy week one of the finals folks.