Top two fall in Holden Cup finals
After finishing the regular season in the top two, the Newcastle Knights and Brisbane Broncos missed a golden opportunity to progress straight to the preliminary finals after they were defeated by the Dragons and Eels respectively on Saturday.
While the Knights had centre Sione Mata'utia return from NRL duty and captain Danny Levi, back-rower Joe Tapine and fullback Jake Mamo all return from injury, the Dragons proved to strong with a 30-22 win over the minor premiers.
Dragons centre Jack Bird showed why he is one of the hottest off-contract prospects when his two tries sealed the Red V a place in the final four.
Similarly, the Broncos will now be looking to bounce back this weekend after going down to the Eels 32-26 in Townsville.
Boosted by the return of hooker Kaysa Pritchard and halfback Zach Dockar-Clay on song, the Eels sealed their place in week three of the finals.
Unlike their first grade counterparts, the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs were eliminated in the Holden Cup with the New Zealand Warriors and Wests Tigers seeing them out.
In a thrilling game on Friday afternoon, the Wests Tigers – buoyed by the return of Mitchell Moses – snuck away with a 28-24 win over Souths to ensure they remain alive in their fourth consecutive finals series.
However the Tigers may find themselves without forward Tyler Cassel who will certainly find himself in trouble after a nasty shoulder charge on Rabbitohs fullback Devon Makoate-Boyce.
The eighth-placed Warriors also kept their season alive with a massive 44-30 smashing of the Roosters.
The Warriors ran riot with halves Tuimoala Lolohea and Mason Lino showing off their playmaking prowess, and the Roosters struggled from the get-go with the men across the ditch having no troubles running in eight tries past their opponents.
The second week of the Holden Cup finals will bring back memories of the old McIntyre system when the first-placed Knights take on the eighth-placed Warriors in elimination football. Newcastle prop James Taylor will be thoroughly looking forward to the clash after jumping ship from the Warriors mid-season.
In the other semi final clash, the Tigers and Broncos will go toe-to-toe for the second straight year in finals football.
In what proved to be a thrilling fixture in last season's golden point semi final, the Brisbane kids will be keen for revenge with all but one player from their side running around again this year.
All eyes will fall on the Tigers former winger and now back-rower Salesi Funaki, whose 86th minute try in last year's finals showdown between the two saw the Broncos eliminated from the competition.
Holden Cup semi finals:
Friday, 19th September, 5:15pm, Allianz Stadium
Brisbane Broncos (2nd) vs. Wests Tigers (6th)
Saturday, 20th September, 5:15pm, Allianz Stadium
Newcastle Knights (1st) vs. New Zealand Warriors (8th)