Monday Morning Halfback: Finals frenzy
Four teams head into the NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series with winning streaks, but will that momentum carry them through the first week of the finals?
Broncos (5th) v Titans (8th) Suncorp Stadium, Friday 7:55pm
The Broncos come into their elimination final with the Titans on a five-match winning streak and look to be recapturing the form that had them on top of the table and premiership favourites earlier in the year.
The Broncos and Titans have only played once this season, it was James Roberts' first game against his old club after a controversial pre-season switch to Red Hill and resulted in the flyer scoring inside the opening three minutes in a Broncos victory.
The Titans form has been scratchy to end the season, but they'll still go into this Queensland derby with plenty of confidence of causing a boilover. The Gold Coast outfit stopped the Sharks' 15-match winning streak and are capable of matching it with the best teams in the competition. The major talking point will be Jarryd Hayne and whether he can produce the big moments when it matters in this do-or-die clash.
Raiders (2nd) v Sharks (3rd) GIO Stadium, Saturday 5:30pm
Can anyone stop Canberra? They are on a 10-match winning streak and have been setting plenty of records on their charge towards the finals. At their best they are simply breathtaking and can tear any team to pieces.
After winning a club record 15 matches in a row the Sharks have won only one match in their next six to seemingly limp into the finals. But don't write Cronulla off, they did beat the Raiders in Canberra comfortably last time they made the trip down to the Nation's Capital. Their style of play is very different to the Raiders and could cause the Green Machine some problems if they can contain the middle of the field and prevent the Raiders from utilising their outside backs.
Storm (1st) v Cowboys (4th) AAMI Park, Saturday 7:55pm
When Billy Slater went down in Round 1 with a season ending shoulder injury, few could have predicted that the Storm would claim the minor premiership. We knew Cameron Munster was an extremely good replacement, but the methodical way the team continued to perform was a site to behold. Cooper Cronk has had another outstanding year and is favourite to take out the Dally M Medal and the Storm will take some stopping having beaten the Cowboys twice this season, but that will count for little in Saturday night's blockbuster.
The Cowboys on a three-match winning streak look to be hitting their stride at the perfect time and know what it takes to go all the way. Can the Storm shutdown Johnathan Thurston? The Cowboys have done well to get more options around their superstar half in recent weeks with Lachlan Coote and Michael Morgan returning to their best. This should be an absolute belter of a game.
Panthers (6th) v Bulldogs (7th) Allianz Stadium, Sunday 4pm
The Panthers charged into 6th spot on the NRL ladder to leapfrog the Bulldogs on the back of a five-match winning streak - in fact their only loss in the last eight matches came in golden point away to New Zealand. It's a stark contrast to the Bulldogs who have lost three on the trot. The two sides only met once this year with the Bulldogs stealing a victory at the death, with debutant Kerrod Holland nailing a conversion after the siren. Although a lot has changed since that Round 2 encounter.
This elimination final is the ultimate clash of styles between the Panthers mobile pack who like to chance their arm and offload at will against the monstrous Bulldogs forward pack who like to roll through the middle and play low risk football.
Will Hopoate will miss the game on religious grounds, meaning the Bulldogs will likely shift Brett Morris to fullback.
Throw the form guide out the window, we know the Bulldogs perform well in the big games, while the Panthers will be looking to weather the initial onslaught before turning on the style with their electrifying youngsters.
The 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership Finals will feature three Queensland teams for the first time in the game's history. The Cowboys finished in the top four and will get two chances to defend their premiership, while the Broncos and Titans will clash in an elimination final to kick-off the finals. Rugby league is thriving north of the tweed.
Ryan James equals try-scoring record
He has become somewhat of a polarising figure in recent weeks, but Titans forward Ryan James continued his career best season in the NRL when he scored his 11th try of the year.
In doing so he equalled former St George bookend Jack Holland and former Rabbitoh Harry Eden as the most prolific try-scoring front-rowers in a single season in the game's history.
The 11 try record has stood since 1950 and has only been equalled once (1975) since.
Raiders break club record
Canberra's 52-10 annihilation of the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval propelled the Raiders to a club record most points in a regular season eclipsing the mark achieved by the 1994 premiership side widely regarded as one of the best teams ever assembled. The 688 points beat the previous 677 and will send shivers through the teams in the NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series, with the Green Machine firing across the park.
It is important to note that the 1994 side only played 22 games in the regular season as opposed to the modern 24 game season.
Raiders 1994 Grand Final starting side:
1 Brett Mullins, 2 Ken Nagas, 3 Mal Meninga, 4 Ruben Wiki, 5 Noa Nandruku, 6 Lauries Daley, 7 Ricky Stuart, 8 Quentin Pongia, 9 Steve Walters, 10 Paul Osborne, 11 David Furner, 12 Jason Croker, 13 Bradley Clyde.