Four ingredients to finals success
Finals football is such a great time of year; it's almost enough to entice an old Bronco out of retirement.
It's when the work you began 10 months ago comes to fruition and there are just seven more teams standing in your way as you chase a premiership title.
What I love about the teams that have qualified for the finals series this year is the wide range of playing styles and the attacking strike that many of the teams possess.
But finals are a different type of footy altogether and there are some things you have to get right in order to give yourself a chance of being there on grand final day.
These are the four ingredients I believe you need to win finals games and the teams who I think are best positioned in each category.
While the competition effectively starts again taking momentum into the finals is really important. For four teams there are no second chances this weekend and those who can come in feeling good about how they're playing potentially have a major edge. Winning games heading into the finals brings with it a lot of confidence and you want everyone in the team feeling confident in what they are doing personally and also as a team. The Broncos have won their past five on the trot whereas the Titans have lost their last two and that could hurt them a bit. If the Broncos start well the Titans might start to doubt themselves which is a disaster in high-pressure finals games.
There's no doubt in my mind that the Raiders are the ones bringing the greatest amount of momentum into the finals. They have won 10 in a row and even by Jack Wighton being found not guilty at the judiciary in a way keeps that going even more.
They have had some games where they have conceded more points than they would have liked which can be a concern but they're a young team playing with a lot of confidence and at the moment they're fearless.
To me a match-winner is defined by not only someone being able to kick a field goal or put on a play at a crucial time but also having the skill to close a game out when you are in front.
You only have to look back at the grand final last year and Johnathan Thurston going the right way for the Cowboys to score in the corner on the last play of the game.
I was blessed to play alongside Darren Lockyer and as our main ball-player it was up to him to get us home. I remember back in the 2006 Grand Final against the Storm, we got in front 14-8 and then 'Locky' kicked a field goal and then kicked to the corners to make sure we didn't let them back into it.
You need your leaders to make the big plays at the right time and nine times out of 10 guys like 'Locky', 'Thursto' and Cooper Cronk make those plays.
In terms of the match-winners in the eight teams left I think Melbourne are best served by having 'Coops'. You can just see the way he controls a game, finds a repeat set of six with the game in the balance, knows the little things his team needs to get the job done. With the amount of experience he has at the highest level the Storm know they can trust him to make the right decision when it matters. His communication with his teammates makes a massive different for the Storm.
If you look back at recent history the teams that make the grand final are usually in the top two or three defensive teams in the competition and defence all comes down to attitude.
There is no stat to measure attitude but it's putting your body on the line, making those extra efforts, making that extra tackle, getting down on a kick-chase, making sure that you 'close the gate' on those inside runners even when you feel like your body can't do any more.
Defence is not measured by stats, it's measured by attitude and making those one per centers that people don't normally see. The team that sacrifices all that is usually the team that comes out on top.
People might accuse me of being biased but I think the Broncos' defence is starting to come back. To hold Melbourne to 16 points in Melbourne shows they are working for each other again and they're slowly getting back to that form that got us to the grand final last year.
They're the players that fans love to watch and change a game in the blink of an eye and while you don't always know what you're going to get, every team needs that player who can turn a half chance into points.
The tries that come from nothing are massive plays in a finals game. You can prepare for everything and you kind of know what everyone's going to send at you but it's always those ones that no one prepares for and no one expects that can really damage your finals chances.
Milford, Hayne, Taumalolo and Cartwright are all capable of producing something brilliant but the guy I'm most excited by is Canberra centre Joey Leilua.
You don't know for sure that Joey will be able to produce the same type of form in finals footy but if you watch his season so far and the combination he has with Jordan Rapana on that side it's been unbelievable.
In my opinion he's been the best centre in the game. He's turned everything around for himself, the club loves him down there and he's really starting to look settled and a part of something.
Whenever you’re happy off the field it shows on the field and the amount of confidence he is gaining each week from making those breaks and setting up tries would be massive.
Good luck trying to contain him in the finals series, I hope he continues on his great form.
Game on. Data off.
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