Why the Cowboys and Panthers will win
Andrew Voss on this weekend's semi-finals, Josh Jackson's role as a future NSW leader, Michael Ennis, James Roberts, and the tragic loss of rugby league player Grant Cook.
Vale Grant Cook
Few league fans knew of this young man before last weekend, but sadly we do now after the tragic events that led to his death in the early hours of Monday morning.
Everything we have since learnt shows that he was a loving husband, father and son. A hard worker in the family fruit and vegetable business and, in the context of rugby league, someone with a lifelong love of the sport.
To his wife Colleen, who somehow managed in her toughest time to write such a beautiful tribute to her husband, I hope that you are gaining some strength from the support of the rugby league community Australia wide.
Let Grant's immediate legacy this weekend be that we can perhaps appreciate the game a little more and what it brings to our lives, rather than get sidetracked by controversy.
A bombed try, a bad referee's call, even a lost finals game isn't a tragedy.
The death of a young man playing the sport he loves is.
Grant Cook, rest in peace.
Was Michael Ennis in the wrong after the Sharks' win in Canberra?
In my opinion yes, but he is old enough and experienced enough to conduct himself however he wants.
I thought the taunting of the Raiders fans was totally unwarranted, especially when the staging of the Viking clap has been one of the highlights of the season.
I'm disappointed for the Sharks too because I rated the win as one of the finest I had ever witnessed from them. There shouldn't have been a single negative to talk about after such a mighty performance.
Has our player penalty system finally broken down?
I think the James Roberts case this week suggests it has, and a review of how we deal with player penalties and suspensions can't come quick enough.
If Roberts was guilty of kicking out at an opponent, he absolutely deserves time on the sideline. It shouldn't be a charge whereby an early plea could enable a player to escape a suspension.
That he should incur 50 per cent loading is also flawed in my opinion. His so-called 'similar prior offence' was making contact with a referee earlier in the season. That doesn't make sense to me even though his recent indiscretion is categorised under the same heading of "contrary conduct."
It is not a system I can support and I believe a majority of fans have now lost faith in it.
Is Josh Jackson the next New South Wales captain?
I don't think he will be the skipper when the 2017 series rolls around as I reckon that honour may go to Aaron Woods, but that won't stop him being a leader in the Blues side.
Jackson was as impressive on stage in accepting the Brad Fittler Medal on Monday night as he was during this year's series.
He is a country boy made good who was genuine in his thoughts that he was living the dream as a footballer, and how much representing his state meant.
Josh is a credit to himself, his family, his Bulldogs club, and the Game.
Who will win in Townsville?
The Cowboys… just.
I base the call on the summation that the Broncos perhaps aren't travelling quite as well as they were this time last year, despite their winning run.
However should they produce a performance like they did three weeks ago in Melbourne, then look out.
The Cowboys played tough finals football against the Storm last week but it wasn't quite enough. They have the experience of last year to draw on of losing in week one of the playoffs but still going on to win the premiership.
The two sides know plenty about deciding their battles in golden point, but my tip here is that a nail-biter will be won in regulation time.
Who will win in Canberra?
The Panthers… but not by many.
I'm seeing the Wests Tigers of 2005 in the Panthers of 2016. Some of their attack in the second half against the Bulldogs was mesmerising.
But let's not forget, we've seen plenty of similar work from Canberra all season.
I do believe the Raiders could overcome the potential loss of Josh Hodgson in a regular season fixture where the pressure is not so great, but not in semi-finals sudden death.
That Hodgson leads the try assists among the Canberra playmakers in 2016 says it all. He has virtually become to the Raiders what a Cooper Cronk is to Melbourne or a Johnathan Thurston is to the Cowboys.
I can't praise him any higher than that.
I'm off to Townsville Friday night to call the first semi-final for Fox Sports between the Cowboys and the Broncos.
Coincidentally I called their historic first finals clash way back in 2004. The locals will be hoping history repeats as the Broncos made their exit on that night and said goodbye to a club great in Gorden Tallis. Could the same happen to Corey Parker?
Have a great weekend of footy. All four teams are good enough to go another week at least in the playoffs.