Andrew Voss on the premiership favourites, the greatness of Johnathan Thurston, the changes to the Kangaroos and a former Storm under-20s player who is breaking records in the Super League.
Who are the premiership favourites now?
There isn’t one.
I can mount a strong case for all four sides winning the competition.
Melbourne: They have the best defence in the league.
Canberra: No side has scored more points this season.
North Queensland: Been there, done that.
Cronulla: Managed 15 straight wins at one stage this season. There is no pretender in this contender as they proved in week one of the finals.
The top four are all on show this weekend. The weekend off was obviously handy, but not having it didn’t stop the Cowboys last year.
There is one word to describe the potential of this weekend’s two preliminary finals … Awesome!
Who wins, Sharks v Cowboys?
I’m tipping the Cowboys.
Plenty have questioned whether they will have enough in the tank to back up from such a grueling 90 minutes last Friday.
My thoughts are it would be different backing up from a defeat in such a manner. To play like that and win, and now be so close to grand final, a light week at training will freshen them up physically and mentally.
And that’s the other factor about their week. The match last Friday was at home. Their preparation started immediately without any return travel to disrupt them.
Extra time again would not surprise. They both deserve a spot in the big one, but I’ll say the Cowboys get home by 6.
Who wins, Storm or Raiders?
I’ve changed my mind a few times on this one already this week. Right now I’m leaning towards the Raiders.
It’s a lot easier said than done, but I feel the key to challenging Melbourne is to lead and make them chase points. The Storm have led at half-time in 17 games this year, turning all but one into victories (Round 4 v Sharks).
They haven’t proven unbeatable at home in 2016 with losses to Brisbane and Canterbury, while Canberra’s away record this year is one of the best in the league, losing only 4 of 12 matches.
This is another potential extra time contest. May the best team win.
How do you sum up the greatness of Johnathan Thurston?
Whatever JT is being paid, double it!
Thurston isn’t just great for the Cowboys, performances like the second half last Friday night is great for rugby league.
He makes you watch. He is the ultimate competitor… and he delivers time and time again.
I’ve been following the sport for over 40 years so I don’t make the following statement lightly.
Johnathan Thurston is the best player I have seen.
How important is this weekend for the Kangaroos?
I see Saturday’s contest against Papua New Guinea as the first step on the journey that hopefully for the Kangaroos' sake, will end with a World Cup final appearance next year.
I love what Mal Meninga is doing with the national side and the selection of such a strong Prime Minister's XIII squad is part of it. The many league fans in PNG will love seeing the stars.
Big Mal is also keen for the modern day international player to have a greater appreciation of the history of the team. That message will come through when the current Kangaroos attend the reunion day, the weekend after the grand final.
I love my international rugby league, and a test against the Kiwis in Perth followed by what looks to be the strongest Four Nations tournament yet, will certainly whet the appetite for what is a huge World Cup year in 2017.
Who is Denny Solomona?
Some Melbourne Storm fans might remember Denny but not too many other league supporters in Australia will, unless you follow the Super League.
Solomona played for the Melbourne under-20s side in 2012, scoring 8 tries in 13 games before a broken leg ended his season.
His league career would then take him to London, and from there he joined the Castleford Tigers.
Now 22 years old, Solomona has just broken the Super League season try-scoring record after nabbing a double for the Tigers against Catalans on the weekend.
His tally is 37 tries from 26 games, one better than 'The Volcano' Lesley Vainikolo managed 12 years ago.
Just as Suliasi Vunivalu did this year at the Storm, Solomona has often scored his tries in multiples, snaring 7 doubles, 5 hat-tricks, and a season-best of four against Warrington. On only four occasions did he score just a single try.
Can’t wait to call the Sharks v Cowboys showdown for Fox Sports on Friday night.