Andrew Voss on Smith's outstanding season, finals week one predictions, the biggest disappointment of 2017, stunning stats and more.
How good has Cameron Smith been this year?
Despite reaching 34 years of age, I don’t know that Cameron has ever played better than this season.
He played his 50th test for Australia and will lead the Kangaroos at the World Cup. He steered Queensland to another Origin victory. He’s been at the helm of the Storm’s runaway minor premiership win. He is favourite for the Dally M. He’s set point-scoring milestones on a regular basis including only two weeks ago notching his highest individual tally of his career in a game (22 v Souths).
As we prepare to see him pass Darren Lockyer’s record for all time premiership games played, can anyone out there recall a match where Smith has been poor?
Besides the captaincy, the longevity, the consistency, the goalkicking, the 40/20s, the workrate… watch Smith’s passing of the ball on Saturday night. It’s pinpoint. He often engages defenders out of dummy-half and then cuts two players out with a pass that hits a charging edge runner on the chest.
356 might become 456 in a few years time. It certainly won’t have anything to do with form if Smith calls it quits any time soon.
Who will win the major qualifying finals?
Lock me in for the Roosters and the Storm in the battles featuring the top four teams.
The Roosters have become the kings of winning close matches taking out 11 games this year by 6 points or less … a premiership record. That has them in good shape for semi final football against a team that will have to do without its captain Darius Boyd.
I can’t tip against the Storm even though Parramatta has a win in Melbourne to their credit this year. But the clash of Suliasi Vunivalu against Semi Radradra is reason alone to watch this in terms of positional duels. Based on form, there may not have been a bigger one this year.
Who will win the sudden death battles?
If Manly follow their blueprint of last Sunday, it is going to be very hard for the Panthers to overturn the result.
While the Panthers have again qualified for the finals and should be suitably congratulated, they’re in nowhere near the rousing form that got them to this stage last year.
As for Sunday, I believe the Sharks-Cowboys battle could be the match of the weekend.
The recent finals history between the two probably demands some drama. In 2015 the Cowboys smacked the Sharks 39-0 in Townsville. Last year it was Cronulla qualifying for the grand final by beating the Cowboys 32-20.
I’ll tip the Sharks, but if there is a golden point game in week one, I reckon this might be it.
By the way, if Parramatta was to topple the Storm and Cronulla beat the Cowboys, we will have a rematch of last year’s grand final in week two.
Which team has been the biggest disappointment of the bottom eight?
In terms of my own pre-season expectations and where sides have finished on the ladder, it has been Canberra.
I was close to tipping them to win the competition in 2017 after their magnificent effort last year.
To not see them playing at all this weekend is hugely disappointing. Obviously the likes of Canterbury, Gold Coast and the Warriors have all under-achieved, but I didn’t have them as high up the pecking order as Ricky Stuart’s team.
However while all teams have ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’, the dialogue on Canberra could have been so different now if not for three golden point losses, and one heartbreaking last second loss to Penrith in Bathurst.
Is there an ‘elephant in the room’ heading into the finals?
I believe there is based on talking with rugby league fans ever day of the week. And I am treading on some dangerous ground here because I am not a doctor.
However, there is a perception among many league followers that clubs are using the HIA for tactical advantage in some cases.
I trust the NRL is continuing to monitor the clubs. They are all big matches from here and we could do without controversy on this important issue that was designed to look after the players welfare, rather than a factor in how the interchange is used.
How about some stats you may have missed?
Get a load of these.
No wonder Dragons fans are still shattered. Their team scored more points this year than five of the sides that made the top eight, and conceded less than three of the finalists.
Melbourne finished the season with an incredible 11-2 record away from AAMI Park.
Their only recorded away loss was in golden point to the Roosters in Adelaide in Round 16, but keep in mind they did go down to the Titans 38-36 in a ‘home’ match at Suncorp Stadium in Round 10. Can you believe Melbourne scored 36 points in a game this year and lost?
And one to finish for the Knights fans as they come to grips with a third consecutive wooden spoon.
The Knights won four more games this year compared to 2016. On average they scored five more points a game, and conceded six points less. I hope that rate of improvement can continue in 2018.