NRL.com columnist Andrew Voss on Melbourne's chances of qualifying for the grand final, the Cowboys' amaing run, finals X-factors, Hasler's replacement and more.
Will Melbourne reach the grand final?
They deserve to based on performances this year, and they will start favourites on Friday night, but those two points will mean very little to Wayne Bennett's Brisbane Broncos.
As a matter of fact, Bennett will be lapping it up. From recent history this reminds me of 2011.
In that year, minor premiers Melbourne advanced straight to the preliminary final after a win in week one of the playoffs. Their opponents, the Warriors, had lost in week one but bounced back to win their semi-final. The Warriors headed to Melbourne as massive underdogs, and pulled off the upset.
I am sure memories of that have been in the minds of the Storm's biggest stars this week. I am tipping Melbourne, but would not be surprised if the Broncos take them right to the wire.
Don't you love finals football?!
Will the Cowboys' run continue?
I can hear the Cowboys fans yelling: "Don't pick us Vossy, stay off the bandwagon."
I have gone against Paul Green's team for the past two weeks, and they have recorded two sensational wins.
So let me do it again. I'm tipping the kings of the close finish, the Roosters, to again win narrowly. 12 times they have won matches this year by 6 points or less. It's an incredible statistic, but one that I believe will have them ready for the pressure of a preliminary final.
I can't wait to call this one for Fox League on Saturday. I'm that excited I'm contemplating getting to Allianz Stadium a few days early and camping in the car park.
Bring it on!
How good is Michael Morgan?
He is now among the game's elite.
What a performance in stepping up in the Cowboys' time of need.
In the past, coach Paul Green's only criticism of Morgan had been that he had a tendency to float in and out of matches. With Johnathan Thurston missing the best part of the season, Morgan had to put that flaw in his game to rest or the North Queensland's campaign would have perished.
What we saw last Saturday night was just how far Morgan has come. He led his team. He inspired his team. He took ownership on the performance. It was, dare I say, ‘Thurston-like' in temperament.
Mal Meninga could do worse than hand Morgan the first crack at the Australian No.6 jersey come the World Cup.
Who could be the finals X-factor players this weekend?
I've come up with a player list that excludes the biggest playmakers that could be huge contributors to their team's success this weekend.
I'll start with Melbourne and nominate Nelson Asofa-Solomona. He should already be an international. Injury forced him out of the running for the Kiwis in May. I'm tipping him to be a super sub against the Broncos.
For Brisbane, it's James Roberts. If I'm a Broncos fan, I want to see Roberts with the ball in his hands plenty of times at AAMI Park.
Onto Saturday, and in what could be a close match, Michael Gordon's goalkicking might just get the Roosters home. What a story it will be if this veteran earns a grand final spot.
And for the Cowboys, Jake Granville is the man. I think he's been fantastic, and Saturday night his team needs him to produce a performance on the big stage just like he did in the 2015 Grand Final.
Who replaces Des Hasler at the Bulldogs?
What a mess this is. Examine the list of ‘casualties' at the club. Coach: gone. Captain: gone. Heart-and-soul player (Josh Reynolds): gone. Most creative forward (Sam Kasiano): gone.
The patience of the Bulldogs' wonderful and passionate fan base is being well and truly tested.
But what's done is done. Now they look to the future. What I can't accept is the line that is often trotted out that a Bulldogs coach has to have played at the club and know how things work.
Does that mean they would knock back Craig Bellamy if he were available? Paul Green? Trent Robinson?
Maybe it's those who believe the ‘has to have been a Bulldog' philosophy that are the ones that should go for the club to advance.
Sunday could be something special, right?
One of my weekly commitments is to talk a little rugby league on Legend FM in Papua New Guinea.
Let me tell you if you're not aware they are going league nuts at the moment. It's even to the extent that for the first time ever a visit from an Australian side will have to play second fiddle to another match this weekend.
The PNG Hunters playing in the grand final of the Intrust Super Cup is a big deal. That the prize for beating the Sunshine Coast Falcons would be an appearance on NRL grand final day at ANZ Stadium the following week will stop a nation.
True rugby league fans should all share in their success.