Tonight the closest set of matches in NRL finals history will kick off, with all four games being between teams that finished the regular season level on competition points. The top four teams all finished on 16 wins, with rankings decided on for and against, while the teams finishing 5th to 8th all had 15 wins.
In the first round of the NRL finals the top four sides will play off for direct entry into the semi-finals, while the remaining teams face elimination matches. The first qualifying final will be tonight, when Melbourne take on South Sydney in Melbourne. The Rabbitohs are arguably in better form, coming off a 51-10 thrashing of Wests Tigers last week, but the Storm have a host of stars who have regular finals experience, as well as home advantage.
The second and third games of the NRL finalswill be in Sydney tomorrow night. First up the Panthers will face the Warriors at ANZ Stadium in an elimination match, followed by Cronulla and Easts facing off in a qualifying game at Allianz.
Penrith managed an unlikely away victory over the Storm last weekend to put an end to a month of inconsistent performances, while the Warriors scraped past the Raiders. With James Maloney back the Panthers look like a contender this year, and it is hard to see them losing in Sydney.
The Sharks and Roosters game will be not only a clash between two strong Sydney clubs, it will also feature a contrast in styles. Cronulla have been content to grind out the wins this year, while the Roosters have tried to blast their opposition off the park. Despite winning the same number of matches this season, Easts have a point’s differential almost double Cronulla’s. They are also finding form at the right time, so while the Sharks have a chance if they can nullify the star-studded Roosters attack the minor premiers are deserved favourites in the NRL finals.
The final game is between Brisbane and St George on Sunday, at Suncorp stadium. While St George had a win over the Knights last week, they have been sliding towards the back end of the year and will struggle to compete. The Bronco’s, meanwhile, are peaking at the right time, and have won more games against top 8 opposition than any other team in the NRL finals. The home team should take this one.