We’re down to the final four. There’s the impossibly good expansion team from Melbourne, the pretty good expansion team from Brisbane, the grit-sucking, giant-slaying fairy tale machine from regional Queensland and there’s the 109 year old club of gronks that no one in their city wants to support.
The NRL could not have set it up better with the four major TV markets represented. I’m assuming that the twenty or so in Melbourne that will watch this weekend would have out-numbered the theoretical audience in Auckland should the Warriors ever get their act together.
In the meantime, and with my tipping record now falling behind people who haven’t bothered to tip since July, here’s my preliminary final tips.
Brisbane (16-8) @ Melbourne (20-4)
I think everyone in Brisbane wanted to avoid this scenario but here we are. In fact, had the Broncos done a better job in their qualifying final, they wouldn’t be here and would instead be facing a Cowboys outfit that, while good, is not once-in-a-generation good. The good news is that Oates and Boyd are back and Brisbane are as close to full strength as they’re going to get in a year where just about every player has had some time off. If only Adam Blair would pull a hamstring, we could get him on a plane to New Zealand by half time and he’d stop being a deadweight. That is unless he scores the winning try in which case I never doubted him but that’s about as likely as Brisbane being in the position to score a winning try. I guess what I’m saying is, anything’s possible.
Here’s some fun facts: Melbourne have won 64% of their games since their founding in 1998. They’ve led the NRL all-time winning percentage since 2007. The previous decade saw four clubs top that list at one point or another. At home, Melbourne have won 75% of their games and their record at home against Brisbane is 68%. That’s before we even get into the stats about this year’s team, like they’re the first NRL team to get to 44 points without breaching the salary cap. Yet.
I could go on about the Storm and while I hold out a little hope for the Broncos, it’s going to be a Melbourne win.
North Queensland (13-11) @ Sydney (17-7)
If I’m honest with myself, I’m far more excited about North Queensland’s chance of making the grand final this year than I am Brisbane’s. The Cows are so much more likely to do it and have gone by a much harder route, accounting for Cronulla and Parramatta along the way. Let’s face it, nobody hates the Cowboys, not even post-2015 grand final Brisbanites, but if the Roosters’ plea for Sydney to unite behind them is anything to go by, plenty of people hate them.
The Roosters have been softer than their results suggest. The number of narrow wins they’ve had has been ridiculous; good teams don’t let average teams get that close. Sydney are basically an inversion of Canberra, who managed to lose every close game they had this season. If the rugby league gods were kinder, they both would have played elimination finals, instead of one finishing top four and the other missing out altogether. That leaves them open to the only side that actually seems to be improving. Contain Cordner and Mitchell, rough up Pearce and send the ball down Ferguson’s side and its game on.
Cue, media: something something fairy tale something grit. While I get that it’s just spin, I also still buy into it. I’m tipping North Queensland.
After week 2: