The NRL Finals have arrived! The Melbourne Storm will take on the Manly Sea Eagles in the first qualifying final on Friday night in what is shaping up to be a classic. As usual, Greg Davis has you covered with a full preview and betting tips for the game below.
NRL First Qualifying Final, Sunshine Coast Stadium, Friday September 10, 7.50pm (AEST)
1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. George Jennings 3. Reimis Smith 4. Justin Olam 5. Isaac Lumelume 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Brandon Smith 10. Christian Welch 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenny Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane. INTERCHANGE: 14. Harry Grant 15. Tui Kamikamica 16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 17. Nicholas Hynes. RESERVES: 18. Aaron Pene 19. Tom Eisenhuth 20. Chris Lewis 21. Marion Seve
1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jason Saab 3. Brad Parker 4. Morgan Harper 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Lachlan Croker 10. Martin Taupau 11. Haumole Olakau'atu 12. Josh Schuster 13. Jake Trbojevic. INTERCHANGE: 14. Dylan Walker 15. Karl Lawton 16. Sean Keppie 17. Taniela Paseka. RESERVES: 18. Toafofoa Sipley 19. Moses Suli 20. Curtis Sironen 21. Tevita Funa
FINALLY, it’s here – the 2021 NRL finals series.
After one of the most lopsided and predictable seasons in memory, the whips are finally cracking with games that count for something and where the final results are not always foregone conclusions.
And it’s a belter to get the finals underway with Melbourne taking on Manly at Sunshine Coast Stadium with the prize being direct passage into a preliminary final in two weeks.
The Storm and Sea Eagles have developed one of the more intense modern-day rivalries. It is a feud built on more than just the “Battle of Brookvale” brawl as the clubs have also made a habit of meeting each in September on a regular basis.
And they have shared the spoils too with Manly’s Des Hasler the only coach to have a positive win-loss record (17-15) against Melbourne mentor Craig Bellamy.
So, it’s real. Very real.
And this Friday’s clash is a genuine blockbuster.
The Storm claimed yet another minor premiership in 2021 after rolling through the home-and-away season in dominant fashion, relentlessly setting point-scoring records along the way.
They have been downright scary at times and it has seemed like a matter of when, not if, they will go to the grand final and shoot for back-to-back titles.
They still might but the Sea Eagles present a very real threat to the Storm, especially if Cam Munster is a late withdrawal due to a knee injury.
Munster has said he is a 50-50 prospect of playing while the Storm will definitely be without superstar winger Josh Addo-Carr (hamstring). The loss of Munster would be an obvious blow to the Storm and blunt their potent attack but Nicho Hynes would go some way to filling the void left by the club’s star five-eighth who normally revels on the big stage.
After resting players in the weeks leading up to the finals, the Storm will field their strongest possible squad. The likes of Munster, Christian Welch, Felise Kaufusi, both Bromwich siblings, centre Reimis Smith and winger George Jennings have been named in the squad after missing last week’s win over Cronulla
Melbourne has gone ever-so-slightly off the boil – from their very lofty high standards - in the past month and you have got the feeling they have been yearning for the challenge of finals footy.
So expect the Storm to go up a couple of cogs. And they may need to.
Tom Trbojevic has been outstanding this season with 25 tries and 30 try assists in 15 games for Manly and he will be central to their hopes again. Without him at the start of the year, the Sea Eagles could not beat an egg.
With their bona fide match-winner in the no.1 jumper on the field, they can win the whole thing.
Manly will take some genuine momentum into the match after winning their last four outings Their last loss was in Round 21 to the Storm when Melbourne grinded out a 28-18 win.
Of all the match-ups in week one of the finals, this is the one contest that could possibly produce an “upset” with the lower seeded team winning.
It should be the kind of footy that many fans have been craving for months – tough, tight and intense. Should it go down to the wire, it is hard to go past the Storm. Just look at the depth on their interchange bench alone.
They have been the best team all year and they have been setting themselves for this point of the season. If Munster plays, they should win. Even if he doesn’t, they may still sneak home – but only just.
Try Anytime - Tom Trbojevic ($2 at Sportsbet)
First Try Scorer - Justin Olam ($14 at Sportsbet)
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