The NRL semi-finals get underway this week and they look very tasty.
Canberra Raiders v South Sydney Rabbitohs
What a game this could be for the league’s British contingent as we may see a record seven English players take to the pitch come the start of this one as the Burgess trio of Sam, Tom and George go up against John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead, Josh Hodgson and Ryan Sutton in what is set to be an epic Battle of Britain clash. It will be the most English players fielded in an NRL game and will be the match up that could be pivotal as to who comes out on top here.
The Rabbitohs have fought tooth and nail to make it this far as they have been far from the best in the latter of part of the season. However, they have still been able to conjure the wins such as last week’s high scoring affair against Manly. If they stand any chance against a Canberra side who are fresh off a week’s rest then that bar needs to be significantly be raised by Wayne Bennett’s men. The Raiders have to be fired up for this as they take home ground advantage at GIO Stadium and have come from middle of the table obscurity to viable title challengers all within the space of a year.
This game certainly has plenty of potential key match-ups to keep an eye on, with Sam Burgess going up against John Bateman in what could be an enticing battle in the second-row. The one that could hold the keys to victory here has to be the battle of the hookers as Damien Cook faces Hodgson. Both players will be pinnacle as to how their respective teams are able to move the ball around in the middle of the park as Hodgson plays with a versatility that makes him look like a half-back and Cook has all to creativity and explosiveness to wreak havoc on Canberra’s defensive line.
There is definitely some more names worth keeping an eye on though as there is one man who has seemingly made all the difference in the latter part of the season for the Bunnies and that has been Cameron Murray. The young loose forward has endured an exceptional year, breaking into the New South Wales side and he has been the best player for the Rabbitohs in the last month or so. The Raiders are not short of eye catchers themselves though and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad has been just that all year. The Cook Islands international has shown to be one of the buys of the year with his great attacking threat and tough defensive work in Canberra’s full-back spot.
Team news: Despite some pre-game fireworks drama in the game against Melbourne, centre Joey Leilua is back in the starting 13, with Bailey Simonsson making his way to the bench. Winger Nick Cotric and prop forward Josh Papalii have both been named to start but the latter could see a last-minute swap with Dunamis Lui once again.
The Rabbitohs will be without James Roberts due to a thumb injury in a huge blow in the only noteworthy change for the Bunnies.
Sydney Roosters v Melbourne Storm
This match has all the makings of an instant classic as both have been two of the best performing sides all year. After demolishing the Rabbitohs 30-6 last week, the Roosters have made it abundantly clear that they have their sights set on back-to-back NRL title wins. The Storm succumbed to a heartbreaking last-minute defeat to Canberra in week one of the finals but showed their quality as they came back strongly with an impeccable win over Parramatta last week.
It will be a big ask for Melbourne to go to the SCG and come away with a win but they were the league leaders for a reason and they have all talent necessary to make life difficult for the Roosters and each one of them will have to be at their very best. As for the Chooks, they host probably the best all-round team in the competition and since the end of the Origin series, there has been very little negatives you could put on them as they have steamrolled plenty of opposition with a freakish ease.
There is again plenty of potential match-ups in this game that are going to be worth keeping any eye on though as it will be interesting to see how rookie full-back Ryan Papenhuyzen copes against his opposing number in James Tedesco and also if Curtis Scott can keep up with the likes of Latrell Mitchell at centre. However, the one key match-up that stands above the rest will have to be Luke Keary against Cameron Munster. Both players have developed a reputation over the season as two of the best players in the game and will be fighting it out for the Australia number six jersey for the autumn internationals.
As mentioned previously, both teams have plenty of attacking and defensive weaponry up and down the teamsheet so it is always going to be difficult to pick one player in particular to keep a look out for but for the Roosters, you cannot go wrong with Mitchell at the moment. The 22-year-old has put his early season woes behind him and shown the rugby league world why he is already a star talent at such a young age with a great amount size, speed and finesse at centre.
As for Melbourne, Cameron Smith remains the man to watch out for in the dummy half spot. Despite a moment of madness in last week’s win over the Eels which saw him sin-binned for a slap on opposite number Reed Mahoney, the 36-year-old veteran is still free to face the Roosters after escaping suspension with an early guilty plea. All his experience will have to be on show come Saturday if the Storm are to reach their fourth consecutive Grand Final and continue the Victoria-based side’s dynasty.
Team news: The Roosters will have to do without Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in the front-row due to suspension but Sio Siua Taukeiaho is in to fill the void. Despite being out since round 18, Jake Friend is named amongst the reserves as he continues to make his comeback from injury and Sam Verrills retains his place at hooker for now.
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy is able to name the same side that dismantled the Eels last week.
Watch NRL and live stream every NRL game to keep up with how the Burgess boys, John Bateman, Ryan Sutton, Elliott Whitehead, James Graham and all the others are getting on Down Under.