We take an in depth look into the NRL semi-finals as the losers from last week’s qualifying finals and the winners from week one’s elimination finals go head to head in an attempt to reach the preliminary finals.
Manly Sea Eagles v Sydney Roosters (Friday, 10:50am, Sky Sports Arena and Watch NRL)
The Sea Eagles will undoubtedly out for blood to reaffirm their title credentials after an embarrassing 40-12 loss to Melbourne in one of the qualifying finals last week. However, they have a chance to make amends here but this time there is no second chances as a defeat will see them knocked out of the competition. There can be no doubting this side though as they still possess a great deal of firepower as Tom Trbojevic, Reuben Garrick, Jason Saab and Daly Cherry-Evans have proved to be a formidable quartet this season.
As for the Roosters, they had to do it the hard way against Gold Coast and if it was not for a Titans brain fade at the end of the game it could have been an entirely different story. It has been a tale of injuries and suspensions all season for the Roosters but they have consistently found a way to battle through it and they will every ounce of that fight here if they want to come away with a victory. The winner here goes on to face South Sydney in the preliminary finals next week.
Lachlan Croker is back on deck for Manly and will start at hooker while Dylan Walker has passed a HIA assessment and will be able to take to the field.
Unfortunately for the Roosters they will be without Sam Verrills for the next two matches with the dummy half receiving a suspension for a careless high tackle.
Players to watch
The Sea Eagles boast plenty of young and exciting talent with Saab and Garrick proving just that as they both recorded over 20 tries in the regular season. However, in the realms of rugby league, Manly have one man who can easily make all the difference come Friday and that is Tommy Turbo himself, Tom Trbojevic. The 24-year-old full-back is arguably the best player the sport has to offer, whether it be scoring a try out of nothing, opening up the defensive line with a slick pass or a lethal step or just being solid in defence, there is not much this man cannot do.
In response to that, Sydney’s opposite number James Tedesco has to be the man to keep an eye on. Like Trbojevic, it can easily be argued that Tedesco is one of the best players in the world and for some he may be the best. The 28-year-old has the ability to control any game with his powerful runs out of the number one position and if you couple that with his agility, speed and ball skills despite his sheer size he is a nightmare for any opposing defence.
Key match up
The superstar full-back battle between Trbojevic and Tedesco is without question one of the star attractions of this game but in terms of this clash we are going to look at match up between two of the best loose forwards in the game and that is Manly’s Jake Trbojevic and Sydney’s Victor Radley. Both players bring so much to the table with Trbojevic bringing in experience, a great rugby league IQ, a tireless defensive work rate with slick ball skills to match while Radley is unquestionably one of the hardest hitters in the league whilst showing great attacking intent anytime he steps on the field.
Penrith Panthers v Parramatta Eels (Saturday, 10:50am, Sky Sports Arena and Watch NRL)
Like Manly, Penrith are fresh off a tough loss in the qualifying finals as they failed to fully breakdown an inspired South Sydney defence. However, as is the way of the NRL Finals the Panthers have a chance to rectify a tough defeat as they face Western Sydney rivals Parramatta for a place in the preliminary finals against the mighty Melbourne. The Eels have had a rather inconsistent season and their history of past finals performances is certainly against them but they have started to find some form as of late and look just as dangerous as some of the other top teams around them.
Both Dylan Edwards (foot) and Moses Leota (leg) are doubts for Penrith but are expected to play come Saturday. Tyrone May (knee) has been named on the extended bench and could be a late inclusion.
Despite suffering leg injuries last week both Clint Gutherson and Blake Ferguson have been named in the starting line up while Ryan Matterson returns to the second-row after being left out of the 17-man squad that faced Newcastle. Nathan Brown (leg cork) is set to play after failing to finish the game against the Knights.
Players to watch
The Panthers have a whole host of talent at their disposal with Nathan Cleary and Brian To’o massively key to their sides’ chances. However, Matt Burton may be the player to turn a few heads against Parramatta and even the entire Finals series. The 21-year-old has primarily featured at centre and stand-off this year and has all the tools necessary to be a huge success in the league for years to come with his powerful yet electric ball carrying, his precise kicking ability and creativity in general all huge assets.
As for the Eels they too possess plenty of exceptional talent on both sides of the ball but the wrecking ball that is Junior Paulo is certainly a player to watch out for. The 27-year-old is one of the top props in the league with his large frame and commanding ball carrying difficult for his opponents to contain. The talented front rower is hugely key going forward not just with his ball carrying but also with his exceptional offloading.
Key match up
As half-back matchups go it does not get much better than the one here between Penrith’s Nathan Cleary and Parramatta’s Mitch Moses. Both players have the ability to control a game as they see fit and will be pinnacle to their sides’ efforts. The 23-year-old Cleary is one of the top three best players in the league if not the best with his incredible game management, kicking ability and defensive prowess making him one of the best all round players out there. As for Moses, he sits as one of the top playmaking halves in the NRL as he possesses all the creativity and flair to be a nightmare for the Panthers.