Pretenders and Contenders: Week Three of the NRL Finals.

BY DAN

Talk about sorting the men from the boys.

Last week’s games showed the vast difference in quality that existed between the top four sides and the rest of the competition this year. The Roosters and the Cowboys made easy work of the Bulldogs and the Sharks respectively.

And so they should have. By our home-brand version of the Pythagorean Expectation, there were massive gaps between these two sides. The poor Dogs were a 14 win team going up the equivalent of a 20 win team that led the league in pretty every metric you can think of (points for, points against, 3rd in tries, first in line breaks for example). They did their best the muscle up early, admirably playing to their strength – their criminally underrated forward pack. Unfortunately for them the Roosters too have an excellent forward pack, and once the Roosters withstood their initial burst, the Doggies didn’t have a plan B. Also the refs didn’t help.

The Sharkies were overwhelmed by the Cowboys. We noted before the finals started that we did not think this team was good enough to match it with the top sides. Against the Cowboys they simply couldn’t match the speed and skill around the ruck of Granville, Morgan on the edges, as well as the always excellent work of Jonathan Thurston.

Thurston: Football Genius.
Thurston: Football Genius.
The commentators said Thurston had a quiet game, but really he just did excellent things that people rarely notice, drawing defenders to him and unleashing Morgan, Coote and others on the edges of the Sharks defence. The Sharks simply couldn’t hold it.

And so we say goodbye to: the Dogs and the Sharks

The Dogs are an excellent side. They played aggressive football all year, punching the ball up the middle with verve before unleashing a backline that produced tries at will this year. The real hole for them was their defence. It was unusual to see a Des Hasler coached side with such porous defence. If they can fix that then this team will be in the top 6 sides again next year.

The Sharks however, could do anything. Ennis will not have as good a year as he did this year. Gallen literally cannot do anything more for this side. The halves are not creative and if they don’t get better there may be less points in this side. They already have a mediocre defence. From our calculations they should have finished in 9th this year. If they can’t improve the work in the halves or in defence, they will be on the outside looking in next year.

Pretenders

The Cowboys

Table Position: 3rd (17 wins)

Pythagorean expectation: 4th (15.5 wins).

The Cowboys dominated a side we do not consider to be of quality last week. To be honest, we are more impressed with how they hung with the Broncos the week before. Regardless, we love JT and desperately want him to win the premiership this year. Carn the Cows!

Dude is massive.
Taumalolo is massive. Also a key forward for the Cowboys.
How they win: Taumalolo, Tamou and Scott dominate in the middle, providing the space for Thruston to unleash Morgan, Coote and the rest of the Cowboys fringe-runners on the Storm’s edges. They swallow the Storm’s excellent but predictable attack with the physicality of their middle forwards. Can they do this yes? Do we think it will happen? No.

The Broncos

Table position: 2nd (17 wins)

Pythagorean expectation: 2nd (17.5 wins)

A week off is a blessing this time of the year. They will need every ounce of extra energy they have to match the size and strength of the Roosters forwards.

How they win: Match the Roosters big men across the park, turning the game into an old-fashioned tussle. Get to the end of the game and trust that Hunt and Milford can take advantage of space around the ruck. Line speed in defence absolutely critical to get to the Roosters big centres and second-rowers before they get in space.

The Contenders

The Storm

Table Position: 4th (14 wins)

Pythagorean Expectation 3rd (16.0 wins)

Jonathon Thurston already engaged in some handy expectation management by calling the Storm the best side in the competition. We considered them the third best side coming into the finals. We trust Jonathon’s assessment over ours.

This guy is very good.
Pro tip: This guy is very good.
Why they’ll win: Too much organisation in defence that will stifle Morgan, Granville and Coote (but not Thurston. No one can stifle Thurston). Too much organisation in attack will use and abuse the Cowboys big men around the ruck. Remember Cameron Smith? He loves big forwards. There will be holes, and he will send runners through them.

The Roosters

Table position: 1st (18 wins)

Pythagorean expectation: 1st (20 wins)

Here we are. The Roosters going into Lang Park to prove that there was a reason we thought so highly of them coming into the finals.

Why they’ll win: Because they will have Mitchell Pearce back. Because Brisbane is like an almost version of the Roosters, big forwards, a couple of dynamic halves and big men out wide. Almost is not going to be good enough. Because they are the best side in the competition in almost every statistic and it’s not really close.

Man I hate the Roosters.

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