ROOSTERS V BULLDOGS – FRI 18 SEPTEMBER, 7.55PM, ALLIANZ STADIUM
The storyline: One of the NRL’s fiercest rivalries hits the finals stage for the first time since the 2004 grand final. It shapes as one of the decade’s great post-season clashes as both contenders vie for the chance to take on Brisbane in the preliminary final.
Form guide: The Roosters’ 12-match winning streak ended via a 20-18 loss to Melbourne in week one of the finals. The minor premiers were rattled by the Storm’s defensive relentlessness and dominance of the ruck, and were clearly the inferior side in a match that went down to the wire. The Bulldogs notched their sixth straight victory, but they needed golden point to eclipse the Dragons 11-10 in a wild finish to match that had plodded along for 70 minutes. The Dogs’ attack needs to be far better, but their ability in the clutch was reminiscent of last year’s finals charge.
Ladder: Roosters 1st, Bulldogs 5th
Attack: Roosters 1st, Bulldogs 5th
Defence: Roosters 1st, Bulldogs 9th
The selection table: Roosters co-captain Mitchell Pearce returns from a hamstring injury, pushing Jackson Hastings back to the bench and Suaia Matagi to 18th man. The Bulldogs are unchanged side, with Frank Pritchard beating a judiciary charge on Tuesday night.
The match-up: The Roosters’ chances could hinge on how far short of 100 percent Mitchell Pearce is, while the Bulldogs need Moses Mbye to step up and take control on the side after a so-so outing against the Dragons.
The history: The Roosters have won 83 games and the Bulldogs 78, with five drawn since 1935. At finals time, the Bulldogs hold an 8-7 lead in 15 encounters.
The last time they met: A late rally by the Roosters secured a thrilling 38-28 victory at Allianz in Round 21.
The stat: The Roosters have won five of the last six games between the clubs.
The verdict: There was more to like about the Roosters’ performance last weekend than the Bulldogs’ – particularly given the standard of their opposition – and more scope to turn their fortunes around quickly. While slightly short of full fitness, Pearce’s return will be a boost, and Hastings is still there to take over if his hamstring isn’t up to the task. The Bulldogs are every chance if they can get into a grind with the Roosters, but it’s unlikely they will be able to hem in Tuivasa-Sheck, Maloney and Friend in the same manner as the Storm did last Friday. Roosters by 8
COWBOYS V SHARKS – SAT 19 SEPTEMBER, 7.40PM, 1300SMILES STADIUM
The storyline: Two title-less clubs, both with compelling premiership cases, battle to stay alive and chase history. The Cowboys have not contested a preliminary final since 2007, while the Sharks’ last grand final qualifier came a season later. The Cowboys haven’t won consecutive finals games since that ’07 campaign; the Sharks are chasing their first back-to-back post-season wins since 2001. Whose destiny is it to progress?
Form guide: The Cowboys succumbed 16-12 in a gripping, gruelling, fast-paced blockbuster against the Broncos – their fourth loss in six games. The Sharks chalked up their third win in four games (and 11th victory in 14 games) by dismantling the Rabbitohs 28-12, powering away after a long opening stalemate.
Ladder: Cowboys 3rd, Sharks 6th
Attack: Cowboys 2nd, Sharks 7th
Defence: Cowboys 5th, Sharks 7th
The selection table: Rory Kostjasyn rejoins a five-man Cowboys bench, with Ray Thompson named at 18th man. Matt Prior is 18th man in an otherwise unchanged team following their 28-12 win over the South Sydney in week one of the finals.
The match-up: Arguably the two best buys of the season, Jake Granville struggled with the step up to the finals pressure-cooker, while Michael Ennis was brilliant again in the Sharks’ win. Both teams need their No.9s at their peak on Saturday night.
The history: Cronulla holds a 23-14 lead in 37 matches against North Queensland, including an 11-8 advantage in Townsville-hosted encounters. In the clubs’ only previous post-season meeting, the Sharks won a highly-controversial sudden-death qualifying final in 2013 featuring an infamous eight-point try.
The last time they met: The Sharks prevailed 30-18 in a high-quality encounter at Remondis Stadium in Round 22, following on from a 24-18 win at 1300SMILES Stadium against a Thurston-less Cowboys outfit.
The stat: The Sharks’ twin victories over the Cowboys this year were their first back-to-back successes since 2008. From 2009-13, the Cowboys won nine of 12 encounters. Curiously, the clubs’ last six matches in Townsville have been split three apiece.
The verdict: This game will come down to who can keep their nerve. The Cowboys should hold the edge with the home-ground advantage and the presence of Thurston – but he needs far greater support from Granville and Morgan than he received last week. The Sharks have their tails up, while travelling to Townsville holds few fears for the gritty outfit. The visitors possess many more game-breakers than they have had at any stage in the last decade, and this showdown is set to go down to the wire. Sharks by 1