THE KEY NRL FINALS MATCH-UPS
FRIDAY, SEPT 11
First qualifying final
1-Sydney Roosters v 4-Melbourne, Allianz Stadium 7.55pm AEST
The winner earns a week off and passage straight through to the preliminary final. The loser plays the winner of the Bulldogs v Dragons elimination final.
2015 results: Storm 17 bt Roosters 16, round 7 at AAMI Park
Roosters 24 bt Storm 2, round 12 at Allianz Stadium
JAMES MALONEY v COOPER CRONK
Maloney has stepped his game up considerably over the last few weeks for the Roosters in the absence of Mitchell Pearce. His left side combination with Michael Jennings and Daniel Tupou is one of the key cogs in the Roosters attack. In addition Maloney can break the line and is a fantastic goalkicker. Cronk is at the heart of everything Melbourne do and is a proven big game player. He has come under criticism recently from Andrew Johns, providing him with further motivation.
JESSE BROMWICH v SAM MOA
Storm’s Bromwich has been probably the most consistent prop in 2015, with Moa not far behind. Bromwich’s go-forward is crucial in helping Cameron Smith work Melbourne’s pet plays and the Kiwi prop possesses a good offload too. Bromwich’s New Zealand teammate Moa has come back from three weeks out refreshed and on a mission. Moa is the Roosters’ forward leader now Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is out for the year and he was brutal in attack and defence in the win over South Sydney.
SATURDAY, SEPT 12
First elimination final
5-Canterbury Bulldogs v 8-St George Illawarra, ANZ Stadium 5.50pm AEST.
The winner plays the loser of the Roosters v Storm qualifying final. The loser is eliminated.
2015 results: Dragons 31 bt Bulldogs 6, round 6 at ANZ Stadium
Bulldogs 29 bt Dragons 16, round 13 at ANZ Stadium
BRETT MORRIS v JOSH DUGAN
Dugan needs to be just about the best player on the park if the Dragons are to have any chance of winning this. The Dragons laid on 32 points against Wests Tigers last week but it is highly doubtful the dutiful Dogs defence will be so generous. Dugan is one of the few players in the game who can regularly prize apart a defence line on his own, the joint venture will need him to do this. Morris was in sensational form earlier this year when he moved to fullback but injuries have hampered him since. He does however love the big stage.
JAMES GRAHAM V MIKE COOPER
It is hard to see how the Dragons pack can hold their monster opposites. If Cooper can somehow get the better of his English compatriot Graham, that might be a start. And it could open things up for Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop, if he plays, to spark the Dragons out wide.
Second qualifying final
2-Brisbane v 3-North Queensland, Suncorp Stadium, 7.55pm.
The winner earns a week off and passage straight through to the preliminary final.
The loser plays the winner of the Sharks v Rabbitohs elimination final.
2015 results: Brisbane 44 bt Cowboys 22, round three at Suncorp Stadium
Cowboys 31 bt Broncos 20, round 10 at 1300 Smiles Stadium
BEN HUNT v JOHNATHAN THURSTON
Two of the season’s stand-out players go head-to-head in this Queensland derby. The return of Michael Morgan from an ankle injury is a huge boost to Thurston, who won’t be relied on to do all the playmaking. But he remains very much the Cowboys go-to player. Hunt’s combination with Anthony Milford has been devastating this year.
COREY PARKER V JASON TAUMALOLO
These two are so crucial to their side’s meterage, but also their creativity in attack. Parker’s offloading skills are second to none and the Broncos’ second phase play off that so often troubles opposition defences. Thurston relies on Taumalolo’s hard running and quick play-the-balls to work his magic against backpedalling defences.
SUNDAY, SEPT, 13
Second elimination final
6-Cronulla v 7-South Sydney, Allianz Stadium, 4.10pm
The winner plays the loser of the 2 v 3 qualifying final. The loser is eliminated.
2015 results: Sharks 18 bt Rabbitohs 10, round seven at Remondis Stadium
MICHAEL ENNIS v CAMERON McINNES and PAUL CARTER
Ennis has been key to the Sharks’ turnaround in fortunes this season and if he controls the ruck, invariably Cronulla win the contest. Issac Luke is a huge out for Souths and McInnes and Carter really struggled against the Roosters last week to get their team moving in the middle.
ANDREW FIFITA v THE RABBITOHS BENCH
Fifita, as long as he has his head screwed on straight, shapes as a match-winner off the bench for the Sharks. The Rabbitohs bench is rather staid by comparison. When the game is in the balance in the final 20 minutes Fifita’s return from a club-imposed suspension could make the difference to a side that struggled so badly to score points last week.