KEY PRELIMINARY FINALS MATCH-UPS
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 25
1st preliminary final.
Brisbane Broncos v Sydney Roosters, Suncorp Stadium, 7.55pm (AEST)
2015 results: Broncos 22 bt Roosters 18 in round six at Suncorp Stadium; Roosters 12 bt Broncos 10 in round 24 at Allianz Stadium.
MITCHELL PEARCE v BEN HUNT
The Roosters’ upset loss to Melbourne proved they need Pearce when the going gets tough and that is why they have done everything to get him right for this game. His kicking game is inconsistent, but when it is on, like in the 2013 grand final, it is on. And that could be a crucial factor on Friday, as will his defence. Hunt is more of an individual who can break the line open on his own as he did for the match-winning try in the Broncos’ golden point win over the Roosters in round six.
BLAKE FERGUSON v JACK REED
Ferguson has been well contained during the finals series and hasn’t yet reached the explosive heights expected of him. That might happen here. But Reed is one of the best defenders out wide in the game and his chief assignment will be to keep the former NSW star quiet.
DYLAN NAPA v SAM THAIDAY
Thaiday’s clash with the now-injured Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in round six was one of the most memorable individual battles of the year. Napa has taken over as the Roosters’ enforcer in the absence of JWH and after locking horns with James Graham last week, Thaiday will be in his sights this time. But the Brisbane veteran will be ready for what is coming.
BOYD CORDNER v COREY PARKER
Cordner has become arguably the Roosters’ most important player following the injury to JWH, as illustrated by coach Trent Robinson’s shuffle of his side to accommodate him at lock. He was instrumental in the win over the Bulldogs and needs to be here too if the Roosters are to prevail. Corey Parker has an uncanny ability to offload in traffic and that could break the game open for the Broncos against the NRL’s premier defence.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 26
2nd preliminary final
Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys, AAMI Park, 7.45pm (AEST)
2015 results: Cowboys 18 bt Storm 17 in round four at 1300 Smiles Stadium; Storm 14 bt Cowboys 6 in round 25 at AAMI Park.
COOPER CRONK v JOHNATHAN THURSTON
This battle will likely decide the match and who goes on to the grand final next week. Both are proven big game players. Cronk helped guide the Storm to their win over the Roosters two weeks ago in their finest win of the year so far. Thurston was crucial in helping the Cowboys bounce back from their loss to Brisbane with a massive win over Cronulla. His ongoing groin injury is somewhat of a concern though.
CAMERON MUNSTER v LACHLAN COOTE
Many were happy to write off Melbourne’s premiership hopes following the season-ending shoulder injury to Billy Slater. Then along came Cameron Munster. He has been a vital part of their late-season charge. Coote is just as steady at the back. And his left-footed kicking game is the perfect foil for Thurston.
JESSE BROMWICH v MATT SCOTT
The battle of the NRL’s top props. Bromwich carries the Storm forward in almost every set to allow Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk to weave their magic. He took on the Roosters forward pack on his own and ended up on top. Last week Scott destroyed the Cowboys with the intensity of his hit-ups. This will be brutal stuff.
RYAN HINCHCLIFFE v JASON TAUMALOLO
Hinchliffe will be tasked with to somehow stop the bullocking charges of Taumalolo. If he can the Storm will be well on their way to the grand final.