Melbourne Storm 2017 Premiers

by Warren Boland

There is no argument that the best team won the 2017 NRL premiership.

The Melbourne Storm were the best team all year and were unbeatable once they peaked for a full 80 minutes.

When you look back over the finals, all the contenders had their moments but none could sustain their performance in any one game.

The most consistent over the four weeks was the Cowboys. Even the Storm were shaky at times against Parramatta and the Broncos but in the second halves Melbourne rose to the challenge.

It was different in the grand final. The Storm were magnificent from go to whoa, and that meant woe for North Queensland, 34-6.

We will never know how competitive the losers would have been with Johnathon Thurston and Matt Scott in the side. The brave Cowboys played well but were blown away by the the Storm at their best.

As was the case virtually all season, every one else was playing in the shadows of this force of nature.

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For more from me on the how the grand final was won, and the reign of coach Craig Bellamy and the Big Three, go to my piece at ABC News. Here is the link:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-02/nrl-title-caps-off-superb-era-of-melbourne-storm-success:-boland/9008176?section=sport

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2017 NRL Grand Final

by Warren Boland

Everyone is giving their tip for this Sunday’s Grand Final between the Melbourne Storm and the North Queensland Cowboys.

Whether it’s former players, media experts, punters or non-aligned fans, everyone has a tip on who will win and the majority are leaning toward Melbourne.

Naturally one-eyed fans of the Storm or Cowboys are whole-heartedly tipping their team to win.

But can I detect a hesitation or lack of conviction in all the other tipsters? Are they are taking a stab in the dark without any real confidence?

It could be their concern that the minor premiers, so dominant all season, have been below their best so far in the finals, particularly in the first halves of their wins over Parramatta and Brisbane.

Maybe it is a nagging doubt whether the Cowboys can come from eighth place to win four straight finals to be premiers.

When it comes to sentiment, it’s hard to make a choice, torn between admiration for the against-all-odds fairy tale of the Cowboys and a wish to see Cooper Cronk go out a winner in his last game for the Storm with his ‘big three’  partners-in-legend Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.

Twisting some support further north is the rivalry between Sydneysiders and Melbourne.

And then there’s the Queenslanders whose allegiance is divided between cheering on their own from Townsville or a Storm team which boasts six Maroon Origin stars.

In the absence of North Queensland’s Johnathon Thurston and Matt Scott, the Storm have the advantage of more representative stars, especially in their all-important spine, but both teams have recent grand final experience to call on.

On current form, the two teams are hard to split.

The Storm are renowned for their discipline in sticking to their structure and plan. The Cowboys are miserly when it comes to errors.

Both have purposeful and varied kicking games and kicker options. Both have watertight defences, especially Melbourne.

The Storm have more strikepower across the backline with lightning speed and timing to create opportunities whereas the Cowboys will pounce on every opportunity that their back-row or earned field position opens up for them.

All 34 players have the ability to seize a critical moment and be the match-winner and that is what big matches often come down to.

However, over the 80 minutes, the key players to put each team in the contest are obvious. For the Storm it is the big three plus Jesse Bromwich. For the Cowboys it is Jason Taumalolo and Michael Morgan. Lachlan Coote and Jake Granville will not be far behind if the Cowboys are to win.

It is near impossible to stop these key men. Your aim is limit their influence and the damage they do. How? For starters, pressure them, get to them quickly and never take your eye off them and their runners. Don’t give them field position, quick play the balls, penalties or 40/20s as attacking platforms for lift off.

Markers on either side have a huge responsibility to stop Smith dictating terms from dummy-half, blocking inside passes to Slater or Coen Hess, and preventing wrecking ball Taumalolo hitting maximum power with his speed and footwork.

The Storm might take a leaf out of their Andrew Fifita playbook by getting to Taumalolo quickly, taking him side on and have the first tackler go in low because he bounces away from chest-high tackles and keeps going.

In a team game, there is much to admire in these Grand Finalists: the players, the coaches, the clubs and a season’s hard work that could earn victory.

But a team is made up of individuals.

During the finals series, it’s been evident that players from the eight teams made uncharacteristic errors probably due to nerves or excitement. It hasn’t been only younger players but there have been some clangers.

For example, last weekend as Melbourne dusted Brisbane 30-0, there were tries bombed by the early-20s brigade in the Storm’s Suliasi Vunivalu, and Broncos’ Corey Oates and Tautau Moga.  Josh Addo-Carr and Nelson Asofa-Solomona were guilty of poor dropped balls as well though 34-year-old Billy Slater showed he’s not immune when he dropped a bomb that was a sitter. Mind you, the latter three also scored brilliant tries.

As the Cowboys rolled the Roosters 29-16, two overly long kick-restarts from 20-year-old Latrell Mitchell forfeited penalties and two dropped balls by 27-year old Blake Ferguson were body blows.

In a close game, one decision made in a millisecond, one momentary lapse of concentration or exhaustion, one missed tackle, one dropped ball or single penalty conceded by one individual could lose it.

Or one moment of individual genius might win it.

May the best team be 2017 Premiers.

My tip: Storm by 7.

 

NRL Preliminary Finals

by Warren Boland

Now just one win away from the Grand Final, three of the top four teams after round 26 have prospered to make it through to Week Three of the Finals.

The trio – the Storm, Roosters and Broncos – have been joined in the preliminary finals by the death-defying Cowboys who scraped into the final eight by the skin of their teeth but have now posted final series wins over the Sharks and the Eels.

Parramatta who had finished the regular season in fourth place self-destructed with bad handling against North Queensland.

The Cowboys played with a high completion rate, accurate kicking and overall control in the second half to pressure the Eels into error. As Eels coach Brad Arthur pinpointed, the superior finals experience of the Cowboys, and Michael Morgan in particular, exposed the nerves and tension in the Eels when they fell behind.

Ahead this weekend are two fascinating battles with the winners going to the Grand Final.

Storm v Broncos – AAMI Park – Friday  7.55pm

Melbourne are fresh from a week off after a narrow 18-16 win over Parramatta in Week One of the finals. The Storm’s performance was below their brilliant best but good enough to win.

The minor premiers  are carrying the burden of being clear favourites to win the Grand Final but their scare against the Eels should have shaken any complacency out of them.

The Storm have been the best in attack and defence throughout the season. While the star trio of  hooker Cameron Smith, half Cooper Cronk and fullback  Billy Slater dominate any analysis of the team’s ability and strategy, they have class in every position with a relentless pack of forwards and lethal strike-power across the backline.

No team executes their own game better than the Storm.

Brisbane repelled the Panthers 13-6 last weekend with a gritty defensive effort that was far more committed than their 24-22 loss to the Roosters the week before.

The return of captain Darius Boyd at fullback is a major boost. Boyd will keep the Broncos in shape in defence and edge attack, and his calm authority and talk will add to the Broncos’ confidence on the field.

The addition of Tevita Pangai Junior is a welcome injection of forward size and strength off the bench which has been noticeably lacking since Korbin Sims broke his arm. The Broncos have been making up for size with energy from the likes of Adam Blair and Josh McGuire but in finals you have to fight fire with fire.

The Broncos backs have speed and footwork in abundance. Given half a chance from broken play, Anthony Milford and James Roberts can cut any defence to pieces. Ben Hunt, Kodi Nikorima and Benji Marshall, off the bench this week, aren’t far behind.

But first the Broncos have to match Melbourne in the tough stuff – the battle for metres and quick play the balls, line speed, aggression, discipline, low error count and controlled kicking.  In the forwards, McGuire and punishing tackler Matt Gillett will have to lead the way against Jesse Bromwich and co.

Both teams have rock-wall defences on their own goal line.  It’s better to be aiming big attacking plays at them from thirty or forty metres out to score tries, and then falling back on a variety of kicks from close range to finish the set.

The Storm have an imposing record against their opponents. Brisbane have won only four of the last 29 meetings between the two.  Wayne Bennett will be thinking records are made to be broken as he goes up against his former assistant Craig Bellamy in another battle of the master coaches.

In front of their home crowd in Melbourne, and farewelling Cooper Cronk (again), it’s hard not to tip the Storm.

My tip: The Storm by 8

Roosters v Cowboys – Allianz Stadium – Saturday 7.40pm

Like the Storm, the Sydney Roosters are fresh from a week off after beating the Broncos in week one.  It was a strong performance with numerous flashes of brilliance from Luke Keary and Latrell Mitchell but there were lapses of concentration as well, most notably from Blake Ferguson when he tried to avoid a Marshall 40/20 only to donate a try to Corey Oates.

Too often the Roosters kicked ineffectively or too long, conceding a 20 tap and seven tackles.

The Chooks’ dynamic and experienced forward pack is peaking at the right time and will be a handful for the Cowboys who have a hard-working forward pack of the own, spearheaded by the unstoppable Jason Taumalolo.

The unexpected inclusion of prop Matt Scott in the possible reserves will bring a shot of enthusiasm to the the Cowboys even if he does not make the final seventeen. The representative prop hasn’t played since round two and was assumed to be out for the season but, with John Asiata and Coen Hess carrying injuries, Scott may be just what the doctor ordered.

For the Roosters, the tall Daniel Tupou, so good in the air, has been picked to start on the wing and the tough Zane Tetevano returns from suspension on the bench.

With half Michael Morgan steering the ship with control and threat, the Cowboys are playing wholeheartedly for each other though they’ll need to cover for rebounding grubber kicks after conceding two length of the field tries to Parramatta.

The winning of the game could well be in the hands of opposing half-backs Morgan and Mitchell Pearce or goal-kickers Ethan Lowe and Michael Gordon.

Both coaches Trent Robinson and Paul Green, in another case of master versus former apprentice, have a vital task to get the best out of their charges.

The Cowboys will have to dig deep into their energy reserves to repeat their two spirited, 80-plus minute efforts of the last fortnight.

The Roosters, on the other hand, freshened up and injury-free should be primed to fire but have struggled to produce a full 80-minutes of quality. Nevertheless, at home in Sydney, in sudden-death football, with a grand final berth waiting, it’s the time to do it.

My tip: Roosters by 4


If you want to read more from me about Week Two of the NRL Finals, go to ABC News at  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-18/warren-boland-the-question-nrl-finals/8955962?section=sport

And for my thoughts about the bunker and refereeing controversy in Week One of the Finals:  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-11/nrl-finals-bunker-use-causes-controversy-in-opening-week/8892832?section=sport


Don’t forget the PNG Hunters will meet the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Queensland Rugby League Intrust Super Cup Grand Final this Sunday September 24th at Suncorp Stadium.

Mark Braybrook and I will be calling the game live on 1116 4BC in Brisbane. Join us from 3pm as we preview the Grand Final which kicks off at 3.25pm.

Meanwhile the New South Wales Intrust Super Premiership will be decided this Sunday (September 24th 6.45pm) at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney when the Wyong Roos take on the Penrith Panthers.

 

 

NRL Finals Week 2

by Warren Boland

Week One of the finals produced four edge of the seat thrillers that went right to the wire.

In the first two matches between the top four teams,  the favourites – the Roosters and Storm – eventually prevailed.

But there were two upsets in the elimination matches between the 5th-8th placed teams. Penrith and North Queensland survived to make it through to Week Two while the bitterly disappointed Manly and Cronulla were shunted out of contention.

The Panthers had plenty of luck in two of their tries and the Sea Eagles were denied two near misses by the bunker.  It’s easy to understand Trent Barrett’s disappointment at the decisions but a coach or player who has just lost a big game is hardly the best judge of what’s fair and what isn’t, and who’s to blame.

The same applies to Shark’s coach Shane Flanagan. Shattered after his team led all the way until the 85th minute in extra-time, he described the refereeing as “disgraceful”.

His list of grievances with the on-field decisions has been shown to be half-right, half-wrong. As far as a completion rate of 60% and an 11-5 penalty count against Cronulla go, better for the Sharks to take a good, hard look in the mirror, as Roy and H.G. would say, before castigating the referee.

It’s knock-out football in Week Two of the Finals and it promises to be equally gripping.

Broncos v Panthers  – Suncorp – Friday 7.55pm

The Broncos, hit by several injuries in the past month, have suddenly become patchy particularly in defence. The absence of the aggressive Korbin Sims and 50-tackle-a-game workhorse Andrew McCulloch is starting to bite. Wayne Bennett has to decide whether his most effective starting front row should include the powerful Herman Ese’ese. He needs a bigger and better game from Sam Thaiday and Adam Blair respectively.

The Broncos desperately need Darius Boyd back at fullback to organise the defence, stabilise the attack and steady the halves but he is out for another week  with his hamstring injury. Last week the dangerous James Roberts barely saw the ball and Tautau Moga appeared to have caught finals fever nerves.

The Panthers are continuing to improve with Nathan Cleary’s kicking keeping them on course behind a strong forward pack and Josh Mansour’s early tackle runs.  Bryce Cartwright’s confidence is growing and he adds another dimension but the missing piece of the puzzle is still Matt Moylan.

Adding spice to a do or die battle is the duel between former and current Bronco coaches Anthony Griffin and Bennett  but it’s a tough ask for the Panthers to beat the Broncos in Brisbane.

My tip: Brisbane by 6.

Eels v Cowboys  –  ANZ Stadium – Saturday 7.40pm

None of the four teams in action this weekend have hit their straps but Parramatta are getting close. Once they got into the game against the Storm, the Eels gave the premiership favourites a scare.

Parramatta’s aggression and energy will be in the face of the Cowboys but it needs to be controlled, disciplined intimidation.

With Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman creating double-trouble, the Eels’s attack is both potent and poised.

The Cowboys are playing with great spirit on the back of the wild rhino charges of Jason Taumalolo and the cunning of the much-matured, big match winner Michael Morgan. The were positive signs last weekend that Coen Hess, Ethan Lowe and Lachlan Coote might be re-discovering their best at the right time as well.

Nevertheless the Cowboys will need to shake off an exhausting schedule, travelling from Townsville to Sydney two weekends in a row, and backing up only six days after playing a gruelling and emotion-sapping ten extra minutes against the Sharks.

My tip: Eels by 4

The Storm and Roosters have the week off to freshen up, rest injuries and prepare for the preliminary finals against the winners.

 

 

 

 

NRL Finals Week 1

by Warren Boland

Finals footy is in the air and the top eight teams have quickly moved on from the satisfaction of making the Finals Series to re-focus on the main prize, victory in the Grand Final on October 1st.

This weekend begins with two qualifying finals between the top four. The winners of both matches will be rewarded with a week off while the losers will box on, playing at home next week.

  • Roosters (2) v Broncos (3)   – Friday  7.55pm

The Roosters form has not been consistently convincing in the past month but they did show what they were capable of  in a 16-13 loss to Melbourne and a 16-14 win over Cronulla. Close to full strength, they’ve got all the bases covered.

The Broncos have lost some key players at the wrong time of the year. Brisbane were thrashed by Parramatta two weeks ago but bounced back to beat the Cowboys 20-10 last week when they lost the hard-to-replace Darius Boyd.

My tip: Roosters to win by 6.  However the silver lining for  the Broncos is that a loss will see them play next week at home at Suncorp Stadium against either Manly or Penrith. That would be very winnable particularly if Boyd is fit to return.

Storm (1)    v   Eels  (4)    – Saturday 4.10pm

The minor premiers Melbourne have shown no chink in their armour in attack or defence. They deserve to be favourites for the title but plenty can happen between now and Grand Final day.

Parramatta gave us not just a glimpse but an an eyeful of their brilliant best when they belted Brisbane 52-34 a fortnight ago.  With Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses calling the shots , the Eels should seriously test the Storm.

My tip: Storm by 6.

Now to the elimination finals between the fifth to eighth placed teams where it will be season over for the losers.

  • Sea Eagles (6)  v Panthers (7)   – Saturday 7.40pm

The ferocious onslaught from Manly eagle-rocked Penrith last Saturday 28-12 but can Manly repeat that intensity two weeks in a row, this time at Allianz Stadium not Brookvale?

The Panthers will be ready for them and should have learnt their lesson.

But Penrith are weakened and no doubt distracted by the curious absence of their star and captain Matt Moylan.

My tip: Manly by 8.

  • Sharks (5)  v Cowboys (8)      – Sunday 4.10pm

This knock-out match pits the 2016 Premiers against the 2015 Premiers.

Yet to really fire this season, the Sharks are laden with class, experience and ability. They welcome back from injury Jack Bird and could be about to explode into action.

The gutsy Cowboys have hung on by their finger nails to eighth place on the ladder. Some key injured players are back on the paddock but others are carrying injuries. Outstanding halfback Michael Morgan has proven all is not lost without Johnathon Thurston but it’s hard to replace the best.

My tip: Sharks by 10.

Enjoy the finals!

 

 

 

 

 

NRL Footy Tips Rd 26

by Warren Boland

UPDATE:

Results for final round (Rd 26):  6 / 8

Total for 2017 regular season : 135 / 192 = 70.3%

Please Note:  This is exactly the same total score that I tallied at the end of the 2016 season. Like refereeing, you can only ask for consistency….or possibly improvement!

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After more than six months of  regular season matches, the final eight will almost certainly not be decided until 6 o’clock this Sunday night.

That’s when the Dragons will walk off ANZ Stadium knowing whether they have beaten the Bulldogs, securing a win which should be enough for the Red V to sneak into the final series.

But there’s plenty of drama to come right across Round 26, the final round of the NRL.

Final positions from 2nd to 9th are yet to be nailed down.

What we do know is that Melbourne are streets ahead for the minor premiership, an outstanding achievement,  and that Canberra have missed out on playing in September, victims of too many narrow losses (seven defeats by six points or less, twice in golden point).

Currently second to fifth, the Roosters, Broncos, Eels and Sharks, can still shuffle the deck. While a top four finish is highly prized because it comes with a second chance in the finals, this year a fourth-placing is booby-trapped because its first up opponent will be the Storm in Melbourne.

Parramatta and the Roosters are firm favourites to win their matches, while Cronulla will know where they stand before they take the field in Newcastle on Sunday afternoon and could rest players.

The Broncos, however, coming off a shock 52-34 loss, face a ding-dong battle in Townsville against the desperate North Queensland.

Locked on 30 points, separated only by for-and-against from sixth to eighth, are the Panthers (+ 61),  the Cowboys (+34) and Sea Eagles (+24). None of the three can afford to lose because the ninth-on-the-ladder Dragons are breathing down their necks. St George-Illawarra, only one win behind them and holding a superior differential (+89), are poised to leapfrog any team who stumbles.

But stumble either Manly or Penrith must – because they play each other! The only way to avoid one of them losing is a golden point draw, a result that would surely bring a stewards inquiry.

Don’t miss the Saturday 5.30pm kick-off: Manly at home at Brookvale after scraping home in Golden Point last week versus Penrith in more convincing recent form but yet to declare whether the hamstrung but vital Matt Moylan will return this week.

What a nerve-wracking final round. It’s knock-out football come early!

Note: There is only one game on Friday but there is a late game on Sunday when the Wests Tigers meet the Warriors at Leichardt Oval at 6.30pm to end their seasons.  In all probability the Tigers would have to suffer a horror loss to get stuck with the wooden spoon which is on its way to Newcastle.

Here are my tips (winners in CAPITALS):

  • Cowboys v BRONCOS
  • EELS   v   Rabbitohs
  • ROOSTERS v Titans
  • Sea Eagles v PANTHERS
  • STORM  v  Raiders
  • Knights v SHARKS
  • DRAGONS v Bulldogs
  • TIGERS v Warriors

Last week: 4 / 8    Total : 129 / 184  = 70.1 %

Repeating : FINAL UPDATE:

Results for final round (Rd 26):  6 / 8

Total for 2017 regular season : 135 / 192 = 70.3%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NRL Footy Tips Rd 25

by Warren Boland

It doesn’t get any easier for tipsters this week with unpredictability written all over Round 25 of the NRL.

The second last round of the NRL is chock full of cracking clashes that could go either way.

The Broncos will be aiming to turn the tables on Parramatta when second-on-the ladder meets fifth. The Eels forwards got the upper hand in the second half in Round 21 when Parra won 28-14.

At Cronulla, it’s a toss-up between the Sharks and Roosters when fourth meets third. It will be much closer this time around than the Sharks 44-12 win in Round 17.

Canberra (10th) are still four points out of the top eight. The Raiders’ finals hopes are hanging by a mathematical thread, making it a must win against the Knights.

The Dragons (9th) have their season on the line with a tough game against Penrith (6th)  though the Panthers are without their spark plug, Matt Moylan. The Dragons are two points behind North Queensland and Manly equal on 28 points.

Suddenly out of form, losing four out their last five games, Manly (8th) are no sure things to beat the Warriors in Auckland, especially with Shaun Johnson returning from injury for the New Zealanders.

Equally desperate, hoping to end a four-game losing streak, the gallant but wounded Cowboys (7th) won’t have it all their own way against the newly competitive Tigers at Campbelltown.

Then there are two matches with plenty of question marks over them.

Will the Titans react to the sacking of coach Neil Henry with renewed vigour as often happens when a coach is shown the door?

Have the Titans’ opponents, the Bulldogs, turned the corner after they finally had a win last weekend against Manly or was it a false dawn?

Will Melbourne, having secured the minor premiership, drop their intensity against South Sydney?

Can the Rabbitohs add to their three wins in a row without try-scoring whiz Alex Johnston?

Here are my tips (winners in CAPITALS):

  • BRONCOS v Eels
  • RAIDERS v Knights
  • Tigers v COWBOYS
  • TITANS v  Bulldogs
  • STORM v Rabbitohs
  • SHARKS v Roosters
  • Warriors v SEA EAGLES
  • PANTHERS v Dragons

Last week:  6 / 8    Total: 125 / 176 = 71%