It’s a big week for the last four standing. The Storm and Panthers got a week off to refresh and the Rabbits and Raiders are proving to be a threat to the Minor Premiers Panthers and the Power House Storm.
In 2001 the Knights were up against the Cronulla Sharks who had Dally M winner Preston Campbell, and co-captains David Peachy and Jason Stevens. It was a big team with speed and skill. The week leading up to it was a nervous one. In 2000 we lost to the Sydney Roosters. It was in the back of my mind and it was an intense week, knowing we were one game away from the GF.
During the game it was tough and gruelling down the middle. Both forward packs were trying to gain field position and the skill and talent of the Sharks had us on edge knowing players like Presto and Peach could do the impossible.
Getting the win was a surreal moment. People cheering us back in town and bringing a buzz back to Newcastle which was going to be one of the biggest moments in my footy career at 20-years-old playing in a NRL Grand Final.
This week will be a nervous week for all teams. Stress levels will be high. The preparation for this week is to prepare for the unknown, prepare for every play, every second and every meter will count. Not thinking about the GF is hard but keeping focused that this week's game can make you or break you. Some players I have played with in rep teams have had regrets. The thought in their heads are if only I did this or the team did that. It’s something you don’t want to question yourself after a game. Some are still haunted by those moments.
Penrith Panthers vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
Panthers have been the best team this year and proved it by claiming the minor premiership. Having a week off with so many young confident (but not experienced) finals players, we will see in the first 20 minutes of where their heads are at and how they stick to their structure.
Two players to watch are Api Koroisau and Nathan Cleary. Api has been the buy of the year. He has great control in the ruck, a good relationship with his halves, and is a great runner out of dummy half. Nathan Cleary has been the best halfback in the competition this year. The biggest part I have to like is his kicking game. Cleary leads the competition in kicking yards at 9,566m, leads in fields goals with 4 this year, leads in all kicks with 338 and leads in 40/20’s with 4.
These 2 players will be picking off any player that switches off at crucial times.
Two Rabbitohs players to watch are the the halves Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds. Cody has stepped up into another gear this year, especially mid-year when Reynolds was injured. He changed the structure and attacking plays, and Cody –with Latrell Mitchell – blew teams off the park.
When Adam Reynolds returned he slipped straight into the pattern and adapted himself into building a deadly combination with Cody and Damien Cook. Adam is the leading point scorer this season with 217 points. They have leading top try scorer Alex Johnson as well. Souths are going to apply pressure anywhere at anytime on the field.
Melbourne Storm vs. Canberra Raiders
Raiders have had success and I don’t think they will be intimidated by the power house of the Melbourne Storm. Ricky Stuart seems to know how to get his boys prepared for big teams and the Raiders get another crack to get into the GF after losing last year against the Roosters.
The two players to watch are Jack Whighton and Josh Papalii. Jack has only played 5/8th for the last couple of years but seems to get better every year. He has become a player who wins games on his own and not many players can do that. He is big, fast and is a Mr competitive. Watch his kick chase efforts and his running game 10 meters out from the try line. He will take every opportunity to score and will be a threat to Melbournes edges.
Josh Papalii has to be the best front-rower this year. Next closest to him would be Junior Paulo but Josh is a machine and seems to have a Mac Truck engine on him. He dominated the Roosters middle last week which is a hard thing to do to a back to back Premiership forward back. Josh has footwork, an offload game and can score tries for his side. Without Jack and Josh, Canberra wouldn’t of reached this stage. They play big rolls and are a big threat when it comes down to making big plays and big games.
Two players to watch in the Storm team are Ryan Papenhuyzen and Justin Olam. Ryan has made this position his and has been a key player for the Storm team. He is everywhere and in everything. He gets himself in the right position to be a support and finisher or setting up players on the edges with speed and skill. Also watch out for Justin Olam the PNG international. Justin’s game in the back end of the season has grown, he has broken his opposition centres and every run he makes looks like he wants to hurt you. His combination with Addo-Carr makes them a deadly combination. The timing and space he gives Addo-Carr, you can guarantee a spectacular finish.