Cronulla Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys
The Sharks enjoyed a week off and it was much needed after their bruising, yet spirited win over the Raiders in Canberra during Week 1 of the Finals. After the withdrawal of Gallen prior to KO, losing Wade Graham within 10 minutes due to concussion and have less possession in the first half, things were not looking good. Yet they were able to fight back and record a 16-14 victory, which was built upon the fact that they were able to keep the Raiders scoreless from the 45th minute. The week off also allowed them the opportunity to rest their bodies and prepare for this match. Although you cannot quickly forget that they have won just 2 games in their past 7 outings. The Cowboys have much more momentum, rebounding from a Week 1 loss to the Storm to capture an extra-time victory over the Broncos in Townsville. In one hell of an exciting encounter, the Cowboys had to fight from behind after the Broncos jumped to an early lead. In the end, staying in the battle allowed their superstar half, Thurston, to produce a magic play to get them over the line. The relentless tough matches is bound to take its toll on the Cowboys at some stage but while they’re in this position, they will be up for a fight and well equipped for the impending intensity. These two sides have met twice this season already and share the spoils, nevertheless, the Sharks will be desperate to erase the 39-nil memory of their last semi-final meeting in 2016. Thankfully, this game will not take place in Townsville as that game did.
Sharks = Paul Gallen (injury) is named at lock, forcing Jayson Bukuya back to the bench. Sam Tagataese is named as 18th man.
Cowboys = Kane Linnett (injury) returns in the centres, pushing Javid Bowen to the wing and Kalyn Ponga out of the team.
Overall = Sharks 21 Cowboys 15
Last 5 matches = Sharks 3 Cowboys 2
At Allianz Stadium = Sharks 48% Cowboys 33%
Form = Sharks 1 win – Cowboys 1 win
The Sharks find themselves as outsiders heading into this game but they are firming up in most markets. This is no surprise and this match is far closer than the odds suggest. The Cowboys have numerous factors working against them; they have a 33.3% winning record on the road and they haven’t won a Finals match at this ground since 2005. Of the Cowboys 4 wins away from home this year, only 2 of them were in Sydney. Unfortunately for the Sharks, their 91.6% winning record at home this season will count for nothing as the match is played at Allianz. If they are to win, the Sharks need to tighten up their play; they average 9.8 errors per game compared with the Cowboys 9.0 errors per game. The fatigue that the Cowboys will have on the back of their previous few matches will be high and without some notable regular first-grade players, they will struggle to match what the Sharks have. Just because they will struggle, doesn’t necessarily mean that they cannot win this game. They are a very good chance of winning; hence why they’re favorites but the Sharks appear to be offering more. The power-game that the Cowboys generate through the middle is a game they like to play, while their defence on the edges has what it takes to stop the Cowboys threats. In the two matches between these teams this year, the Sharks defence has been responsible to upsetting the Cowboys momentum and pressure is again expected to come relentlessly. Both of those meetings were decided by less than 6 points and there is no doubt that this game will likely go the same way, albeit, with the outsiders prevailing.
Either team under 6.5 points @ $2.50
Murky water = Sharks 1-12 @ $3.20 – Given the “Suggested Bet” and that the Sharks appear more than capable of causing an upset, the preferred margin selection lies within this range.
Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders
The Storm enjoyed a week off after their commanding win over the Cowboys in Week 1 of the Finals. The Final score was 16-10, but there was a sense that the Storm were always in control of the result. Their forwards controlled the middle well and they limited the Cowboys attacking weapons; who subsequently went on to dominate last week. This game also marks Cooper Cronk’s 300th match and this team will be out to make the most of that event and the opportunity to move into the Grand Final. The Raiders travel south with a strong record in Melbourne and a boost in confidence after recording a 22-12 win over the Panthers. Week 1 didn’t go according to plan for them and it was important that they came out and put a loss to the Sharks behind them. Thankfully, they had several key players available to lift their performance to get them over the line. They too dominated from start to finish, with a lapse in focus in the closing 20 minutes allowing the Panthers to build momentum to get within 6-points of leveling scores. What was most concerning about this was the way their opponents went about it, creating momentum in the middle and tiring the big Raiders pack out with speed. The Storm will look to do the same here, while also nullifying the second-phase play that is an asset to the Raiders. The two sides play very different attacking games and witnessing a battle of the two teams at their best will be thrilling viewing for all involved.
Storm = Nelson Asofa-Solomona (injured) is yet to be replaced, with Christian Welch, Matt White and Felise Kaufusi all a chance of featuring.
Raiders = Unchanged.
Overall = Storm 26 Raiders 11
Last 5 matches = Storm 3 Raiders 2
At AAMI Park = Storm 74% Raiders 60%
Form = Storm 2 wins – Raiders 1 win
The Raiders are walking wounded into this game and there is real doubt over whether or not the injury-plagued team will be able to compete with the might of the Storm. The fact that they performed so well against the Panthers suggests that they will be ready for the contest, but the Storm will offer a new challenge altogether. The first hurdle for the Raiders will be upsetting the Storm at home, something that has occurred just twice this season, as their 83.3% home record is far superior to the Raiders 63.6% road record. However, the Raiders have won 3 out of the past 4 matches against the Storm at this venue, with their most recent match being a 28-14 loss in Round 19, 2014. The Raiders ambushed the Storm in Canberra in Round 23, recording a 22-8 point victory, as even a superior possession statistic doing little to get them over the line. Nevertheless, the Storm a far better team now than they were back then. Expect the score to be low, both teams with at 15th and 16th on the missed tackles for the season; the Raiders miss an average of 22.4 per game and the Storm 21.2 per game. The fact that the Storm have more power in their running game suggests that they have what it takes to beat the Raiders. They average 1599.6 running metres per game, compared with the Raiders 1540.6 per game. Combine this with a host of other statistics against the Raiders and the chance that they can win this game on enemy territory looks slim. Expect the home team to power towards the Grand Final, although they will have to work hard against the Raiders. The pressure they build will lead to mistakes and once that happens, expect the Storm to capitalise. As for the margin, the margin has been over 13-points in the past 3 out of 5 wins the Storm have had over the Raiders. It is semi-final intensity, so expect the score to be close initially, but the Storm will be too strong in the end and get out to a comfortably victory.
Storm -6.5 @ $1.90
Storming into the decider = Storm 13+ @ $2.70 – AS mentioned above, the Storm have a history of comfortable wins over the Raiders and this game should be no different. The visitors are banged up with injuries and