The time of the year all footy fans crave is finally here with the much-awaited 2012 NRL Finals kicking off with four sensational games this weekend for the qualifying and elimination round.
First up in tonight’s supercharged Friday night clash is the blockbuster of the week with this year’s minor premiers hosting the reigning premiership winners, Manly Sea Eagles, at ANZ Stadium.
We are sticking with all four NRL Finals Week 1 favourites in the NRL odds at bookmaker.com.au!
The Canterbury Bulldogs were in flying form throughout the middle of the season winning every game from Round 11 right through until their big 34 – 6 loss at the hands of the Canberra Raiders in Round 25.
Last week they got back up however to reboot their confidence heading into the finals with a 42 – 10 win over the Roosters securing their spot at the top of the NRL Premiership betting markets at bookies around the country.
Tonight they play the fourth-placed Sea Eagles who will go into the game as the underdogs despite their 24 – 16 win over the Titans in the final round, and the Doggies will be feeling good thanks to their bucket load of trophies at this year’s Dally M awards.
Expect a close one here with the teams having won four each out of the last eight played, but on paper Manly hold the advantage having won three of the past four and five from eight at ANZ Stadium over Canterbury.
The action continues on Saturday with two pivotal matches.
The first is at AAMI Park with the second-placed Melbourne Storm hosting the third-ranked South Sydney Rabbitohs in one cracker of a line-up.
The winner of this game, along with that of tonight’s, will earn a week’s rest to recover ahead of the NRL week three finals.
Melbourne overcame a nasty mid-season slump that saw them lose their originally tight stranglehold over the minor premiership and regained form at the right time.
They go into this one on the back of five straight wins, the most recent of which was a smart 26 – 6 victory over one of the season’s biggest disappointments, the Wests Tigers.
The Rabbitohs meanwhile are also going into the finals in the right frame of mind and form following their well-earned 18 – 6 win over the Newcastle Knights last Friday night.
The Bunnies will go out as the underdogs here but it will be anything but a walk in the park for the Storm.
Melbourne do thrive at finals time however and are desperate to get a Grand Final win back on their record following the stripping last year.
Looking at recent history the Storm certainly deserve their favourite status too with the Rabbitohs having won just two of their past eight games against Melbourne.
The second NRL final on Saturday night is a much more crucial one with the losing team out for good.
It is a Queensland derby too to heighten the excitement and passion with the fifth-placed North Queensland Cowboys hosting their lucky-to-be-here Brisbane Broncos up at Dairy Farmers Stadium.
Cowboys will be the well-deserved shorties in the markets and really they are going to be hard to beat having had a beautiful end of the season run.
Last week they ran away with a 36 – 22 victory over Cronulla at Shark Park which was their fourth on the trot following victories over the Knights (Round 25), Dragons (Round 24) and Warriors (Round 23).
Brisbane meanwhile is going to have to dig deep and give it everything to make this a respectable scoreline.
Something went amiss at the Broncos camp heading into the pointy end of the season and they lost six straight games before finally scraping into the top eight with an unconvincing 19 – 12 victory over the Panthers last Friday night.
There won’t be many taking Brisbane even at their juicy $2.75 price but it is finals time and anything is possible.
The fans will be in a frenzy too with the Cowboys and Broncos having played each other just once before in a finals match when North Queensland won bragging rights with a 10 – nil win back in 2004.
Brisbane were also kept scoreless the last time they met the Cowboys when the score red 12 – 0 at Dairy Farmers back in Round 15.
The week’s action comes to an end on Sunday afternoon with the last of the elimination finals with this year’s surprise package – the Canberra Raiders – hosting the Cronulla Sharks at Canberra Stadium.
The Green Machine finished the season sixth on the ladder thanks to some massive end of season victories including their 42 – 22 victory over the Warriors last Sunday, the aforementioned 34 – 6 win over the minor premiers, and looking further back their 28 – 12 win over the Broncos in Round 22.
The Sharks meanwhile have been a bit hit and miss when it counts frustrating their fans with their highs like a 45 – 4 win over the Warriors in Round 22 to performances like last weeks’ 22 – 36 loss to the Cowboys.
Surprisingly Cronulla have a good recent record down in the nation’s capital winning four of their past six games down in Canberra, and with a full team and big game credentials they aren’t a write off to make it another.
So who will still be standing after the Qualifying and Elimination NRL 2012 Finals play out this week?
See below for our match and margin tips for each week to see which team your money should be on in the bookmaker.com.au NRL betting markets for this weekend.
2012 NRL Finals – Qualifying & Elimination Week 1
Friday September 7, 2012 (7:45pm) – ANZ StadiumBulldogs by 6
Saturday September 8, 2012 (5:45pm) – AAMI ParkStorm by 12
Saturday September 8, 2012 (7:45pm) – Dairy Farmers StadiumCowboys by 14
Sunday September 9, 2012 (4:00pm) – Canberra StadiumRaiders by 10
*All odds quoted are provided by bookmaker.com.au and subject to change