This weekend the penultimate week of NRL finals football plays out with two cracking Preliminary Finals matches to determine who plays in Sunday week’s 2016 NRL Grand Final.
Last week’s semis knocked out the 2014 runners-up Brisbane who went down in extra-time in another incredible Queensland Derby with the Cowboys, while the young Panthers had their winning streak ended by the season’s surprise package the Raiders.
After the tough 90 minutes of play with their big brothers the Broncos last Friday night, North Queensland now head down to Allianz Stadium to take on the Sharks and attempt to keep their dream of back-to-back Premiership wins alive.
Saturday night has the Canberra Raiders in Melbourne at AAMI Park taking on the Minor Premiers the Storm.
Who will make it to NRL Grand Final Day on Sunday, October 2? Check out our full NRL Week 3 Finals preview below complete with the latest NRL odds from Ladbrokes.com.au – home of Footy Freaks!
2016 NRL Week 3 Finals Draw
Cronulla Sharks ($2.20) vs North Queensland Cowboys ($1.82)
Friday September 23, 7:55pm, Allianz Stadium
Tip: Cowboys by 1 – 12 @ $3.05 through Ladbrokes.com.au
The reigning Premiers had to dig deep last Friday night in a typically tough showdown with the Broncos, including their captain Johnathan Thurston fighting through a virus to stay on the field for not just 80 minutes, but 10 of extra time too.
His brilliance on the boot (and getting kicked by that of an opposition player) won them the game (26 – 6) as we had so predicted, and now they’re heading south for cooler weather to take on Cronulla.
The Sharks enjoyed a week on the bench resting for this do-or-die shot at a Grand Final spot after their upset 16 – 14 win over the Raiders in week one of the finals, just their second win from their past seven played at the tail-end of the season.
Whether the rest works for or against them will be decided on the field on Friday night, but the odds say the Cowboys can win despite the fact their opposition welcome back skipper Paul Gallen and likely Wade Graham who suffered a concussion early on last game.
From 40 games played between the two the stats are in favour of the Sharks (24 wins to the Cowboys’ 16), but from 2004 – now North Queensland have won 15 from 26 against Cronulla.
They are four each from the past eight played, but at this venue the Cowboys have lost their past five games played against any club with their last Allianz Stadium win being back in 2010.
Stats aren’t the only things to go on though. The guts and determination of the Cowboys cannot be discounted and it’s a tough match to call.
That said there has to be a winner and the finals experience of North Queensland has them just ahead, stopping Cronulla from getting one closer to an elusive Premiership.
Melbourne Storm ($1.46) vs Canberra Raiders ($3.15)
Saturday September 24, 7:40pm, AAMI Park
Tip: Melbourne by 1 – 12 @ $2.95 through Ladbrokes.com.au
Premiership favourites Melbourne ($2.50) get the home game advantage as the look to salute for the punters as firm favourites at AAMI Park to end the fairy-tale footy season of the Raiders.
Week one of the finals saw the Storm defeat the Cowboys by six giving them last week on the sidelines to gear up for their match against Canberra who ran away (22 – 12) over Penrith last Saturday night.
All the money is on the Storm, but it might not be as sure a result as the bookies’ predictions.
It is first vs second as they finished up on the NRL ladder at the end of the season, and the best four teams of the year are all facing off this weekend as it should be.
Statistics are firmly in favour of Melbourne here who have won 26 to the Raiders’ 11 from 37 played between these two, but the momentum is all for Canberra who have now won 11 of their past 12 games played over the past few months.
That’s pretty imposing form and they line-up the same as last weekend, including their superstar right edge of Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana who are a try-scoring force that are hard to stop.
Melbourne have the Grand Final appearance to play for as well as posting a win for Cooper Cronk’s 300th appearance. Cameron Smith is only the second Storm player to hit this milestone and he’ll be right there beside his teammate on Saturday night.
There’s no knocking the powerhouse form of the Raiders all season, but have to side with Melbourne at home for this all-important sudden-death showdown.
*All odds quoted are provided by Ladbrokes.com.au and subject to change