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From The Couch: Finals Week 1

Breakdown - Canterbury v Manly: No game was more finals than the clash between minor premiers Canterbury and defending premiers Manly.
From The Couch: Finals Week 1
by NRL

Breakdown - Canterbury v Manly: No game was more finals than the clash between minor premiers Canterbury and defending premiers Manly. There was the sub-text of Des Hasler with the Tony Williams move next year also simmering below the surface. These two had played two crackers already and this would be the third. Manly had all the running - and all the calls - early but couldn't put any points on. When Canterbury went up 6-0, Jamie Lyon went off hurt and Manly resorted to fighting, it looked all one-way traffic to the Bulldogs. But then they went to sleep and Manly scored two tries - including nice bulldozing effort from Tony Williams that put Brett Stewart over.

Manly had the lead and the upper hand at the break - but they offered little in the second half and Canterbury skipped away with a nice solo effort from Kris Keating before a length-of-the-field team try finished by Ben Barba. The game grinded down with the Bulldogs victorious 16-10. Manly rely heavily on their pack but there is no question the more dynamic Canterbury forwards comprehensively flogged Manly. Tony Williams was decent, Anthony Watmough caused some issues and Darcy Lussick made in-roads but Sam Kasiano, Aiden Tolman, James Graham, Josh Jackson and to a lesser extent Frank Pritchard won the wrestle and the ruck. Kris Keating was a standout surprise for the Bulldogs. He is no superstar but he has been playing his role well. For Manly, they face injury and suspension dramas and with Brett Stewart out of nick, a bang-bang exit is very much on the cards, particularly if the pack doesn't muscle up against Canterbury. For Canterbury, they have landed on the good side of the draw and have a week off. With a premiership coach in Hasler, the Bulldogs will be timed to the tee for the preliminary final. The only real concern is the worrisome defence of Jonathan Wright and Krisnan Inu's shaky handling.

Breakdown - Melbourne v South Sydney: I figured South Sydney to be a chance in this - they were gone after five minutes. Michael Maguire would have been furious with how insipid Souths were early - and how scared key players like Dave Taylor, John Sutton and Adam Reynolds played. There is no doubting the Storm's defensive structure and commitment - it was first class, as usual. But their attack was far from devastating with Cooper Cronk having an off-night with his hands and Billy Slater kept well in check. The Storm simply took full advantage of poor Souths fringe defence and poor positional play. It was the Storm to a tee. Melbourne's premiership aspirations are now back on track. Souths' are in tatters. They can bounce back at ANZ but finding the required confidence is going to be a tough task in a week against a red-hot Raiders team.

Breakdown - North Queensland v Brisbane: This game went fairly much as expected with the classier North Queensland side finishing off a Brisbane team that limped into the finals. Brisbane almost never do well when limping in - and this was no exception. The Cowboys were given chance after chance as the Broncos made mistake after mistake. The Broncos pack could not stop the rampaging Cows and the backline was well outclassed. Particularly poor were fullback Josh Hoffman and winger Gerard Beale - two internationals who may not be as good as advertised. While the Broncos are on their way home, the Cowboys must travel to make the Grand Final. They are strong enough across the park to go all the way - they just need to get some confidence playing in Sydney. Michael Morgan has been a real find while Kane Linnett is the perfect centre for finals footy. They are certainly capable of meeting Manly this week.

Breakdown - Canberra v Cronulla: The only day-time game of the finals - a disgrace in itself - was chock-o-block with the game a sell-out. It was a testament to the Canberra fans (though not the ACT Government, who have given little to rugby league including decent infrastructure around Bruce Stadium), who played a big role in getting the home team the win. Cronulla got on top early but after about 15 minutes, traffic was mainly one way. This was primarily thanks to the incompetence of late inclusion Isaac Gordon and named fullback Matthew Wright. Shane Flanagan pulled the wrong rein here. Both ranged from totally ineffective to downright hopeless. The young Raiders though, they deserve credit for the win. The forwards - Fensom and Papalii - looked to dominate early and they did. Sam Williams played one of his best top grade games. Blake Ferguson was right up for the clash with his old club. The Raiders are flying and get a winnable game against Souths next week. They just need to go with the same intensity and we could see the Raiders in a prelim for the first time since 1997. One of either Canberra or Souths will play in their first prelim of the NRL era - the only two teams not to have played in one.

Who Should Win Your Club Best and Fairest: A look at who should win the best and fairest award at all 16 clubs.

Brisbane: Alex Glenn topped the Broncos' tryscoring tally with 13 and was a hard worker with 103 metres and 22 tackles a game. While many of the Broncos' stars struggled, Glenn stood up. Ran third among forwards in the NRL for tackle breaks with 85.

Canberra: Shaun Fensom is one of the best defensive players in the NRL, averaging 43 tackles a game. This year, his attack improved immensely, Fensom making 106 metres a game and racking up 48 tackle breaks and 21 offloads.

Canterbury: Without question, Ben Barba has been Canterbury's best this year, winning the club's first major individual medal since Ewan McGrady in 1991. Barba was magnificent, going back-to-back in the top tryscorer count while leading the NRL in line breaks (25) and tackle breaks (169).

Cronulla: Todd Carney has made a world of difference and Bryce Gibbs has been excellent but without question Cronulla's best was Paul Gallen. In 18 games, Gallen averaged an astonishing 194 metres a match (50 more than the second-best forward) and finished sixth among forwards for tackle breaks with 70.

Gold Coast: Four of the Titans' forwards were real close in this: Nate Myles, Luke Bailey, Luke Douglas and Greg Bird. Myles probably just pipped Bird after a super season where his workrate was phenomenal. His versatility and leadership were also positives for the Titans.

Manly: Jamie Lyon is without question the best centre in the competition and has had another phenomenal season where he has scored nine tries and set up a further 17 - the next best effort from a centre in term of assists is Brent Tate with 12 with Justin Hodges third with six. There is an argument that Lyon rates as the best centre since Mal Meninga.

Melbourne: Cooper Cronk had arguably his best season with a combined 42 tries/try assists, one of only three players to reach the 40 mark. Stepped up as a leader the last few years and throughout the early part of the season controlled all of Melbourne's attack. An utter professional who has excelled in his first year as Australia's No.1 halfback.

Newcastle: I won't ask Akuila Uate to make a speech but he has been without question the Knights' best this year. Uate scored 19 tries, finished in a tie for first with 25 line breaks and fourth in tackle breaks with 122. Had some down moments but was very good at his best.

New Zealand: Despite being dropped by Tony Iro for the season finale, Shaun Johnson ran a very close second to Feleti Mateo. Mateo led the NRL in offloads and the Warriors tended to look better when Mateo was on the field and running straight. His best season in first grade since 2008.

North Queensland: Matt Bowen has been rejuvenated this season and should beat off a hot field that includes Johnathan Thurston and James Tamou. Bowen scored 12 tries and led all fullbacks in try assists with 26. It has been vintage Bowen this year with the beloved No.1 a driving force behind the Cowboys' premiership push this year.

Parramatta: A much-improved showing from Jarryd Hayne means he just pips Nathan Hindmarsh. Hayne played just 15 club games and was nowhere near his best but still averaged 147 metres a game and had a hand in 22 tries. Still inconsistent but there was some upside with him - more than can be said about most Eels in 2012.

Penrith: Prop forward Tim Grant made his Origin debut and was the only player on big money at the club not to be shopped around or dropped to reserve grade. Went at 118/26 and usually bent the line back.

St George Illawarra: Trent Merrin is an underrated player: big and strong, he has big lungs and a huge heart to go with delicate footwork and a high football IQ. Merrin averaged 125 metres and 31 tackles a game with 41 tackle breaks and 47 offloads. Few props are as dangerous.

South Sydney: Greg Inglis' switch to fullback set the Bunnies alight. He was absolutely brilliant on both sides of the ball. Arguably his best season and he has had some good 'uns.

Sydney Roosters: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was the best of an ordinary lot with no real standout at the Tricolours this year. At least the Kiwi prop had a dip.

Wests Tigers: Benij Marshall has the numbers, Robbie Farah the stature but it is big prop Aaron Woods who was the Tigers' most consistent player in 2012 with 138 metres and 35 tackles a match.

Thanks to NRL Stats for the use of their stats

Roosters Chop Smith: The Sydney Roosters had little choice but to dump Brian Smith. The groundwork had been laid for a decent future but the coach was turning the players off. It is the traditional way of Brian Smith. Smith has now coached five premiership teams and is still chasing his first premiership. His time at the Roosters had early success - his stints usually do. There is no question that he is a fine developer of talent. But his mind games are wearing, his persona eccentric and his intensity draining. It was clear from early this year that Brian Smith was not going to have his contract extended

Meaningless Field Goal Update: Nice work, Matt Bowen, who celebrated game 250 with a meaningless field goal to make the final in the Broncos game 33-16. It was the fifth drop goal of the year.

If League Had A Father-Son Rule: If we had a father-son rule, which the NRL should, the following players would be at different clubs if the cut-off was 100 first grade games:

Bryson and Bronx Goodwin (St George Illawarra)
Ryan Hoffman (Canberra)
William Hopoate (Manly)
Brett and Josh Morris (St George Illawarra)
Daniel Mortimer (Canterbury)
Mitchell Pearce (Wests Tigers)
Joel Reddy (St George Illawarra)
Curtis Sironen (Wests Tigers)
Dean Young (St George Illawarra)

Other players whose fathers played premiership football: Jarryd Hayne, Justin Horo, Cameron King, Lachlan Maranta, Jarrod Mullen, Matt Ryan

Injury Report: The biggest concern heading into week two of the finals is the injury to Manly centre Jamie Lyon, who hobbled off injured in the first half against Canterbury.

Todd Carney (Cronulla): Hurt his ankle in the second half of the elimination final against Canberra. Immediately went off and was on crutches. Surgery seems likely.

Jarrod Croker (Canberra): Broke his jaw and has been ruled out for the year. Edrick Lee may get a recall.

Matt King (South Sydney): The Bunnies centre broke his arm and is now out for the year. Justin Hunt looms as his likely replacement.

Jamie Lyon (Manly): Played just 23 minutes against the Bulldogs before hobbling off injured with a calf injury. Is no better than a 50-50 shot of tackling the Cowboys. His absence would be a huge blow for the Eagles.

Aaron Payne (North Queensland): Played only 10 minutes before picking up a knee injury that could be career-ending. Is in major doubt for the Manly clash.

Tony Williams (Manly): Looked to hyperextend his knee against Canterbury. Hobbled off. Will almost certainly play the Cowboys.

Fun Fact : Canberra's last home finals win before Sunday's 34-16 win over Cronulla was against Penrith in 2000, when the Raiders won 34-16.

Fun Fact : The last time Brian Smith did not have a contract to coach a team in the Australian premiership or English top league was 1983.

Fun Fact : Brian Smith has coached against 94 different coaches in the Sydney premiership including four he coached: Nathan Brown, Jim Dymock, Matt Elliott and Jason Taylor.

Rumour Mill: Michael Jennings is right in the mix to be at Parramatta next season. The Panthers are still trying to punt him and he is very close to incoming coach Ricky Stuart. Speculation is rife that rugby union player Quade Cooper will be at the Roosters next year, with Sonny Bill Williams. The Roosters certainly have the cap room, and the cash since going cheap with Trent Robinson. Kalifa Faifai-Loa is looking to move to Cronulla. He would be a great fit. Despite denials, Brian Smith will still very much be in the reckoning for the Warriors job. The club doesn't need a rebuild but it needs a culture change. David Stagg could be off to Melbourne next year, as a like-for-like replacement for Todd Lowrie. Justin Horo looks likely to join him.

Power Rankings:
1. Canterbury 19-6 (1)
2. Melbourne 18-7 (4)
3. North Queensland 16-9 (5)
4. Manly 16-9 (1)
5. Canberra 14-11 (6)
6. South Sydney 16-9 (3)

What I Like About ... Trent Robinson: There are plenty of reasons. For starters, he was a damn good price to win the Roosters job. Second, he is not Brian Smith. Third, he has such respect for his players, he went to the effort to learn French as coach of Catalans. Fourth, he played just four first grade games, making him the least capped first grade coach heading into the 2013 season outside of Wayne Bennett (who played senior football in the BRL) and Anthony Griffin.

Betting Market of the Week: Michael Maguire's reaction when he realises that Dave Taylor is no longer a Rabbitoh:

- "Oh drats, we have lost an Origin forward": $26
- "How the hell is he going to find his way out of Redfern?": $8
- "What a bum": $3.25
- "At least I never have to watch him play another finals game in red and green": $2.10

Moniker XIII of the Week: This week we look at the greatest tryscorers in finals history and the most prolific tryscorers by position in premiership finals history.

1.Anthony Minichiello (13 in 21 games - Sydney Roosters)
2. Eddie Lumsden (17 in 21 games - St George)
3. Reg Gasnier (14 in 17 games - St George)
4. Ian Moir (13 in 14 games - South Sydney, Western Suburbs)
5. Johnny King (14 in 20 games - St George)
6. Brett Kenny (14 in 19 games - Parramatta)
7. Allan Langer (10 in 23 games - Brisbane)
13. Les Cowie (13 in 17 games - South Sydney)
12. Bob McCarthy (12 in 16 games - South Sydney, Canterbury)
11. Steve Menzies (11 in 20 games - Manly)
10. Jack Rayner (9 in 18 games - South Sydney)
9. Shaun Berrigan (6 in 18 games - Brisbane, Canberra)
8. Frank O'Connor (6 in 10 games - South Sydney)

The Coaching Crosshairs: Stephen Kearney. Brian McClennan. Brian Smith. Three coaches have been shown the door this year and the carnage may not have finished yet with the Wests Tigers reportedly shopping their coach Tim Sheens. Sheens is on a big-money deal and the Tigers won't pay him out but if he can score the Warriors job or perhaps even the Dragons, he will be released.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: Ben Pomeroy last week became the first person whacked over the new shoulder charge crackdown, outed for two weeks after smacking into Jonathan Thurston's head, allegedly. The Sharks challenged. They lost. Some believe the challenge was to ensure the Penguin was not available for the first two final, if required.

Game of the Year Nomination, Finals Week One: Canterbury-Manly, 16-10. A brutal game of football - tough, intense, feisty, tight, ferocious. There was no disputing how hard these two went and it would not shock to see these two tangle for a fourth time. This had the real stink of finals football to it, interspersed with some real moments of brilliance. The highlight was Ben Barba's try after Josh Morris' long sideline run but the way the game played out - like a long Italian lunch - building and building and building was what got this over the line.

Correspondence Corner: Anonymous, Josh Morris won the Dally M Centre of the Year so I don't think the call was that ridiculous.

Rohan, I did not count minnow nation representation.

Col Quinn, Colin Best should have been selected twice: early in his career and while he was at Canberra. The Colin Best Express was all class. Rarely out of position, rarely made the wrong decision.

Jeff McGinn, thanks - the Storm were 2007 and 2009 premiers, full stop. And the Penguin, I reckon he'd have a laugh.

RMS, it will be interesting to see how the Tigers react to the Tim Sheens situation. I think he will go if they can split the costs with another club but won't simply fire him considering what he earns.

Dan, it may well have been Jamie Soward's farewell too.

Rocky, I like your countback system and it may well be implemented in 2013 for the Willie M Medal.

Labrat, I don't think there is any question that Parramatta will go into next season as wooden spoon favourites. It would depend what price was quoted but they would certainly be in the reckoning.

Zig, I went down to Canberra to see the Raiders following the Bulldogs. Very good weekend. I am fleeing overseas to deal with the post-football Blues.

Tiger Tiger Catchy Monkey, the Tigers have a few quality options: Rick Stone, Daniel Anderson, Mick Potter.

Andrew, your union bashing is appreciated.

Beard Watch: It was the battle of the beards in Friday night's first qualifying final with the Bulldogs led by bearded boys Sam Kasiano and Frank Pritchard and ably backed-up by trainer Tony Grimaldi while the Eagles fielded a host of beards including the Stewart boys and Jason King. In the end, the bigger beards won.

Join Us: If you like From The Couch and you like Making The Nut, join the Making The Nut Facebook page. Trust me: you'll enjoy it.

Chasing Greatness: Anyone looking for inspiration, rugby league style, should check out my new book Chasing Greatness, available in all good book stores. I've pulled the best quotes from Jack Gibson and Arthur Beetson to Bob Bax and Royce Simmons.

Watch It: For no reason in particular, this week we go back to 1981 to watch the opening five minutes of the Tooth Cup clash between Newtown and Brisbane from Lang Park. There were some huge names - including three Immortals for Brisbane - while the Jets had some quality types including Ken Wilson, John Ferguson and Phil Sigsworth. Watch it here.

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