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Preview of NRL week two finals

Preview of NRL elimination finals (all times AEST):
Preview of NRL week two finals
by AAP

By Laine Clark

Sept 19 AAP - Preview of NRL elimination finals (all times AEST):

FRIDAY, September 20

Manly v Cronulla at Allianz Stadium, 7.45pm

Head to Head: Sea Eagles 56, Sharks 23, drawn 2.

Last clash: Sea Eagles 25 bt Sharks 18 at Brookvale Oval, Rd 6 2013

Tab Sportsbet: Sea Eagles $1.26, Sharks $4

FootyTAB: Sharks +9.5

To say there is no love lost between these two sides is like describing Johnathan Thurston as "a bit miffed" after North Queensland's 20-18 finals loss to Cronulla last weekend. There was the 1973 grand final when a game of rugby league turned into an 80-minute brawl. And who could forget the 1978 drawn decider - okay maybe Sharks fans might want to erase that from their memory after Manly's 16-0 win in the re-match. Since then, Cronulla have never beaten Manly in a final or featured in a season decider. In the battle of the beaches, it has usually been the Sharks with sand kicked in their face. And that trend does not look like changing on Friday night. The Sharks enjoyed the rub of the green last weekend when the now infamous seventh tackle try helped them move into the second week of the finals. But it seems they will need plenty more luck to overcome a Manly outfit, battle hardened by last weekend's absorbing 4-0 loss to the Sydney Roosters if playmaker Todd Carney (hamstring) succumbs, as expected. There is a question mark over Manly No.1 Brett Stewart (hamstring). But Manly still have ample backline firepower to oust a gallant Cronulla who have somehow launched a finals tilt amid an ASADA investigation.

Key: Manly's fullback - whoever it is. Brett Stewart is yet to prove his fitness, a worrying sign for Manly who have won just twice in eight games without him this year. But Peta Hiku has still been a season find at fullback for Manly - last week, he notched remarkable 297 metres against the Roosters.

Tip: Manly

SATURDAY, September 21

Melbourne v Newcastle at AAMI Park, 7.45pm

Head to head: Storm 18, Knights 12.

Last clash: Storm 23 bt Knights 10 at Hunter Stadium, Rd 23 2013

Tab Sportsbet: Storm $1.35, Knights $3.25

FootyTAB: Knights +8.5

Even the most one-eyed Knights fan would be tempted to bet on NSW winning a State of Origin series before contemplating slapping their hard-earned on Newcastle running out winners in Melbourne. Yep, their record in Victoria is that bad. Since their last win in 2004, they have lost 10 straight in Melbourne. And the Storm have emerged triumphant in the past seven clashes with Newcastle at all venues. Throw in the fact Melbourne are desperate to make amends after last week's 20-10 finals loss to South Sydney to keep their title defence on track and it does not auger well for the Knights. But two words sum up why the Knights will arrive in the Victorian capital with a spring in their step - Wayne Bennett. He might not know how to smile but the dead-panned Knights coach sure knows how to win. And the seven-time premiership victor might yet have a 2013 title dark horse in his midst. Panned for recruiting a "Dad's Army" player roster, Bennett is ready to spring the mother of all finals upsets in Melbourne thanks mainly to his much-maligned veterans. They will be hoping momentum from a three-game winning run will finally help them overcome second-half fadeouts that have cost them victory in their two regular-season clashes with the Storm in 2013. Both have named unchanged sides with Melbourne winger Sisa Waqa remarkably set to play despite a horrific aerial collision against South Sydney that was expected to at least leave him with a bigger headache than NRL referees boss Daniel Anderson nursed after Cronulla's seventh-try tackle.

Key: Newcastle pivot Jarrod Mullen. Everyone talks about Melbourne's "big three" but the game might hinge on Newcastle's No.6. Few doubted his talent since he made his NRL debut at 18 - except the man himself. Being dubbed the "next Andrew Johns" by no less than Andrew Johns might not have helped. However, some wise words from Bennett have helped the ex-NSW half emerge as the NRL force experts tipped him to become when he first ran out in 2005.

Tip: Melbourne

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