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NRL Free Previews | 2018 Finals Week 3

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NRL Finals Week 3 Game Handicaps

MrG’s Ratings

-10.5 Storm v Sharks

-1.5 Roosters v Rabbits



Individual Game Tips

Storm, Rabbits


Finals Notes

Defence

9 of last 11 Premiers were one of the Top 2 defensive sides that season.

#1 and #2 Defensive sides this season – Roosters (361 av 15.0) then Storm (363 av 15.1)

Week Off

14 of the last 18 Premiers have won the comp off the back of a week off and then winning their Prelim final

Playing 4 weeks in a row

7 of the last 8 grand finalists who had played 4 wks straight, have lost

Loser Wk 1 Winner Wk 2

9 of the last 12 who have lost in Wk won have then responded to win in Wk 2


Game Previews


-10.5 Storm v Sharks

Stats + Overview

TOP 8 RECORD – Melbourne has a 7-5 record, with 5 of the last 7 of those decided by 6 points or less, while they have won 7 of their last 8 against a Top 8 opponent as a favourite, including 3 of their last 4 at home, the only loss from the 4 was Cronulla Cronulla has a 6-7 record, with the last 9 of those having been decided by a margin of 1-12, while 7 of the last 8 have finished Unders in total match points. Cronulla are one of only 2 sides to have beaten the Storm twice this season

The penultimate weekend of the 2018 NRL season gets underway with the Cronulla Sharks travelling to AAMI Park to take on the Melbourne Storm. It’s a modern day rivalry with 2 of the more successful clubs in the recent era with each securing a Premiership in the last 2 seasons. The Sharks defeated the Storm in the 2016 Grand Final to secure their maiden title in what was also their 1st and only win against the reigning Premiers in a Final Series match, while for the Storm, a win will see them make it 3 consecutive Grand Final appearances and an opportunity to become the 1st team since 1993 to win back to back titles. The Storm had dominated the Sharks from 2009 to 2015, winning 9 of 10 clashes over that stretch, but the Sharks have had the better of things in recent seasons, winning 5 of 7 encounters since 2016. Cronulla has however, struggled for wins at AAMI Park, with the Storm winning 8 of 10 clashes in Melbourne over the last decade. A winning margin of 1-12 points has been the result in 6 of the last 7, while Melbourne have won 4 of the last 6 at home by a margin of 13+. More often than not, these encounters have been low scoring affairs, with 13 of the last 16 meetings failing to breach 38, including the last 8 straight and 6 of the previous 9 clashes at AAMI Park. A Penalty Goal has been the 1st scoring play in 6 of the previous 8 clashes, while the 1st try of the match hasn’t been scored until after the 8th minute in 11 of the last 14 encounters. The half time leader has won 9 of the last 11, while on of the teams has been held to 6 points or less after the break in 10 of the last 11. Melbourne have had the benefit of the week off which has served them well previously, as they have won 7 of their last 9 Preliminary Finals after registering a win in Week 1, while Cronulla will be looking to go the long way to the Grand Final and have history against them, with 7 of the last 8 Grand Finalists to play 4 weeks straight having lost the big dance. Melbourne finished 2 nd at the conclusion of the regular season, which was their 7th Top 4 finish in the last 8 seasons, including the last 4 straight. They spent 15 weeks in the Top 4 and only once were they ranked out of the Top 8. They come into this match off the back of 11 wins from their last 14 matches and they have won 6 of their last 7 Finals Series matches, including their last 5 at home and have recorded 15 wins from their last 18 matches as a home favourite. Their 536 points scored in attack ranked 5th, while they finished 2nd in the defensive standings, conceding 363 points, giving them a 173 point differential that also ranked 2 nd . The Storm has won 36 of their last 50 matches played at AAMI Park and while they have lost their last 2 at home to the Sharks, only 2 other teams have ever recorded 3 consecutive wins at AAMI Park. They have also won 28 of their last 32 Friday night games. They are 11-14 ATS and have failed to cover in 5 of their last 6 and 3 of their last 4 at home, while they are 2 & 5 ATS from their last 7 home Finals and have also failed to cover in 5 of their last 7 against the Sharks. They have however, covered in 11 of their last 14 when laying more than an 8 point advantage. In total match points they are 13-12 Under and have had Unders results in 14 of their last 21 at home as a big favourite, while they are 16-4 under from their last 20 against the Sharks, including the last 8 straight. The Storm has won 12 of 15 this season with a half time lead and only on 2 occasions from their last 26 matches at AAMI Park have they been beaten when leading at the break. Melbourne has scored the opening try in 13 matches this season and has won 11 of 13 matches when scoring the opening points, while they have scored the final try of the match in 9 of their last 10 and 9 of their last 11 at AAMI Park. Suliasa Vunivalu has scored 7 tries in his last 6 games at AAMI Park, including a double against the Sharks, while the Sharks remain as the only team that Josh AddoCarr is yet to score a try against and he is currently on a 5 game streak without a try, his longest try less stretch since entering the NRL. The Sharks have won 5 of their last 6 but have suffered key injuries at the wrong time of the season and after losing Wade Graham last week, there are now doubts around the fitness of Paul Gallen. They have won 4 of their last 6 Finals Series matches, but have lost 4 of their last 5 Finals as the “away” team, while they have also lost 4 of their last 6 matches as a big road outsider. The Sharks have also won only 1 of their last 9 when playing interstate as a big outsider. They have a 6 & 7 record against the Top 8 and only once all season have they recorded back to back victories against a Top 8 opponent. The Sharks finished the season in 4th position, to make their 6 th Finals Campaign in 7 seasons. They spent 17 weeks in the Top 8 and were never out of it from Round 9. Their 519 points in attack ranked 6th, while they ranked as the 3rd best defensive outfit, conceding 423 points, giving them a 96 point differential that rated 4th . Cronulla are split 13-13 ATS, but have covered in 7 of their last 9 when getting more than an 8 point advantage, while road outsiders have covered in 12 of the last 15 Finals, including 8 of the last 9 when getting more than a converted try advantage. In total match points the Sharks are 14-12 Under, including 7 of their last 8 against a Top 8 opponent, while they are 14-3 Under since 2016 when playing interstate, including their last 6 straight. The Sharks have scored the opening try in 9 of their last 10 matches and have won 13 of 16 this season when scoring the 1st try. The Sharks remain undefeated in their last 13 matches with a half time lead, but have lost 8 of 10 when trailing at the break. The Storm has been beaten in only 1 their last 11 with Gerard Sutton in charge, while the Sharks have and 8-5-1 record since 2016 with Sutton as the lead. Home teams laying more than a converted try advantage have won 21 of 26 matches since 2016 with Sutton as the lead referee, but are a poor 13-13 ATS, with 1 cover from the last 7 of those. Melbourne has covered in 5 of their last 6 at home when laying a big start with Sutton in charge, while the Sharks have covered in only 1 of their last 9 at night under Sutton. In the last 10 Finals Series matches with Sutton at the helm, the home team has been victorious on 8 occasions.

Preview

So the top 4 now remain the final top 4, and the two who enjoyed the week off last year once again host the prelim finals this year (Storm and Roosters).

Storm get two very key players back in Asofa-Solomona and Chambers and go into this at full strength and the benefit of the week off freshen up. The Sharks are not so lucky, they are without Graham, Gallen and will have Lewis and Dugan playing but off some injury setbacks. Graham and Gallen are major outs, Graham runs their left edge in defence (which can be critical against the Storm) and in attack with his short side raids and left foot kicking game, and while Gallen maybe be at the end of his career he is still averaging 130 to 140 mtrs with the ball each week and doe plenty of defensive work in their middle. What this then does though is bring less quality players into the line up, and lessor quality ones on to the bench, and so clearly a weaker line up especially through the mid section of the game when key rotations are occurring.

The Sharks have won 5 of the last 7 against the Storm (but are only 2 of their last 6 in Melbourne) but I’m not sure there current form and or list is at that level. Last week they were gifted their first half lead with some terrible offerings in both defence (12 missed tackles in the opening 25 mins) and attack (multiple handling turn errors) from the Panthers, then at 18-2 after half time they themselves started to fold with 22 second half missed tackles and had they not clutched the final minutes could well have lost. Form mine this again highlights the laziness that creeps into their game and the thinner quality that comes off their bench on rotation and fatigue. The final 10 to 15 minutes of the first half and then the final 20 minutes of the game will be telling. It’s also notable that the Sharks lead the comp with total average game errors, again either giving opponents a leg up or letting them back into games. Moylan and Holmes use of the footy and attacking plays will be critical, they are going to needs points on the back of building any pressure to compete in this.

As we know the Storm are very good at home winning 9 of 13 this season, and once again they line up with this obvious advantage and the week off freshen up. I believe the semi against the Storm remains the best quality game and form reference so far in this finals series, in a game where the lead changed 5 times the Storm came back 3 times from behind to win, they just rarely lay down and always seem to find a way. They are playing shorter in both attack and defence now than they have in the past, shorter passing plays to lessen the risk of handing errors and looking to play more direct through the middle (J Bromwich, Asofa-Solomona, Slater and Croft), while in defence Bellamy has gone with a far more compressed line as the season has wore on, tightens up their middle and pressures opponents to have to play multiple higher risk passing plays to get to the edge and around them. Their weakness this season has been handling errors and its caused their downfall when losing, but over recent months this has week by week improved, and its no surprise that when they complete at or near 80% they always win (like most teams).

The Storm’s trademark is building pressure, set after set, smart kicking game, field position, tough defence, dominate the ruck, force errors and or sweat on them. It’s a simple straight forward formula, but at end of season it takes lots of discipline to execute and maintain. They also then have some match winning plays, a preparedness to hit you with attack with Munster, Slater, Croft and their two match winning finishers on their edges. The Sharks will have a real crack, they are a strong side and aim up well in tough situations, but being a couple of key forwards short and then going the distance in a tough physical contest for two long 40 minute stretches at a tough interstate venue look the issue. I like the Storm here, everything about the game scenario looks to set up for them the right, manage it right, stick to all the simple things they do well, critically hold the ball, then they should be clear winners.


-1.5 Roosters v Rabbits

TOP 8 RECORD – The Roosters have won 6 of 12, including winning 3 of the last 4 of those and 3 of the last 4 as the home team, while a Penalty Goal has been the 1st scoring play in half of their 12 matches against a Top 8 team The Rabbitohs have a 6-7 record and have won 4 of 7 as an outsider, covering in all 7 of those. In 7 of their 13 matches versus a Top 8 team a Penalty Goal has opened the scoring in 7 of them, with Souths accounting for 5 of those 7

The 2nd Preliminary Final will see another Chapter added to the League’s most bitter rivalry when the Sydney Roosters host the South Sydney Rabbitohs in what will be the final ever game at Allianz Stadium in its current form. The 2 foundation clubs have contested 11 Finals matches since 1908, but this will be just the 2nd time they have met in a Final in 80 years, after the Rabbitohs knocked out the Roosters in the 2014 Preliminary Final on their way to their 1st Premiership in 43 years. The Rabbitohs have won 113 of the 218 games played against the Tri-Colours and won the Round 6 encounter at Allianz Stadium, while the Roosters registered their 100th win against the Bunnies when they last met in Round 22 at ANZ Stadium. That was the Roosters 4th win from the last 5 encounters with the Bunnies, while they have won 3 of the last 5 match ups at Allianz Stadium. Recent meetings have been low scoring contests, with 6 of the last 7 match ups failing to breach 40 and this has also been the case in 5 of the last 6 encounters at Allianz Stadium, while 14 of the last 18 meetings at the ground have been decided by a margin of 1-12. Only once from the previous 11 encounters have South Sydney led the Roosters at half time, while only on 2 occasions from those 11 matches have the Roosters outscored the Rabbitohs in the 2nd half. The Roosters have scored the opening try in 8 of the last 11 clashes, while the Rabbitohs have scored the last try of the match in 9 of those 11. The Roosters have won 8 of their previous 11 Finals played at Allianz Stadium and have led at half time in all but 1 of those, while the Rabbitohs have lost 6 of their last 8 at the ground as well as losing 3 of 4 Finals. The Roosters are the Minor Premiers and aside from missing a spot in the Top 8 in the opening Round, they have been a fixture there ever since. They finished the regular season as the Number 1 defensive unit, conceding 361 points at an average of 15 PPG, while their 542 points scored in attack ranked 4th. They come into this match off 7 victories from their last 9 matches, including 3 wins from their last 4 against a Top 8 opponent. Their record at Allianz Stadium is impressive, winning 6 of their last 7 and 29 of their last 35 as a starting favourite, while they have won 16 of their 22 Finals matches played at the ground since 2000. Saturday’s match will be the Roosters 5th Preliminary Final in 6 seasons. The Roosters are 15-10 ATS and have covered and won in 8 of 9 this season when laying less than a converted try advantage, while they have covered and won in their last 8 when laying less than 4 points, but, they have been a poor cover team in Finals, with just 2 covers from their last 9 dating back to 2014, including 5 of their last 7 at Allianz Stadium. In total match points they are 15-10 in favour of the Unders, including 4 of their last 5, while since 2015 they are 28-18 in favour of the Under as a favourite at night. The Roosters have been great front runners, winning 15 of 16 with a half time lead and while they have trailed just 6 times all season, only once have they been able to overcome a half time deficit. The Roosters have scored the opening try in 11 of their 13 matches at Allianz Stadium this season, while they have won 13 of 17 this season after scoring the opening try. The Rabbitohs are coming off back to back Finals decided by a single point, with one win and one loss to reach their 4th Preliminary Final in 7 seasons. They have lost 4 of their last 6 and as mentioned above, they have a poor recent record at Allianz Stadium, losing 6 of their last 8, while they have lost their last 4 as the away team. If they can beat the Roosters on Saturday night they will be the 7 team in 9 seasons to make it to the Grand Final the long way, but only one of those previous 6 have won the big dance. South Sydney finished the regular season as the Number 1 ranked team in attack, scoring 582 points, while their 437 points conceded ranked 4th , giving them 145 point differential that rated 3rd. They were entrenched in the Top 8 for most of the season and were never positioned out of the Top 4 after Round 10. The Rabbitohs are 15-11 ATS and are a perfect 8 & 0 this season when getting a start, while they have covered in 14 of their last 18 when getting a start away from home. In total match points they are 14-12 in favour of the Under, but are 13-4 Over from their last 17 as a small underdog, including their last 8 straight on the road, while they are 7-3 Over from their last 10 matches played at Allianz Stadium. South’s have won 10 of 13 with a half time lead, but have lost 6 of 11 when trailing. No team has scored the 1st try of the 2nd half more often than the Rabbitohs with 18 and from those 18 occasions, only twice have they been outscored after the break, conceding an average of just 7 2nd half points. Souths have scored 51 of their 104 tries via their left edge, but no team has conceded fewer tries down their right edge than the Roosters with 18. Home teams have won 11 of the last 12 matches with Ashley Klein as the lead referee and have covered ATS in 8 of those, while 8 of his last 9 matches have finished Overs in total match points. Home faves laying less than a try advantage have won 10 of 11 dating back to 2016 with Klein in charge, with a 7-4 cover record. The Roosters have won 4 of their last 5 at home under Klein, with a 4-1 record ATS and a 4-1 total number in favour of the Overs, while since 2016 the Rabbitohs have lost 7 of 11 with Klein in charge and have a 10-1 total points record favouring the Overs, while they have covered in their last 4 under Klein as an underdog. In the last 3 Finals Series matches refereed by Ashley Klein, the winning margin has been by a single point in all of them

Preview

This looks very very tight and even. The Roosters come through as the minor prem’s and with the #1 defensive record but are dealt a major blow with the key outs of Latrell Mitchell and Napa. While they were good enough to fight back and win their semi (Sharks) it would also be fair to say they got lucky with at least 3 if not 4 tries ruined by their opponent – but that’s footy. The outs are a major issue for mine, Napa while a hot had adds physical presence and aggression that’s required here, and again exposes some weakness to their bench and depth, while Mitchell is a star, brilliant attacking potential and goal kicker. It’s no surprise that when he runs the ball 8 or more times in a game they have won 10 of 12, when its less their losing record climbs, he’s a massive out, and Robinson has then gone for the obvious Aubusson fill in but then leaves them so short in attack.

The Rabbits clearly have had their own issues as well. They come off that quality effort in Melbourne but aside from that have now lost 4 of their last 6 outings, and have lost 6 of their last 8 at this ground where the Roosters have a great long term record. I’ve no doubt the SBurgess issues all but derailed them last week, they should have been beaten. Now, 10 days on they look to have had some time to have dealt with it all, look more composed and play an arch rival, I’m happy to rate them here with a big lift and somewhere near their best. That being so we have a cracking game.

What does Klein (ref) give us in the middle? His 10 mtrs  has been short which potentially disadvantages the Rabbits and Cook’s running skill, but he also is unlikely to blow many penalties and let the ruck/play the ball turn into a shit fight, which is likely to advantage the Rabbits roll forward game. All in all his influence leads me to think this will be sorted out through the middle and that with any room to play and or set up that the Rabbits back 7 might well then have the attacking advantage.

Teddesco middle, Keary left (and rove), Cronk the king maker look the Roosters focus. Big bodies through the middle, Cook and then their halves playing direct look the Rabbits focus, while I also expect they’ll look to play their double pass play off running forwards (more often than not Sam) which opens tehir left attack up very well.

The Roosters shut the Rabbits down with defence when they last met, I’m sure that will be their plan once again, and then take the opportunities that arise with field position and in attack. The Rabbits had a number of key players out for that last game, back at all but full strength here this evens right up. I think the markets have this right, somewhere between 1 to 2 points between them, the unknown handicap issue the mental position of the Rabbits – I think they’ll be up and right to go. The key outs and the way it changes the Roosters game a major concern, they are certainly much weaker for it, and so I have a slight lean to the Rabbits.


Key Contest Stats

Kind thanks to Mark Hull a good friend and keen NRL follower who complies a weekly list of key stats and insights for each game. You can also follow Mark on Twitter here @FootyAssist

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