THE finals are finally here for NRL fans, which means two things – fierce competitiveness and no more Knights games.
For the first time in recent memory, the teams outside of Sydney dominate the finals set up.
The Cronulla Sharks ($6.50) are the only team from NSW given a chance, as the rest of the Sydney-siders are in double figures over at Sportsbet.com.au.
The Melbourne Storm ($3.50) and the North Queensland Cowboys ($4) are the best teams in the market, but if history tells us anything, it’s that finals footy can change all we know in terms of form in an instant.
We took a look at the opening week of the finals and put together a multi using the power of Sportsbet.com.au for our readers.
Selections for the Finals Week 1 NRL multi:
Brisbane to defeat Gold Coast ($1.28)
Canberra to beat Cronulla ($1.56)
Melbourne to defeat North Queensland ($1.77)
Penrith to beat Canterbury ($1.48)
Brisbane vs. Gold Coast
Friday, September 9 from 8pm, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Two of the Queensland’s finest lock horns at Suncorp Stadium to kick off the finals.
The Brisbane Broncos got their season back on track a month ago after dropping from a top-two position, putting together five straight wins to lock in a home final in the Queensland capital.
Both Anthony Milford and Corey Oates are beginning to show signs that their best form is returning, which places the Broncos into the premiership picture.
Sportsbet.com.au has Brisbane on the fifth line of title betting at $8.50.
The Gold Coast Titans limped into the finals series, and have not won since their comfortable win over the Newcastle Knights three weeks ago.
Unless the Hayne Plane can pull something out of the hangar we are seeing no other possible outcome but a Broncos blitz.
This is our safest leg of the finals multi.
Multi tip: Brisbane Broncos to win – $1.28
Canberra vs. Cronulla
Saturday, September 10 from 5.35pm, GIO Stadium, Canberra
Two of the surprise packets of 2016 clash in the nation’s capital to kick off Saturday’s double header of finals off in the form of the Raiders and the Sharks.
The Raiders have been a point scoring juggernaut in the latter half of the season.
Canberra has not failed to score less than 20 points in a game since their last loss to the Broncos back in Round 14, an ominous statistic for any visiting team.
The Cronulla Sharks got a taste of just how cruel the game of Rugby League can be sometimes on Saturday night.
A win would have handed the Sharks top position on the ladder and the minor premiership, but as a consequence of losing they dropped to third position and were forced to travel in week one of the finals.
It is a bitter blow for the Sharks, who will have enormous difficulty shutting down the multitude of attacking options the Raiders have at their disposal.
We are backing the Green Machine at home. The home ground advantage is a massive plus and their point scoring ability cannot be denied.
Multi tip: Canberra Raiders to win – $1.56
Melbourne vs. North Queensland
Saturday, September 10 from 7.5pm, AAMI Park, Melbourne
The minor premiers and the reigning premiers meeting on a Saturday night in the opening week of the finals; what more could you want?
The Melbourne Storm have defied everyone to claim the minor premiership and the title favourite tag despite arguably the best player in the league in Billy Slater being out for the season.
The North Queensland Cowboys have not suffered from the dreaded premiership hangover this season.
The Cowboys were negatively impacted by Origin but turned their season around in the latter stages of the campaign to secure that top four berth and a crack at going back-to-back.
This promises to be the match of the year.
The Melbourne Storm are a formidable outfit at home.
It invariably takes a special effort to beat them on AAMI Park, and while the Cowboys are one of the teams that are capable of doing it, we backing the home side to advance here victorious.
Multi tip: Melbourne Storm to win – $1.77
Penrith vs. Canterbury
Sunday, September 11 from 4.10pm, Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Sunday’s final between the Panthers and the Bulldogs looms as an entertaining contest, but it is easy to forget about these two given the calibre of the other finals matches.
Both teams go into the contest as afterthoughts in the premiership market given they are two of the three teams that are outside single figures for the title.
Penrith is $17 to take out the 2016 NRL premiership while Canterbury is at the $29 quote.
The Bulldogs have not won since round 23.
Des Hasler’s men blew the opportunity to secure a top-four berth after a month of error-riddled footy.
They need to improve their ball handling skills considerably if they are to be competitive on Sunday.
It might seem funny to Penrith fans to see them so far down in the premiership frame given they have not lost since round 21, but their poor play from the opening half of the season seems to be fresh in punters’ minds.
It is hard to argue on form, and the team that has played the better footy over the last month is the Panthers.
If Penrith bring anything close to the fire that they have shown over the last month of football the Bulldogs do not stand a chance.
Multi tip: Penrith Panthers to win – $1.48