It feels incredible to say after a wretched 2020, but there are just four teams remaining in what is shaping up as a glorious final fortnight in the NRL Premiership race.
Both sudden death semi-finals were full of controversy and remarkable performances, so let’s look back on how the Canberra Raiders ended a dynasty and how the Parramatta Eels found another way to lose a finals game.
Raiders get revenge on Roosters
The incredible run of the Sydney Roosters finally ended this week. Somewhat appropriately, it was the team they left heartbroken in 2019 who put the final nail in the coffin.
No one would have predicted the Roosters would lose three straight games to bow out of the 2020 title race, but the fact Canberra produced such a performance did have a feeling of one great team passing the torch to another.
If the Raiders are to win the competition from fifth, they’ll have had to go through three outstanding teams, and it would sit up there as one of the best finals runs in history.
But let’s not get into too many what-ifs. Instead, let’s celebrate just how good this game was.
Across both teams there were some terrific individual performances, but Josh Papalii laid the platform with his first three carries. His first two left defenders in his wake and his third saw him go through Boyd Cordner, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sio Siua Taueiako to open the scoring.
There are many great props in the game, but Papalii showed once more he is the best and he is the horse dragging the Canberra wagon.
And what about the try from Joe Tapine? It is not hyperbolic to say it was one of the greatest individual tries in NRL finals history and it will be replayed in all of Canberra’s great moments. Simply breathtaking.
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Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad… There isn’t a player with more heart in the NRL. Period. He is far from the prototype fullback for the modern game, but he is built to run relentlessly through the middle, save tries and create energy for his teammates.
CNK was in Canberra’s top three on the field, and at $51 for the Clive Churchill Medal, he should be considered if you are backing the Raiders to go all the way. He was Canberra’s best in the 2019 decider and will be a huge reason behind any success they might have this year.
It would also be wrong to not mention the performance of Hudson Young, who was relentless in the middle and showed his State of Origin potential in the future.
Where to now for the Roosters?
They will still be premiership contenders going forward – they have too much talent not to be – but the void left by Cooper Cronk’s retirement and Latrell Mitchell’s departure was noticeable in both their finals losses.
The way they fought back from a 16-0 deficit to make a contest of it was nothing but championship DNA shining through.
It is so deeply ingrained in them they simply did it on muscle memory. Had it been any other side, Canberra probably win quite convincingly.
We got the +6 for Canberra correct and the under 42.5 right, but with Papalii crossing first, only the most insane Green Machine followers made a motza on that one.
Rabbitohs come from behind to boot Eels
The Parramatta script for this game was almost a repeat of last week against Melbourne.
They started decently enough before a Clint Gutherson masterclass put the Eels 18-8 going into half time, and there was a bit of belief that the South Sydney Rabbitohs were in trouble.
But then the Bunnies finally kicked into gear – and when they do, it’s a beautiful thing to watch.
Liam Knight and Cameron Murray crossed to give Souths the lead at 20-18 before one of the weirdest passages of play ever seen in a finals game occurred.
Mitchell Moses was lining up a penalty goal next to the posts and his teammates had too much confidence in him and started heading back to set up for the kick-off.
You know what they say can happen when you assume?
Moses missed and the deflection off the uprights fell to South Sydney. With a scrambled defensive line, the Rabbitohs crossed a few plays later when Gutherson, the first-half hero, spilled an easy ball in his in-goal and Bayley Sironen scored the try.
From going into the closing stages of the game at 20-20 to an eight-point deficit within 90 seconds is a torturous fate, even for Eels fans.
That signalled another straight-sets exit for Parramatta, their second such finish in the last four seasons.
Only three times has a top-four team lost in straight sets since the McIntyre System was adopted in 2012, and twice it’s been the Eels.
It wrapped up a sensational weekend of footy as our 13+ prediction for the Bunnies snuck home. We hope those who bet that way did it earlier in the week and not close to kickoff, where it fell from $2.70 to $2.10.
Souths even kept up their 10-game scoring average of 35 points by chalking up 38 to comfortably smash the overs.
It might be an unconventional preliminary final against Penrith, as we could be looking at a shootout rather than a scrap.
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