Finals Week One is here and with the action set to be closer than ever it’s not easy tipping any game now.
Luckily our crew of NRL.com experts are here to offer their take on who will win and why, as we get ready for qualifying finals between the Broncos v Storm and Panthers v Warriors, followed by elimination clashes between the Knights v Sharks and Roosters v Raiders.
Storm v Broncos
Alicia Newton: A strong record counts for everything in the finals and although I expect the Broncos to be up for the challenge, the Storm should keep their stranglehold intact with Ryan Papenhuyzen’s injection into the game one to watch. Storm by 8.
Brad Walter: The Storm warmed up for the finals with an impressive win against the Broncos last weekend and have an incredible record against a club considered their fiercest rivals. Melbourne have big game experience, while Adam Reynolds has played more finals games than the rest of his Brisbane teammates combined. Storm by 4.
Colleen Edwards: One of the toughest games to pick all year and it will come as little surprise if the Broncos rise to the occasion and finally break their hoodoo against Melbourne. However, the Storm live for this time of the year and just know how to get the job done. Storm by 2.
Corey Rosser: All good things must eventually come to an end and I’m picking this to be the week the Storm finally lose to the Broncos, with Brisbane’s form across the season, compared to that of Melbourne, just too good for me to overlook. Broncos by 2.
Dan Talintyre: The hoodoo is real. With Harry Grant and Jahrome Hughes back, and the competition’s best big-game player in Cameron Munster primed to step up in the finals, Melbourne’s experience at the business end of the season will get them over the line. Storm by 6.
Kelsey Hogan: With Hughes, Grant, Munster and Papenhuyzen all good to go, I can’t go past the Storm. A veteran finals side with a bunch of x-factor, they’ll own the big moments. Storm by 6.
Martin Lenehan: Whether you believe in hoodoos or not, the facts don’t lie. The Storm play a style of footy that unsettles the Broncos and with Jahrome Hughes and Cameron Munster calling the shots they will get home in a classic. Storm by 6.
Panthers v Warriors
Alicia Newton: The Warriors have struggled defensively in the lead-up to the finals and Penrith at home, with the experience they have, should be too tough to handle. Panthers by 16.
Brad Walter: If anyone has an insight into how to stop the Panthers, it is Warriors coach Andrew Webster who helped oversee their back-to-back premierships. The Panthers are the team to beat in the finals series, and while the Warriors are one team capable of an upset, they have received a huge blow with the withdrawal of Shaun Johnson. Panthers by 1.
Colleen Edwards: The Warriors have feasted on the negativity of doubters all year and it has fuelled them on their way to a top-four finish. They’ll need all of that fuel now Shaun Johnson is out, but I’m a believer. Warriors by 4.
Corey Rosser: The Warriors have shown too many defensive frailties in recent times to think Penrith won’t be able to find points against them on Saturday, and with Shaun Johnson out the Warriors are probably going to struggle to score their own. Panthers by 14.
Dan Talintyre: Jack Cogger deputised ably when Nathan Cleary was sidelined, and he’ll do the same again this week with Jarome Luai out. The Warriors’ bench rotation has them primed to chance their arm in the middle of the field, so I expect there to be points in this one. But Penrith, at home, in the finals, is too hard to ignore. Panthers by 14.
Kelsey Hogan: With most of their first-choice side back on deck, this is the game we really see the Panthers click into top-gear and put on a clinic. The Warriors haven’t played a top eight side since Round 21 and I think that could hurt them come Saturday. Panthers by 12.
Martin Lenehan: The best team of the modern era will take a giant step towards a three-peat with a dominant win at home. The Warriors have enjoyed a superb season, but the premiers will be too clinical and composed. Panthers by 14.
Sharks v Roosters
Alicia Newton: Trent Robinson’s side have hit form and defensively impressed against the Rabbitohs last week. Playing at Shark Park won’t bother them and they should have too much class in the end. Roosters by 8.
Brad Walter: The Roosters have momentum after five consecutive wins but the Sharks are at home and will be motivated by the memory of last year’s heart-breaking extra-time exit. Both teams have strike out wide, but the loss of Daniel Tupou is a big one for the Roosters, who will be relying on Sam Walker to win his personal duel with Nicho Hynes. Sharks by 2.
Colleen Edwards: Despite only just sneaking into the eight in Round 27, now they are here the Roosters have form and momentum behind them. They can get the job done at a vocal PointsBet Stadium. Roosters by 6.
Corey Rosser: I’m expecting the first hour to be very close in this one, but the Roosters have hit form at just the right time and should have the class to get over the Sharks in the back end, but they’ll need Brandon Smith and Luke Keary to be near their best. Roosters by 4.
Dan Talintyre: Trent Robinson’s side are humming at the right time of the year, and Joey Manu’s potential inclusion could take them to another level in this one. Their defensive resolve last week against the Rabbitohs was highly impressive, and I think they’ll defend their way to victory once again. Roosters by 8.
Kelsey Hogan: Forwards usually win games, but it’s the Roosters star backs that will help them get the job done on Saturday. I’m expecting Luke Keary and Sam Walker to go to another level in the halves and James Tedesco to take full advantage of it. Roosters by 2.
Martin Lenehan: With Sam Walker, Brandon Smith, Luke Keary and James Tedesco gelling in the spine, the Roosters will continue their late charge in a close one. Plenty of points on offer when these two backlines get going but the Tricolours will march on. Roosters by 6.
Knights v Raiders
Alicia Newton: Newcastle will be pumping on Sunday and the Raiders face a daunting task. Anything less than a win will be difficult to take for Adam O’Brien’s side, who have been the most in-form team of the competition for the past two months. All eyes on Kalyn Ponga’s return. Knights by 10.
Brad Walter: It’s almost impossible to see the Knights losing in Newcastle, with the team on a nine-game winning streak and their legion of loyal fans behind them. The Raiders have limped into the finals and are without Josh Papali’i, Corey Horsburgh and Seb Kris so it will be the upset of the weekend if they win. Knights by 6.
Colleen Edwards: Everything is favouring the Knights – they are at home, in great form and are one of the feel-good stories of the year. Canberra meanwhile have limped into the finals and are missing key players… perfect conditions for Ricky Stuart and his men to be a fly in the ointment and produce an upset. Raiders by 6.
Corey Rosser: Even last week without a few of their star players, Adam O’Brien’s men looked like a team that has forgotten how to lose. The Raiders will hang in the game like they almost always do, but I can’t see them getting over the Knights in Newcastle. Knights by 8.
Dan Talintyre: A 10-point win for a side looking to make it 10 in a row. The Knights are playing a great brand of football, combining their structure with speed in a way that can seriously threaten teams this finals series. Ricky Stuart’s side will be up for the fight, but there’s some big-name absentees for Canberra that will make it tough to stick with the high-flying Novocastrians. Knights by 10.
Kelsey Hogan: A tough one for a Raiders side decimated by injuries and suspension. With Ponga and Hastings back on deck and the whole of Newcastle behind them, I think the Knights will put a score on Canberra and show their premiership credentials. Knights by 16.
Martin Lenehan: In front of a packed house at McDonald Jones Stadium, the Knights will make it 10 wins on the bounce with Kalyn Ponga and Tyson Frizell leading the way. The absence of Josh Papali’i and Corey Horsburgh is a massive blow for the Green Machine. Knights by 14.