Entering the second week of the NRL finals, there are three Sydney teams, two Queensland teams and Melbourne.
Looking ahead, a non-Sydney grand final is a probability, the second time in NRL history.
Two of the three Sydney teams – Sydney Roosters and Canterbury – play each other, while Cronulla has a tough trip to Townsville.
The Roosters would fancy themselves with 12 wins from their past 13 games; though Canterbury has momentum with six straight wins. Ironically, their last loss was against the Roosters in round 21. Either way, one Sydney team will leave.
The Sharks have to face the Cowboys on the rebound. So close against Brisbane and desperate to atone for three years of horrible finals luck, they will be hard to beat.
Let’s assume that the Roosters beat Canterbury and North Queensland beat Cronulla. The Roosters will travel to Lang Park to play Brisbane and Melbourne will meet North Queensland.
While the Roosters beat Brisbane in Sydney a few weeks back, they will struggle to beat the Broncos again at Lang Park, especially as the Broncos will be fresh and the Roosters will be coming off two hard finals. So let’s lock Brisbane in for the first grand final spot.
Melbourne will be rested and have the home ground advantage, while the Cowboys will have to travel from Brisbane to Townsville to Melbourne in three weeks. Melbourne’s home record is 8-4, while the Cowboys are 9-4 away. It’ll be a close contest but Melbourne home ground advantage will get them home.
So we have a Brisbane v Melbourne grand final. Good omens for Brisbane, as their last premiership was against Melbourne in 2006.
The big question is: how will Sydney react? It should still be a sellout. Brisbane fans will attend and surely Melbourne’s loyal band of supporters will make the trip over the border. Neutral fans can at least watch Cold Chisel. Manly (2008 and 2011), St. George-Illawarra (2010), Sydney Roosters (2013) and Souths (2014) have given Sydney their share of success, so they can’t complain too much.
Is a Broncos-Storm grand final good for the game? The Storm’s grinding style of footy aggravates some fans while a Broncos win would give Queenslanders more ammunition to brag about being the “heartland” of rugby league, something Sydney fans would hate.
Ideally the grand final should be against the two best teams of the year. While the Broncos have been excellent, the Storm have flown under the radar and seemed to have peaked at the right time. A Broncos v Cowboys grand final will probably have more attractive footy, but it’s easy to see the Cowboys become overwhelmed by the big stage and get flogged. At least a Broncos v Storm grand final promises a close game.
We’ll see what happens in October.