September is always an exciting time for rugby league fans, as the NRL season draws to an end.
Only four teams remain in the competition and all are serious contenders for the 2018 premiership.
The 2016 champions Cronulla Sharks take on last year’s winners, the Melbourne Storm, at AMMI park tonight (Friday, September 21). It will be up to the Sharks to ensure it’s an all-Sydney grand final next weekend.
Then, tomorrow night (Saturday, September 22), it’s over to the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium. Both teams have been in the NRL competition for over 100 years and have a famously fierce rivalry.
Hatch asked just a few Sydney fans who they were tipping to make it through the preliminaries.
Game 1: Cronulla Sharks vs. Melbourne Storm
Tonight: 7:40 p.m. kick-off
During their home and away clashes this season, the Sharks have been victorious against the Storm… but by a close margin. Back in 2016, Cronulla claimed their maiden premiership against the Victorians, winning 14-12.
Cronulla Sharks five-eighth Matt Moylan has had a phenomenal year. His total of 18 try assists has put him in the top three halves of the competition. His partner in the halves, Chad Townsend, will play a crucial role in controlling the tempo of the match and in providing space for the Sharks backline. If they achieve this, the Sharks are more likely to score. With captain Paul Gallen ruled out with a shoulder injury, it’s expected to be the in-form forward, Andrew Fiffita, leading the charge.
Melbourne captain Cameron Smith has just re-signed with the Storm and is already on his way to clocking up 400 games, more than any other player in the history of rugby league. He and his team-mates have enjoyed the week off after their come-from-behind victory against the South Sydney Rabbitohs. This could be a deciding factor given they’ve had time to deal with minor injuries and fatigue. If they win tonight, they’ll be looking to claim back-to-back premiership titles.
Game 2: Sydney Roosters vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Saturday: 7:40 p.m. kick-off
It’s been one each for the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters from their Round 6 and Round 22 encounters. A packed Allianz stadium is expected on Saturday night when they meet again… the Roosters going into this preliminary final as clear favourites.
The Roosters will be without star backline player, Latrell Mitchell, following an on-field incident in the qualifier. Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk will be in charge of organising his players around the park as the Rabbitohs look to shut down the in-form playmaker. Cronk’s form this year has been a huge factor in the Roosters success, along with his leadership skills. Despite the absence of a few key players in Napa and Mitchell, the Roosters will enter Saturday night’s clash as favourites. If the Roosters are successful it will be their first grand final appearance since 2013.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
South Sydney will be boosted by confirmation captain Greg Inglis can take the field, after escaping suspension for a crusher tackle in last week’s clash with the St George Dragons. Adam Reynolds was extremely influential in the Rabbitohs winning that match, kicking three field goals. He will be a key player again tomorrow night.
The winners from both matches will progress to the 2018 grand final. – Text and interviews, Aidan Fedorow – camera and editing, Laura Baehny.