We are halfway through the 2010 NRL Finals Series and only four teams remain in the hunt for the Premiership. Last weekend's Elimination Finals saw the Canberra Raiders & Penrith Panthers fall by the wayside as the Wests Tigers & Sydney Roosters both backed up from their 100minute epic to advance live on another week.
Waiting for them in the Preliminary Finals are the St.George-Illawarra Dragons & Gold Coast Titans.
The Dragons may have actually preferred to have played last week as they had hit some form in recent matches but the Titans would have welcomed the break with their plethora of injuries to key players.
These two games should have bumper crowds in Brisbane and in Sydney but the stands will be filled with very nervous fan bases. The feelings of confidence, nervousness, fear and expectation will be raging through the minds of every supporter whose team is playing this weekend because in another 80 minutes either a...
Grand Final berth or another long off-season of pain awaits.
|=| See below for our Previews, Podcasts & Videos for the Preliminary Finals in Week Three.
Who Plays Who In Week Three of the 2010 NRL Finals?
|=| PRELIMINARY SEMI FINALS - September 24 & 25.
GOLD COAST TITANS v SYDNEY ROOSTERS
On Friday Night September 24 - Suncorp Stadium hosts the 1st Preliminary Final. The Titans have been sitting at home twiddling their thumbs since the opening night of the Finals when they beat the Warriors 28-16 and thanks to other results received a week off and a home Preliminary Finals berth. The Roosters have been slightly busier - they came back from the dead to beat the Tigers 19-15 in extra time in Week 1 and then over-ran the Panthers 34-12 in Week 2 to get into this Grand Final qualifier.
ST.GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS v WESTS TIGERS
On Saturday Night September 25 - ANZ Stadium will host the 2nd Preliminary Final. The Dragons crushed Manly in Week 1 with an emphatic 28-0 scoreline to get a week off, while the Tigers had to recover from a 19-15 extra-time loss to the Roosters in Week 1 and travel to Canberra to beat the Raiders 26-24 in Week 2 to make it to within one game of the Grand Final.
|=| ELIMINATED TEAMS
WEEK 2:RAIDERS & PANTHERS
Canberra stormed home with 9 wins in 10 games (including 6 straight) before losing their home semi final with the Tigers. The Raiders missed a golden opportunity to win a competition when they didn't really have a great season but were beaten by a better team... and even if they had snuck through the season ending knee injury to Terry Campese killed that dream with 24 minutes left. The Panthers went from equal title favourites with the Dragons about 6 weeks before the Finals to also-rans after injury and poor form ruined their end of season push. Losing key players to injury in the 1st & 2nd week of the Finals saw them go 0-2 at the most important time of the year.
WEEK 1: WARRIORS & SEA EAGLES
One team had a year that exceeded expectations, the other struggled to live up to their premiership contenders tag... in the end neither could muster a victory when it really mattered.
The Gold Coast Titans make one change but it is a huge one. Influential fullback Preston Campbell is back from a nagging hamstring injury that has kept him out for weeks and his addition pushes Jordan Atkins to an extended bench alongside Luke O'Dwyer. The Titans welcomed the week off with the likes of Luke Bailey, Anthony Laffranchi, Scott Prince, Mat Rogers, Brad Meyers, Steven Michaels and Greg Bird all carrying injuries at the most crucial time of year. There could be a late addition to the squad with Toyota Cup stars Joseph Tomane & Ryan James available for selection with the Titans knocked out of that competition.
The Sydney Roosters lost winger Phil Graham with a slight pectoral tear and he is in serious doubt for the Grand Final should the Roosters qualify - they will definitely miss his speed in this one. His replacement will be Joseph Leilua - an impressive rookie better suited to the centres or backrow but the youngster has handled everything the NRL has thrown at him so far. Lopini Paea & Ben Jones join the bench, while James Aubusson is out of the squad entirely. A positional change or jumper change is Braith Anasta back to the #13 and Nate Myles into the #11 for this game after Anasta played 'second row' the past two weeks. 24/9 Update: At this stage both teams look fit - Joseph Tomane could be a late addition to the Gold Coast Bench as cover for Steven Michaels. Roosters will probably play Lopini Paea ahead of Ben Jones to match the Gold Coast's size.
The NRL Tweet's Early Tip 22/9:
The Titans are a good football team but the Roosters are a potentially great football team. As good as the likes of Scott Prince, Preston Campbell, Greg Bird & Luke Bailey are... the likes of Todd Carney, Mitchell Pearce, Braith Anasta & Nate Myles are better. The Titans will be in this right up to the final whistle but my gut tells me the Roosters are primed for a Grand Final berth and it'll come at the expense of the Titans at Suncorp on Friday Night.
The St.George-Illawarra Dragons had a week off and they have named the same 21 man squad that they took into the Qualifying Final against Manly. That means that extra bench players Nick Emmett, Jon Green, Kyle Stanley & Luke Priddis will miss out unless any training injuries strike the first choice 17. They are fully fit and are only without Dan Hunt from their best possible squad.
The Wests Tigers have been fighting the injury curse for a couple of weeks now and the hyperbaric chamber is getting a workout by key playmakers Robbie Farah & Robert Lui as they try to recover from corked quads. Both will definitely play. Gareth Ellis played the Raiders with a severely sore back but was outstanding - so he'll play again here. Bryce Gibbs has a toe injury but will play, as will Liam Fulton. Benji Marshall looked very spry against the Raiders and is in no doubt at all following his knee injury two weeks ago. Wade McKinnon was not named to return from a knee injury but may come into calculations later in the week - if he does Mitch Brown's form dictates that he should move onto the wing and Beau Ryan to the bench if McKinnon returns. Daniel Fitzhenry didn't get off the bench against Canberra and looks likely to miss out here after being named on an extended bench with Simon Dwyer, Gibbs, Andrew Fifita, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Mark Flanagan. 24/9 Update: Todd Payten (ankle) looks likely to miss the game after injuring himself at training. John Skandalis is the man most likely to be his replacement in the 17, with Bryce Gibbs to start and one of Andrew Fifita or Ben Murdoch-Masila earning a spot on the bench. St.George-Illawarra lost interchange forward Jarrod Saffy to a quad strain - Jon Green or Nick Emmett will replace him on the bench.
The NRL Tweet's Early Tip 22/9:
The Dragons have no excuses - they were the best team all year and are fully fit and are well rested for this Preliminary Final. The Tigers however were the 2nd best team all year and have just come off two cracking games of football - they lost one but played great for 60 minutes and held on to beat the Raiders in Canberra last week. They have been winning games like the Canberra one all year and have the attack to worry the vaunted St.George-Illawarra defence. Gun to my head the Dragons must be strong favourites but these Tigers have been getting it done when they need to all year and they get my vote to win at ANZ Stadium on Saturday Night - behind the brilliance of Farah & Marshall.