The cream has risen to the top. No matter how loyal a fan you are to your team surely nobody can claim that the better team didn�t win either of the Preliminary Finals on the weekend. The Broncos produced arguably the greatest second half of football seen not only this year but perhaps for many a year to overwhelm the Bulldogs; while the Dragons just couldn�t turn back the Storm�s methodical and efficient style and saw another season pass by without that much anticipated title. But to the games and the standout individual performances. 1st PRELIMINARY FINAL
BRISBANE BRONCOS 37 def BULLDOGS 20 Man of the Match � Darren LOCKYER, BRI
It took nearly 200 games of football in 2006 but the Brisbane captain delivered the perfect 10 in his side�s monumental comeback against the Bulldogs on Friday night.
Quite frankly I have not sat back at the end of a game and been as dazed by a performance like the one Lockyer produced for as long as I can remember. In fact the only performance that sticks out in my mind like this one will, was Bradley Clyde�s astounding effort in the 1989 Grand Final � Lockyer was that good. One could argue that because Brisbane were down 20-6 at halftime then how could Lockyer have played the perfect game? In some respects that�s fair but consider the fact that the Bulldogs were up 20-6, not the Rabbitohs, not the Sharks, not the Warriors, not to be fair any of the other 11 teams already out of the competition come the penultimate week of the season � this was the Bulldogs. A team that does not let a game slip out of their reach without a serious fight, in fact if there is a side you�d back in to hold onto a lead in a semi final like this � it would be the Bulldogs.
But Lockyer came out after what was to be fair � a good first half performance by himself � and mesmerized the opposition with a game that just screamed CLASS. And to think that fans and media alike were calling for this guy to get dropped from the Australian side and that he was no longer even close to being second to Andrew Johns as the top player in the world � he�s left a lot of egg on a lot of faces. This is a player you will be telling your grandkids about and he just gave you one performance not only worth remembering but one you should not be able to forget. POS BULLDOGS LPR
FB PATTEN, Luke 7 WI EL MASRI, Hazem 5 CE EMELIO, Andrew 4 CE ROBERTS, Ben 6 WI UTAI, Matthew 6 FE HOLDSWORTH, Daniel 4 HB SHERWIN, Brent 7 PR O'MELEY, Mark 5 HK HUGHES, Corey 6 PR ASOTASI, Roy 6 SR MASON, Willie 7 SR RYAN, Andrew � 6 LK WILLIAMS, Sonny Bill 7 BN MAITUA, Reni 7 BN MYLES, Nate 5 BN PERRY, Adam 5 BN ARMIT, Chris 5 TEAM TOTALS 98 POS BRONCOS LPR
FB HUNT, Karmichael 6 WI BOYD, Darius 6 CE HODGES, Justin 8 CE STAGG, David 7 WI TATE, Brent 7 FE LOCKYER, Darren � 10 HB PERRY, Shane 7 PR WEBCKE, Shane 6 HK BERRIGAN, Shaun 8 PR CIVONICEVA, Petero 7 SR THAIDAY, Sam 4 SR THORN, Brad 7 LK CARROLL, Tonie 8 BN PARKER, Corey 8 BN CARLAW, Dane 7 BN HANNANT, Ben 6 BN McGUIRE, Casey 5 TEAM TOTALS 117 3 � D Lockyer (10/BRI) 2 � S Berrigan (8/BRI) 1 � J Hodges (8/BRI) 2nd PRELIMINARY FINAL
MELBOURNE STORM 24 def ST.GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 10 Man of the Match � Billy SLATER, MEL
Everyone wants to see Greg Inglis in the #1 jersey huh? Well although I think Inglis is a genius, Craig Bellamy just proved to everyone why he has kept Billy Slater in the fullback position and put Inglis in the centres ahead of Jake Webster.
Slater was simply sensational against the Dragons. No he didn�t score a hat-trick or do a chip and chase special that makes him a media darling but he was lethal on the kick return. Every kick that he fielded saw him turn on the afterburners and rocket back into the defensive line at a million miles and hour. He got whacked, he got stopped but he wore down the Dragons kick chase with his sheer enthusiasm and speed on every kick return.
Don�t underestimate the value a kick chase team gets from a fullback who dawdles back when fielding a kick � when the fullback takes his time the defensive line not only gains field position but they can coast up field and the players on the edges likely ruck get a huge break mentally and physically because the fullback�s lack of speed means they won�t be tested. Slater also pulled off a few great tackles and the key indicator that the Storm were switched on for the entire 80 minutes came when Slater pulled off a big hit/tackle on Wes Naiqama in the corner in the final minute.
The Billy Slater who lived for the accolades for his tries and chip and chase wouldn�t have put in an effort like that but the one who has had to fight for his favourite position showed that he will. POS STORM LPR
FB SLATER, Billy 9 WI GEYER, Matt 5 CE KING, Matthew 7 CE INGLIS, Greg 8 WI TURNER, Steve 7 FE HILL, Scott 6 HB CRONK, Cooper 8 PR KAUFUSI, Antonio 7 HK SMITH, Cameron 8 PR WHITE, Brett 6 SR KIDWELL, David 7 SR HOFFMAN, Ryan 7 LK JOHNSON, Dallas 7 BN CROCKER, Michael 7 BN FRIEND, Nathan 5 BN CROSS, Ben 6 BN BLAIR, Adam 6 TEAM TOTALS 116 POS DRAGONS LPR
FB GREENSHIELDS, Clint 5 WI NAIQAMA, Wes 7 CE GASNIER, Mark 5 CE COOPER, Matt 6 WI MORRIS, Brett 6 FE BARRETT, Trent � 5 HB HORNBY, Ben 5 PR BAILEY, Luke 5 HK GORRELL, Aaron 5 PR RYLES, Jason 7 SR BICKERSTAFF, Matt 5 SR SIMS, Ashton 7 LK TIMMINS, Shaun 6 BN CREAGH, Ben 5 BN WICKS, Danny 4 BN POORE, Justin 5 BN HEAD, Mathew 5 TEAM TOTALS 93 3 � B Slater (9/MEL) 2 � G Inglis (8/MEL) 1 � C Cronk (8/MEL)
CENTREBET PREMIERSHIP MARKET � September 26, 2006
$1.75 Storm (LW: $4.25) $2.08 Broncos (LW: $3.75) The Player of the Finals [must play in 3 games (incl. Grand Final) to qualify and sorted on Average LPR]
After 2 Games Minium 8.0 � D Lockyer (BRI), C Cronk, C Smith, B Slater (MEL) 7.7 � J Hodges (BRI) 7.5 � B Sherwin, W Mason (BUL) 7.3 � L Bailey (STI), S Berrigan, P Civoniceva, T Carroll (BRI) League Player Ratings will crown the Player of the Finals and give a full run down of the Grand Final next week.