A little birdie told me today that picking a winner in Broncos and Bulldogs game tonight was tougher than picking a broken nose and given his melon resembles that of Dane Carlaw�s last Saturday night, I guess I�ll have to take his word for it.
So who do you pick? There certainly isn�t a clear cut favourite despite the two notable returns from injury for the Bulldogs in Roy Asotasi and Reni Maitua. That �advantage� is off-set by the 50-6 bludgeoning the Broncos delivered Newcastle and the supreme level of confidence they will have gained from that performance. In fact Brisbane know exactly what kind of confidence that a team who wins by 50 has when they came up against the Wests Tigers in Week Two of the Finals in 2005. That day the Broncos started very well but couldn�t put up the points that matched their possession and field position and were ceremoniously run over in the second half by a Tigers side full of self belief. For the Bulldogs this time around they must turn any early pressure into points, otherwise not even their excellent forward pack will be able to turn back the tide of Brisbane forwards pressing against them with a 12-0 lead.
This game screams 80 minute slugfest� but given we only saw one of these this year when the Dogs beat the Dragons at Oki Jubilee � the odds aren�t promising that we�ll see another beauty like we did on that Friday night. The gut feel here is that the Dogs must score early points as they lack the strike power out wide to chase points like the Broncos seem to have. Losing Willie Tonga was as big a loss (if not stylistically bigger) as Asotasi a month ago and with Tonga out the Bulldogs lack any real replacement. If Ben Roberts gets the call up to partner Andrew Emelio in the centres, not even the most ardent Canterbury supporter can believe they have the strike power in the centres to combat Justin Hodges and Brent Tate if both get equal ball and opportunity. Against the Raiders the lack of a genuine strike centre was a major reason the Bulldogs didn�t lead by more than 12-6 at halftime in the Qualifying Final. Canberra�s defence on the edges did the necessary job on Sonny Bill Williams as the lone featured runner out wide and if the Bulldogs have a weakness it is in this area in the form of a centre who can run devastating attacking angles.
Brisbane are full of points on their day and Darren Lockyer could cap off a memorable and his best season at five-eighth (even if he plays like a halfback) by exposing the Canterbury up and in outside defence with his second man Plays to Karmichael Hunt, Hodges and Tate.
But if the Bulldogs get an early lead of 8 or more points, I don�t think they�ll give the Broncos a big enough sniff to cut the deficit.
So who to pick?
Bulldogs by 2� without any confidence at all and in part because they were my pre-season title pick.
In the other Preliminary Final the 2006 Minor Premier Melbourne Storm faces the St.George-Illawarra Dragons at Telstra Stadium in what should be a high quality game of football.
This game has in my mind a favourite and it is not the well documented media pick of the Dragons. The Storm didn�t just win the Minor Premiership � they cantered away with it and the key element in that success was no slumps whatsoever during the season. In fact the only blemish on their regular season record was an early two game losing streak in the first month. The Dragons on the other hand had a five game swoon late in the season and although they have statistically reversed that with their current five match winning run � they have shown they can switch off; the Storm however have kept the light switched on pretty much the entire season.
Against Parramatta in the Qualifying Final, Melbourne may have just won the game � but that�s all you need to do remember, and they really didn�t let that match get to a stage where the Eels looked like a genuine chance of winning. That is the sign of a quality unit who stay focused during the game, no matter the size of their lead. The Dragons on the other hand have played brilliant football the past two weeks in defeating the Broncos and the Sea Eagles but despite that I still haven�t jumped on the premiership bandwagon � I just can�t do it� after all it is the Dragons, the same team that has won a grand total of zero premierships since I�ve been on this green earth.
Why am I not joining the fans and media on the bandwagon (other than for the premiership dig)?
Because they are a team full of brilliance and blunder. At the moment the cooks in the kitchen are stirring up a wonderful stew and Trent Barrett is in great form � even at hooker (where personally I think he�s a gun and had he stayed in Australia his last 3-5 seasons would�ve been well spent at the position), but after those two great wins will the cooks start thinking they have the secret ingredient? Will they believe they need to do more to get the team over the line?
Sure they are hypothetical theories but with the unique makeup of the side including Barrett, Ben Hornby, Aaron Gorrell and Mathew Head in the structure of the side � I just feel that everything has to run perfectly for that mix to work. Also the forward pack is clicking on the back of Luke Bailey but as a unit it can be fair-weathered and that�s not a great trait come September. And I can�t see Melbourne playing the kind of game where they turn over regular ball to the opposition in good field position or have a poor kick chase like Manly did last week.
And because of that I like the Storm by 4.
As a side note � the Sydney Morning Herald�s quality �Sin Bin� article published the proposed NRL Draw structure for 2007.
It makes for interesting reading.
According to the SMH � the season will be 25 Rounds long but each side will have one bye to coincide with an Origin or Test Match. This is interesting because although it keeps each side with 12 home games to divvy between their ground/s anyway they choose it means that the league will once again have issues with the disparity created with the allocation of the Bye. Personally the Bye might seem great in theory but unless all teams have a Bye week at the same time then it creates an unfair advantage to some teams who may draw a team who have none of their Origin representatives available.
There is still time for the NRL to reconsider where they put the Bye in each team�s regular season schedule but they must seriously consider the value of a stand alone bye week to the players and the fans. And honestly who cares if the AFL have been forward thinkers in this and already do it (they have a 6/2 game split over two weeks of the same round), because isn�t it better to get it right at the end of the day than be stubborn and stick with something that isn�t working?
Although having said that the NRL continue to stick with the appalling McIntyre Finals System when the AFL has proven that it was flawed and reverted to the ARL�s 1995-1996 system (with a minor tweak)� anyway.
Get out to the footy!