There’s nothing quite like finals footy and this weekend we begin with three bumper qualifying finals.
Like last year, there isn’t a whole lot between the six teams that have earned a spot in the playoffs, so we thought we’d take a look at some reasons why each side can and why each side can’t win the comp.
Why they can win they comp – Consistency
After missing the finals last year, the Students have been the most consistent side all year under Rob Taylor and rightfully claimed the minor premiership. T
hey’ve got the best attacking and defensive records and they did that with the least amount of ball. It’s an unusual formula, but it’s worked consistently all year.
Why they can’t win the comp – Experience
While rival fans like to think this Uni side is stacked full of Super Rugby talent, the reality is they are still a very young and relatively inexperienced side.
While a few players from the 2016 grand final side are back, the majority of the backline are in their first year of first grade and most of the forwards haven’t played finals footy before either. It will be interesting to see how some of the youngsters handle things in the coming weeks.
Why they can win the comp – North Sydney Oval
Norths hard-fought win over Randwick in round 18 was crucial. It means if the Shoreman can beat Eastwood this weekend, they will play the remainder of their games, including the grand final at home at Norths Sydney Oval.
Sure, they lost to Warringah in last year’s decider at home, but there is no denying that in a competition as tight as this, it’s a huge advantage.
Why they can’t win the comp – Missed tackles
Norths have made more tackles than any other side in the finals but they’ve also missed the most, an average of over 30 a game. That tells us two things. They’re happy to kick the ball away and grind out victories but it doesn’t always work for them. A missed tackle or two could be all it takes to turn momentum against them in the coming weeks.
Why they can win the comp – All out attack
The defending premiers love to attack and they do so confidently from anywhere on the field. Finals matches are typically tighter affairs in comparison to regular season matches, but Warringah have attacking threats right across the park that can swing the momentum of a match quickly.
The numbers support that. The Rats have made more metres (565.5 metres pg) and more clean breaks (14.8 pg) than any other side.
Why they can’t win the comp – Rebels blueprint
Southern Districts tore Warringah apart in the first half of their round 18 clash at Forshaw last weekend and led 31-5 before the Rats fought back. Yes they came back and won that game, but the defending premiers can’t afford to give sides a start like that in the playoffs.
I’m sure all five rival coaches will learn plenty from watching the tape of that first half if they face Warringah in the coming weeks.
Why they can win the comp – Finals footy
Manly play a style of rugby that is conducive to winning finals footy. They rely on a big, tough forward pack to control the match, then fling the ball to a lightning quick backline who know how to take their chances.
They also kick the ball more than any other side in the competition and in Sam Lane, have arguably the best tactical kicker in club rugby.
Why they can’t win the comp – Injuries
If Manly are going to win three straight matches and claim their first premiership in over 20 years, they are going to need their best players on the park.
Unfortunately for Marlin fans, Billy Melrose’s side haven’t had a good run with injuries and it only got worse last weekend with Sam Lane, Harry Bergelin and Alex Northam all leaving the field early.
Why they can win the comp – The Old Brigade
The return of John Manenti, Mick Snowden, Jai Ayoub, Pat Sio and Jed Gillespie this year has had Woodies fans reminiscing of the glory days. Eastwood won back to back premierships in 2014 and 2015 and the mentioned names were a big reason why. If they can get past Norths this weekend, Manenti knows how to prepare for and win big games in August.
Why they can’t win the comp – Lineout and goal kicking
On average, the Woodies have lost almost three line outs on their throw a game this year and as a side, are kicking for goal at just 60%. Considering Eastwood will need to beat three sides ahead of them on the ladder away from home to win the comp, they can’t afford to turn over easy possession at set piece time or miss any opportunities to build a score.
Why they can win the comp – Nothing to lose
After finishing sixth, few will expect Easts to travel to Camperdown and beat the minor premiers this weekend, but that’s exactly why they’ll be so dangerous. The Beasties are back in the finals for the first time since 2013 and at this point, they really have nothing to lose.
Easts have been in the fight against Uni both times they played this year and have had two weeks to prepare for Saturday’s must win clash. If they can upset the Students, a Beasties outfit with a spring in their step will be hard to beat.
Why they can’t win the comp – Momentum
Before their bye in round 18, Easts were absolutely thumped by Norths at home. It came a week after the Beasties beat Randwick in front of a huge crowd at Woollahra and seriously dampened the mood around Bondi.
It really could go two ways from here. The Norths’ loss may have given Easts the kick up the backside they needed. Or it could have caused irreparable damage and ended the Beasties finals charge before it even began.