And then there were six.
With the Broncos and Warriors gone, the NRL finals draw takes on an interesting appearance. In one side of the bracket we have two foundation clubs, and a team that has been around since 1921. In the other half, we have two teams that joined the top tier competition in 1967 and waiting for them a club that joined in 1998.
The Sharks take on the Panthers on Friday night in a battle that may only have a 51-year history, but has taken on a lot of animosity in recent seasons. Several discarded Panthers have made their way to the Shire and before this season began, the clubs swapped five-eighths with disgruntled Matt Moylan going to the Sharks and seasoned veteran James Maloney joining the Panthers, The winner of this clash will face the Storm in Melbourne the following week for a place in the grand final.
On Saturday night we have a game that has a lot of history behind it. The Rabbitohs and Dragons have been butting heads since before photos started showing that the jerseys were in fact coloured. Leading the charge for both clubs will be hard-headed England internationals Sam Burgess and James Graham, with the winner facing the red-hot Roosters the following week.
It promises to be another week of exciting finals football.
Friday, September 14
Sharks: 1. Valentine Holmes, 2. Sosaia Feki, 3. Josh Dugan, 4. Ricky Leutele, 5. Edrick Lee, 6. Matt Moylan, 7. Chad Townsend, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Jayden Brailey, 10. Matt Prior, 11. Luke Lewis, 12. Scott Sorensen, 13. Paul Gallen Reserves: 14. Kurt Capewell, 15. James Segeyaro, 16. Aaron Woods, 17. Jayson Bukuya, 18. Jesse Ramien, 19. Ava Seumanufagai, 20. Joseph Paulo, 21. Kyle Flanagan
Panthers: 1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2. Josh Mansour, 3. Waqa Blake, 4. Tyrone Peachey, 5. Christian Crichton, 6. James Maloney, 7. Nathan Cleary, 8. Trent Merrin, 9. Sione Katoa, 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11. Viliame Kikau, 12. Isaah Yeo, 13. James Fisher-Harris Reserves: 14. Tyrone May, 15. Moses Leota, 16. Corey Harawira-Naera, 17. James Tamou,18. Wayde Egan, 19. Jack Hetherington, 20. Kaide Ellis, 20. Tyrone Phillips.
Verdict: These two teams don't really like each other. There are plenty of Penrith juniors running around in the Shire, led by Wade Graham, Luke Lewis, Matt Moylan and Andrew Fifita; they all have various reasons to fire up against the Panthers. Sharks discard James Maloney leads the Panthers into battle hoping to continue their charge towards the grand final. Last week the Sharks came up against a red-hot Roosters team and were unable to match them. The Panthers got off to a typically slow start against the Warriors before powering home for a confidence-building win. The Sharks got the better of the Panthers both times they met this season and look to have them covered for class, but the big-game experience of Maloney just could just prove to be the difference.
Saturday, September 15
Rabbitohs: 1. Alex Johnston, 2. Campbell Graham, 3. Greg Inglis, 4. Dane Gagai, 5. Robert Jennings, 6. Cody Walker, 7. Adam Reynolds, 8. Thomas Burgess, 9. Damien Cook, 10. George Burgess, 11. John Sutton, 12. Angus Crichton, 13. Sam Burgess Reserves: 14. Hymel Hunt, 15. Cameron Murray, 16. Jason Clark, 17. Dean Britt, 18. Braidon Burns, 19. Mark Nicholls, 20. Tevita Tatola, 21. Connor Tracey
Dragons: 1. Matt Dufty, 2. Nene Macdonald, 3. Zac Lomax, 4. Tim Lafai, 5. Jordan Pereira, 6. Kurt Mann, 7. Ben Hunt, 8. James Graham, 9. Cameron McInnes, 10. Leeson Ah Mau, 11. Tyson Frizell, 12. Tariq Sims, 13. Jack de Belin Reserves: 14. Jeremy Latimore, 15. Hame Sele, 16. Blake Lawrie, 17. Luciano Leilua, 18. Jason Nightingale, 19. Jai Field, 20, Euan Aitken, 21. Jacob Host.
Verdict: The Dragons rediscovered their winning formula last week, running hard, hitting hard and dominating the Broncos through the middle. The Rabbitohs were unlucky not to beat the Storm in a thriller in Melbourne. The winner of this game could well be decided by the performances of two Englishmen, as Sam Burgess and James Graham go head to head in the middle of the park. Burgess is looking to make up for a less-than-prefect effort against the Storm, while Graham is struggling to remember any of the Broncos game after being knocked out by Korbin Sims. It promises to be a fierce battle in the forwards and the Dragons would be right in with a big chance of winning, if not for the loss of five-eighth Gareth Widdop to a shoulder injury. It could be a hurdle too great for them to overcome against a classy Rabbitohs side.