Storm to face tricky NRL finals series - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Storm to face tricky NRL finals series

By Todd Balym 08/09/2008 09:57:39 AM Comments (0)

The top-two free passage to the NRL preliminary finals will be seriously tested this year with minor premiers Melbourne and Manly dealt horror first week finals opponents.

Melbourne conjured a remarkable 42-4 win over South Sydney to claim their third successive minor premiership and set up an intriguing clash with the New Zealand Warriors at Olympic Park next Sunday.

The 38-point win was enough to snatch top spot from the Sea Eagles while third-placed Cronulla also finished tied on 38 competition points at the end of the regular season.

Manly have drawn NRL bogey team St George Illawarra, their clash set for Brookvale Oval on Saturday night.

The past three seasons both of the top two finishers have comfortably negotiated their first week opponents to secure a week off and preliminary final berth.

But this year both Melbourne and Manly confront opponents who won their previous encounters.

The Warriors upstaged Melbourne 8-6 at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland only six weeks ago and are also buoyed by a shock 2006 win at Olympic Park, one of just two defeats the Storm have suffered at their home ground in the past three years.

The Dragons upset Manly 20-18 at Fortress Brookvale in round 11 this year and hold a remarkable 4-2 record over the Sea Eagles at the venue.

Manly veteran Steve Menzies insists that despite missing out on the minor premiership his side is better placed to make a charge for the premiership and improve on last year's grand final defeat to the Storm.

"I think we're still a little bit wiser," he said.

"I think the maturity of the side is a bit better.

"But I think all the teams in the semis are a little bit better than last year so we're going to need to be at our best."

Cronulla enter the playoffs with the belief they can finally end the club's 41-year premiership drought.

The third-placed Sharks host sixth-placed Canberra at Toyota Stadium next Saturday and coach Ricky Stuart, a former Raiders great, insists his Cronulla outfit is in with a chance of creating history this year.

"We've got some self belief in the team and that's a really important ingredient in any team sport," said Stuart.

"It's nice to have as a group self belief and most importantly momentum heading into the second part of the competition.

"But to do well in this competition and now in the playoffs you need luck with injury and you need to get a bounce of the ball here and there."

Skipper Paul Gallen added the Sharks, the only side to have beaten all of the other seven finalists in the regular season, were not afraid of anybody.

"It obviously doesn't matter who we play, we have to win every game once we get there," said Gallen.

"That is the attitude we have got."

In the first qualifying final Friday night the fourth-placed Sydney Roosters host fifth-placed Brisbane at the Sydney Football Stadium where the Broncos are likely to start favourites.

They have the past five clashes with the Roosters at the SFS, including a come-from-behind 20-14 round two victory in their only meeting this year.

The Broncos hold an 11-5 record over the Roosters at the SFS and coach Wayne Bennett is enthused by Brisbane's healthy roster heading into the finals.

The Roosters, meanwhile, have lost star recruit Willie Mason (knee) for the year while prop Mark O'Meley could be ruled out if the match review panel cites his high tackle from last Friday's win over St George Illawarra.

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