Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for Week 1 of the finals. The favourites should do it comfortably now that things are getting serious.

Sydney Roosters v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Sydney Cricket Ground
Friday 13th September, 7:50pm

RoostersRabbitohs
James Tedesco1Adam Doueihi
Daniel Tupou2Alex Johnston
Latrell Mitchell3James Roberts
Joseph Manu4Campbell Graham
Brett Morris5Corey Allan
Luke Keary6Cody Walker
Cooper Cronk7Adam Reynolds
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves8Tevita Tatola
Sam Verrills9Damien Cook
Isaac Liu10Liam Knight
Boyd Cordner11John Sutton
Mitchell Aubusson12Jaydn Su’a
Victor Radley13Cameron Murray
Angus Crichton14Ethan Lowe
Zane Tetevano15Dean Britt
Nat Butcher16Thomas Burgess
Siosiua Taukeiaho17Mark Nicholls


History:
Played 243, Roosters 111, Rabbitohs 126

Last Meeting: Round 25, 2019: Rabbitohs 16 def. Roosters 10

Final Thoughts: The Match Review Committee and Judiciary have already played a significant role in this one. Sam Burgess will miss the match after the MRC nabbed him for hair pulling while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has been found not guilty for collecting Liam Knight’s head and is free to play. If it wasn’t already, advantage: Roosters.

It seems as though the Chooks have been cruising up until this point – even last week when losing to the Rabbitohs. Trent Robinson and his men had nothing to play for and the loss won’t have impacted their confidence in the slightest. This is when the Roosters really kick on, and the Rabbitohs are unlikely to stop them.

Burgess is a considerable loss, and while he’s not in great form, he’s their leader. Without him, it’s difficult to see the Bunnies doing enough in the middle to trouble the Roosters line often enough to produce the points required to win. The Roosters have the best attack in the NRL and the Rabbitohs edges are vulnerable. It’s going to take an impressive defensive effort for the underdogs to keep this one close.

Tip: Handicap – Roosters -8.5 @ $2.05

Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders @ AAMI Park
Saturday 14th September, 5:40pm

StormRaiders
Ryan Papenhuyzen1Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Suliasi Vunivalu2Nick Cotric
Will Chambers3Jarrod Croker
Justin Olam4Joseph Leilua
Josh Addo-Carr5Jordan Rapana
Cameron Munster6Jack Wighton
Jahrome Hughes7Aidan Sezer
Jesse Bromwich8Josh Papalii
Cameron Smith9Josh Hodgson
Nelson Asofa-Solomona10Iosia Soliola
Felise Kaufusi11John Bateman
Kenneath Bromwich12Elliott Whitehead
Dale Finucane13Joseph Tapine
Brandon Smith14Bailey Simonsson
Tui Kamikamica15Dunamis Lui
Max King16Corey Horsburgh
Joe Stimson17Ryan Sutton


History:
Played 43, Storm 31, Raiders 12

Last Meeting: Round 22, 2019: Raiders 22 def. Storm 18

Final Thoughts: We’ve got a rematch of the Round 22 thriller here. The Storm built an 18-0 lead on the back of two Raiders sin-bin’s before the Green Machine pulled off an all-time great comeback the last time these two met. The Storm had never lost from 18-0 ahead before that fateful day.

It’s a result that will stick in the minds of Craig Bellamy and the Storm, and one that is unlikely to be repeated. The Raiders can’t afford to start this one so poorly. A repeat of the lack of discipline shown to start their Round 22 clash is sure to end in defeat this time around. It’s an issue that has plagued the Raiders in recent weeks as they’ve struggled to navigate the last five weeks against tough opposition.

This is finals footy so we can expect the Storm to be at their best. They’ve named their best spine, are relatively healthy, and come into this one in decent form. Meanwhile, the Raiders have lost two of their last three since beating the Storm and were a Kyle Flanagan conversion away from losing the match they did win. Go with what we know and stick with the Storm.

Tip: Handicap – Storm -6.5 @ $1.90

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ Lottoland
Saturday 14th September, 7:50pm

Sea EaglesSharks
Brendan Elliot1Josh Dugan
Jorge Taufua2Sosaia Feki
Brad Parker3Bronson Xerri
Moses Suli4Josh Morris
Reuben Garrick5Aaron Gray
Dylan Walker6Shaun Johnson
Daly Cherry-Evans7Chad Townsend
Addin Fonua-Blake8Aaron Woods
Apisai Koroisau9Jayden Brailey
Sean Keppie10Matt Prior
Corey Waddell11Briton Nikora
Jack Gosiewski12Wade Graham
Jake Trbojevic13Paul Gallen
Manase Fainu14Kurt Capewell
Haumole Olakau’atu15Jack Williams
Lloyd Perrett16Andrew Fifita
Toafofoa Sipley17Braden Hamlin-Uele


History:
Played 101, Sea Eagles 72, Sharks 26

Last Meeting: Round 10, 2019: Sea Eagles 24 def. Sharks 14

Final Thoughts: Oh, what could have been? If the Sea Eagles could run out onto Lottoland with their full-strength squad, this game might have been the biggest and most difficult to tip of the weekend. Instead, it’s perhaps the most inevitable.

The Sharks run out as heavy favourites against a Sea Eagles side missing Tom Trbojevic, Curtis Sironen, Taniela Paseka and Marty Taupau. Brad Parker and Jack Gosiewski have been named but are under injury clouds early in the week. Des Hasler is so desperate for warm bodies that he has called Tony Williams up from reserve grade to fill-out the 21. This isn’t the Sea Eagles side that has exceeded expectations and played so well all year.

Meanwhile, the Sharks have always been capable of playing good footy but lacked the consistency. They’ve slowly started to find it as the finals approach, though. Under all sorts of pressure and in hostile territory, the Sharks beat the Tigers comfortably to get here. They won the battle in the middle, got into the grind, and piled on the points when the opportunity arose. They’ll look to do the same again this week. It may be a little slow to start as the Sea Eagles come out flying, but expect the Sharks to show their quality and pull away in the second half.

Tip: 1st Half Handicap – Sea Eagles +2.5 @ $1.90

Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos @ Bankwest Stadium
Sunday 15th September, 4:05pm

EelsBroncos
Clinton Gutherson1Anthony Milford
Maika Sivo2Corey Oates
Michael Jennings3Kotoni Staggs
Waqa Blake4Alex Glenn
Blake Ferguson5Jamayne Isaako
Dylan Brown6Darius Boyd
Mitchell Moses7Jake Turpin
Kane Evans8Matthew Lodge
Reed Mahoney9Andrew McCullough
Junior Paulo10Payne Haas
Shaun Lane11David Fifita
Manu Ma’u12Matt Gillett
Nathan Brown13Joe Ofahengaue
Brad Takairangi14James Segeyaro
Daniel Alvaro15Thomas Flegler
Ray Stone16Gehamat Shibasaki
Marata Niukore17Patrick Carrigan


History:
Played 57, Eels 22, Broncos 34

Last Meeting: Round 24, 2019: Broncos 17 def. Eels 16

Final Thoughts: The Broncos will be kicking themselves after losing the Bulldogs in Round 25. A win would have put them against an injury-depleted Sea Eagles outfit – potentially as favourites. Instead, they face a plucky Eels at their Bankwest Stadium fortress as significant $2.55 and +4.5 underdogs.

It’s Parramatta’s ceiling in attack that makes things so difficult for the Broncos. With one of the most powerful and talented packs in the NRL, the Broncos can compete with any team in the competition. However, their lack of consistent faces in key playmaking position sees them average just 18 points per game – 11th in the NRL.

While the Eels can’t match the Broncos pack, they get plenty of yardage from their back-three. Blake Ferguson, in particular, can make up a lot of the difference when starting their sets. That should ensure the Eels compete through the middle of the field. From there, the far more trustworthy Eels attack should find enough points to take the chocolates. Although, they may not need many. These two played out a 17-16 nail-biter two weeks ago, and we can expect something similar on Sunday.

Tip: Handicap – Broncos +4.5 @ $1.90