Joey Leilua of the Raiders runs with the ball over the try line but was later overused during the NRL Second Qualifying match between the Melbourne Storm and the Canberra Raiders at AAMI Park in Melbourne, Saturday, September 14, 2019. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Joey Leilua of the Raiders runs with the ball over the try line but was later overused during the NRL Second Qualifying match between the Melbourne Storm and the Canberra Raiders at AAMI Park in Melbourne, Saturday, September 14, 2019. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Where the week one finals were won and lost

Week one of the NRL finals is in the books.

We laughed, we cried, we did flick passes behind our backs with the game on the line.

It was a bumper weekend of footy with plenty to dissect, so in the first Campo's Corner of the week let's do our best Mitchell Moses impression and throw the damn ball around a bit.

Here's where each of the NRL finals were won and lost.

Sydney Roosters 30 def South Sydney 6

As finals footy rolls around it's natural to reminisce about finals footy in days gone by so I want this to really have the impact it deserves - I cannot remember the last time a top four team looked as flat as South Sydney did in this match.

Much has been written of the Roosters' brilliance, and they were exceptional, but Souths were totally blown off the park with barely a cross word. No doubt the physical and dramatic nature of the previous week's win played it's part, but even so this was a poor showing.

Wayne Bennett admitted after the match he got his reshuffle in the backline wrong, and that played its role as well. Alex Johnston switched from wing to fullback, Adam Doueihi from fullback to wing, Campbell Graham played right centre again and James Roberts was forced into the unfamiliar position of left centre.

The Rabbitohs were flat all night. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.
The Rabbitohs were flat all night. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.

The best players in the world should be able to play both sides as required, but Roberts has had an interrupted season ever since he joined Souths so it's important to put him into roles he's confident filling, especially given he was lining up next to Jaydn Su'A, another recent arrival.

Putting him on Joseph Manu, who tore Souths to pieces in this one (just as he did last week until Cam Murray got switched out wide) was less of a battle than a bloodbath.

Likewise, while Johnston was one of the few who looked likely, moving him to fullback threw off the team's overall balance. Doueihi has improved at fullback in recent weeks and only had one first grade game on the wing to his name - if he did have to shift somewhere else in the backline it should have been to the centres with Graham moving to the wing. Of course, it's easy to have all these insights at the end of the race but the lack of cohesion and combinations cost the Rabbitohs badly.

The Roosters knew exactly what they wanted to do. AAP Image/Joel Carrett.
The Roosters knew exactly what they wanted to do. AAP Image/Joel Carrett.

The aforementioned lack of energy also showed itself in the yardage deficit. Allan and Doueihi combined for 19 runs for a paltry 131 metres, George Burgess managed three runs for 29 metres and even the ever-reliable Cam Murray could only generate 43 metres from six runs. John Sutton was the only Souths forward to gain more than 100 metres and Liam Knight was the team's only middle who showed any kind of impact.

Comparatively, five of the six Roosters middle forwards made over 100 metres. Boyd Cordner made more metres in 34 minutes of playing time than 15 of the 17 Rabbitohs. The Roosters marched down the field with contemptuous ease while Souths were flat out crossing the advantage line.

On the Roosters there's not much else to be said - they are exactly what they've seemed to be all season, the NRL's death star and the most dangerous team in the premiership. If Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is suspended for the preliminary final it will be a tough blow to overcome but they have the personnel to manage it and will welcome back Jake Friend to boot. With Melbourne stumbling, they're the prohibitive premiership favourites - if they weren't already.

Canberra Raiders 12 def Melbourne Storm 10

If this wasn't Canberra's best win since the 1994 grand final then it's pretty close. After the drab domination of Friday night this felt like a true finals match - high-quality, controversial, physical, nasty and teetering on the edge of a blade for the entire 80 minutes.

This was like many of Canberra's wins this year when they've not looked like a sparkling, cohesive attacking machine, and there's some hairy moments along the way, but they win they day through effort and energy and not only fighting in every little battle but relishing the fight itself. Only this time it wasn't' the Bulldogs or the Dragons or Wests, this was the goddamn Melbourne Storm, on their home turf. So much has been written about the Raiders transformation this season but winning this game in this way is the kind of victory that scarcely seemed possible.

This was Canberra’s best win in decades. Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images.
This was Canberra’s best win in decades. Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images.

Consider that from 2010 to 2018 the Raiders scored less than 20 points in a match and won only six times. In 2019 alone they've done it five times. Consider they lost 16 games by six points or less in 2017 and 2018 alone. In 2019, they've won six games by six points or less.

Joey Leilua was a focus in last week's Campo's Corner for the same reason his pass for John Bateman's winning try went behind his back - the big centre is capable of the sublime and the ridiculous, and even if he's a flip of the coin there are times when the benefits outweigh the risks. The defeat to Manly earlier this year was the tough side of Mr Leilua's Wild Ride, and that's the way it goes with Joey One Eye, but sometimes it goes the other way.

For all his faults, the Raiders wouldn't have won this game without him.

There’s nobody quite like Joey Leilua. AAP Image/Michael Dodge.
There’s nobody quite like Joey Leilua. AAP Image/Michael Dodge.

 

Melbourne's transition since Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater left has been relatively seamless but these are the kinds of games where they miss their playmaking and execution. The Storm have filled their spine with fullbacks - even Cameron Munster, who has become one of the best five-eighths in the game, is a fullback at heart.

With three players as talented as Munster, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Jahrome Hughes in their spine alongside Cameron Smith, Melbourne can handle just about anyone, but sometimes they can lack a little bit of direction in the attacking 20, and Smith shoulders enormous responsibility as the primary kicker.

Most of the time they find enough to make up the difference, via Munster or Hughes or whoever. But when it doesn't quite come together, this is the result - one try in the last 120 minutes against Canberra speaks for itself. Hughes is a good player and having him and Papenhuyzen on the field is a net gain, but he's not a natural halfback.

Melbourne are by no means terminal. Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images.
Melbourne are by no means terminal. Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images.

These are not crippling concerns. Melbourne did not play to their best and it still took a freakish pass and an incredibly untimely dropped ball for them to lose. But the Storm now face a very hard road to the premiership, one which leads through the Roosters and could well end with a another match against Canberra, who will hold no fear of the Storm anymore, if they ever did.

Manly Sea Eagles 28 def Cronulla 16

In our preview last week we said Addin Fonua-Blake had to find another gear to help lead Manly home and he did so with gusto. The Tongan international was the best player on the field, battering and bullying the more-fancied Sharks out of the match.

It was not a one-man show - second-gamer Sean Keppie was especially excellent, rattling off 138 metres from 14 carries, - but Fonua-Blake played one of the best matches by any forward this year. His 186 metres from 21 carries were only slightly less than Andrew Fifita, Matt Prior and Paul Gallen combined (198 metres from 26 runs).

I also pinpointed the Bronson Xerri-Moses Suli duel as one Cronulla should feel good about, which was totally incorrect. Suli dominated Xerri and was a genuine force on the right edge, making three line breaks and rumbling for 190 metres. It remains to be seen if Suli can ever come close to fulfilling his immense potential but matches like this make it easy to remember why he was so highly rated as a junior. Xerri grabbed a try of his own, but he was physically dominated in this one.

Addin Fonua-Blake was the best player on the field. AAP Image/Craig Golding.
Addin Fonua-Blake was the best player on the field. AAP Image/Craig Golding.

The performances of Daly Cherry-Evans and Shaun Johnson are an interesting contrast in styles. Cherry-Evans played what I thought to be his best match of the season. Two try assists and three line break assists speak for themselves, but he ran the Sea Eagles around the park beautifully all night. The Maroons skipper was in complete control of where Manly were, what they were doing and what would come next. His team needed direction and absolute certainty of purpose, and Cherry-Evans provided it.

A quick mention must also go to backrower Jack Gosiewski, who is one of the most improved players in the competition this year. Gosiewski runs holes well but it was his hands which were even deadlier as he recorded a try assist and two line break assists, showing some deft touches on the edge of the ruck.

Cherry-Evans had one of his best games of the season. AAP Image/Brendon Thorne.
Cherry-Evans had one of his best games of the season. AAP Image/Brendon Thorne.

Johnson is an easy target at the best of times and this was not his finest hour - the two kicks he sent dead in the first half were particularly bad moments - but Cronulla looked far better when he seized control of the attack in the second half.

It's clear Johnson doesn't want to be the human firecracker he was once in the past and that's fair enough, because it creates an impossible standard for him to match, but if that's the way it's going to be the Sharks need to have more playmaking talent around him.

Chad Townsend is very solid, but the departing Jayden Brailey and Josh Dugan don't provide much in way of support. Both are fine players in their own right (Dugan has played well since moving back to fullback) but it's not a great fit. Dugan is a more robust runner than Matt Moylan but the latter's ball-playing helps diversify the Sharks attack.

Looking ahead, it remains to be seen if this was the start of something for Manly or the end. They get Martin Taupau back for this week's clash with Souths and will not be underestimated by anybody. Without the element of surprise and away from Lottoland, can they rise to the challenge again? It's impossible to say, but if anyone can get them where they need to be it's Des Hasler.

You’ve got to love the pride of Momi. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.
You’ve got to love the pride of Momi. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.

Parramatta Eels 58 def Brisbane Broncos 0

The Eels are a different beast at BankWest Stadium, Brisbane have had an awful record outside of Queensland all season and some of the Parramatta tries were truly special, but none of that makes this result acceptable and losing a semi-final 58-0 is one of the most humiliating things I have seen in rugby league.

Parramatta have the ability and the inclination for frenzy once they smell blood in the water. They built their lead on the old staple - tries off kicks - with their first three four-pointers all coming via the boot. Their reliance on kicks might get them this weekend, but in this game it just built their confidence and they turned it right up.

Brisbane were disgraceful. AAP Image/Joel Carrett.
Brisbane were disgraceful. AAP Image/Joel Carrett.

The width of Parramatta's attack was striking. Mitch Moses and Dylan Brown are both willing and able to throw long, long passes, even in broken play, and it gave the Broncos' defence fits. Some of the intricate passing from the Eels' right edge was scintillating and Michael Jennings wound back the clock with his best game in many years.

There isn't the depth of inquiry in this game of the other three, purely because there was a point from about 25 minutes in where Parramatta could do whatever they wanted and Brisbane were totally unable to stop them. The Broncos weren't beaten, they were butchered and their performance does not deserve any further analysis.

It won't be as easy for Parramatta this week, and Brisbane were so poor it's hard to know how much we can take away from the Eels performance but there's no need to dive too deeply into it right now. Sometimes finals footy is decades of heartbreak, sometimes it's freewheeling massacres on golden Sunday afternoons.

The Golden hombre

Is there anything more thrilling than when a big man gets into the clear and attempts an ill-advised dummy, or perhaps a chip kick?

Is there anything greater than when a large lad decides the time has come for him to show the world the ball skills he knows lurk deep within?

Is there anything that lifts the spirit more than a hefty fellow crashing across the stripe for his second NRL try in his 179th first grade match?

I say no, and to honour these big fellas each and every week of the year, which many have dubbed #BigManSeason, we hand out The Golden Hombre, named after Todd Payten, the biggest halfback God ever created.

The first week of the finals looked to be a barren run for the Hombre, aside from Fonua-Blake's try on Saturday night, until Parramatta took the initiative late in their win over Brisbane. Daniel Alvaro, the Mittagong Lion himself, crashing across would have been sweet enough, but topping it off with a Manu Ma'u conversion took it to the next level.

News Corp Australia


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