Sport Rugby League Matthew Elliott: How a coach would rate the NRL finals teams
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Matthew Elliott: How a coach would rate the NRL finals teams

Craig Bellamy
Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy has found new players and reinvigorated the veterans. Photo: Getty
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The NRL finals begin this week and here The New Daily‘s resident coach Matthew Elliott rates the teams as only an insider could – via their physical, mental and structural components.

BRISBANE BRONCOS

Physical: Some of the league’s most outstanding athletes are in this team and this is definitely an area the Broncos need to exploit. The abilities of Payne Haas, David Fifita and Kotoni Staggs typify what this team has available.

Mental: With so many young players in the roster, inconsistency is an inevitable factor that coach Anthony Seibold knew would be a constant challenge this year. This puts elevated responsibility onto captain Darius Boyd, along with senior players like Alex Glenn and Anthony Milford, to set the standard. This attribute hasn’t been smacking us in the face.

Adam Reynolds of the Rabbitohs is tackled by Brisbane’s Darius Boyd. Photo: Getty 

Structure: A challenging area for the Broncos in attack as they have had a significant restructure of their halves with Boyd and Milford swapping places and Jake Turpin moving from hooker to the halves. This has made them understandably clunky and predictable at times, however their individual strike means they remain a threat.

Assessment: This team is capable of causing an upset in week one of the semis, so beware Parra fans. If they were able to pull that off, that would mark their season as a success.

CRONULLA SHARKS 

Physical: As the impact of injuries has dissipated we have seen the speed and power this team has available. In Josh Morris, Josh Dugan and Bronson Xerri it has large bodies on their edges that can cause havoc if given space. Balance this with the toughness of Paul Gallen, Aaron Woods and Andrew Fifita, and this team requires you to be ready for a physical battle.

Mental: The Sharks have great experience in big matches, but their one vulnerability is the head noise their goalkickers might face in key moments. In short, their kicking cost them a top-four spot – will it cost them a semi-final victory?

Structure: The Sharks structure in attack is enhanced by the presence of Wade Graham on the left hand edge. His subtlety and options with the ball create genuine hesitation in opposition defence. With Shaun Johnson’s running game becoming more direct, this has also raised the bar.

Assessment: If I had to nominate a smokey the Sharks would be it as they have the capacity to grind games out and this is a valuable asset in finals footy.

MANLY SEA EAGLES

Physical: This is Manly’s biggest challenge, with so many key players injured. Tom Trbojevic, Joel Thompson and Curtis Sironen leave a big enough hole, but if you add to that the suspension of Marty Taupau this makes week one of the finals a huge task.

Mental: What this team under coach Des Hasler has shown this year is that will show up every week with a strategy that gives them the opportunity to win. It should give fans some hope this weekend.

Des Hasler Manly coach
Des Hasler has got the Sea Eagles flying again. Photo: Getty 

Structure: Both in attack and defence this group has shown a real understanding of what is required in all situations. The loss of ‘Tommy Turbo’ around the ruck and on the inside of Daly Cherry-Evans will have opposition players sighing in relief.

Assessment: The entire Manly organisation should be proud of what this team has achieved this year, however the lack of available personnel is most likely going to see its season end.

PARRAMATTA EELS 

Physical: This is an area Brad Arthur has nailed with his coaching staff this year. The contribution from his big men like Junior Paulo and Kane Evans has certainly stepped up in 2019. Think physical, think Maika Sivo. This guy’s strike ability, combining with Michael Jennings, can damage the opposition.

Mental: Application in this area can be a challenge for this group. Mitch Moses can become distracted and with a young Dylan Brown as his halves partner the team can suffer. Have improved over the course of the year so it remains to be seen if that can be maintained.

Structure: The effectiveness of the Eels is very much into the above point. A focused Moses has a huge influence on the Eels’ level of execution. Clint Gutherson certainly also has a key role to play. But if Moses gets off track, the Eels don’t win.

Assessment: A week two appearance for this team would make the 2019 season a success. With the squad and development made, 2020 should generate real optimism.

CANBERRA RAIDERS

Physical: Ricky Stuart did take a risk in resting five players last weekend, but the outcome was either play the Roosters or Storm. While I have no doubt they would have preferred to win, this week there’ll be extra energy going forward.

Mental: Josh Hodgson, Jarrod Croker and Iosia Soliola set a standard that you can visibly see the rest of the team get on board with. This has certainly spilled over into their defensive resilience, which has gone to new levels this season.

Triumphant: The Canberra Raiders upset Melbourne Storm late in the season. Photo: Getty

Structure: The defensive focus certainly affected their attacking prowess early in the year, but the new spine of Hodgson, Aidan Sezer and Jack Wighton established some real potency.

Assessment: The Raiders will need to take the long route to the grand final, but are a genuine premiership threat and capable of beating any team on their day.

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

Physical: Even with the absence of Sam Burgess, this mob is hard. Perhaps the one downside for the squad is that Wayne Bennett hasn’t had the luxury to rest players leading into the finals due to injuries.

Mental: The coach knows about finals series better than anyone and he will have them ready on Friday night.

Structure: The threat of Cameron Murray and Damien Cook around the ruck area is something that all opposition will look at. Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker need to find the “click” they had earlier in the season to make this team a chance of winning the comp. Reynolds has been playing busted.

Assessment: With the disruptions to the team through suspension and the torrid end of season I am struggling to see the Rabbitohs making the grand final.

SYDNEY ROOSTERS

Physical: Through good management, injuries and a strong roster coach Trent Robinson has been able to rotate his team over the past four weeks. This will help their energy levels to peak at the right time of the year.

Mental: This team believes totally in its processes and has some very strong on-field and off-field leadership. The return of Boyd Cordner certainly is a boost to this strength.

Back on track? NSW skipper Boyd Cordner holds the State of Origin shield – now it’s onto the NRL finals for the Roosters. Photo: Getty 

Structure: The Roosters have been tinkering with their attacking structures over the past month, working on getting some quality early ball to Latrell Mitchell and Joseph Manu along with slick interchange of passing between their middles.

Assessment: A strong foundation. If James Tedesco, Luke Keary and Cooper Cronk can find their best football in the next month, it is hard not to see how they don’t go back to back.

MELBOURNE STORM 

Physical: Coach Craig Bellamy has earned the luxury of being able to rest players over the past six weeks due to its six-point lead in the competition. In the past month its on-field energy has been down due to the fact that the training workload has increased.

Mental: Despite dire predictions, Bellamy has managed to get the best out of and find future stars like Ryan Papenhuyzen, Justin Olam and Tui Kamikamica. The commitment to excellence means there’s pressure on players to perform well to hold their spot.

Melbourne Storm has clicked again this year with a mix of old and new players. Photo: Getty

Structure: In the past couple of games we have started to see a rise in aggression and in defence from the edges, which has been a Storm trait going into semi-finals. Perhaps the biggest effect on its play will be who is selected to play alongside Cameron Munster in the halves. Brodie Croft has spent most of the season there, but Jahrome Hughes’ shift from fullback in recent weeks has proven effective.

Assessment: Storm will be playing in this year’s grand final and if it is not lifting the trophy at the end of that game, its opposition has had an absolute blinder.

Former St George player Matthew Elliott has coached NRL teams Canberra, Penrith and New Zealand Warriors