Just when we thought we had caught our breath after an explosive opening week of the finals, another round of blockbusters is upon us.
South Sydney survives the carnage of their elimination final against bitter rivals the Roosters to progress, while Ricky Stuart’s Raiders have emerged as a genuine dark horse after stunning the Storm.
The Eels and Sharks, meanwhile, will be gunning to avoid the ignominy of being bounced out in straight sets.
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Looking ahead to week two, NRL legend Cooper Cronk gave his verdict on week two and the difference makers who could decide two gripping contests.
Rugby league legend Cronk has laid out some bold predictions for this weekend’s action with the Eels taking on the Raiders and the Rabbitohs coming up against the Sharks.
SHARKS VS RABBITOHS
Saturday December 17 at 8pm
Cronk praised South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou and his side’s ability to contain the Roosters last Sunday afternoon.
DEMETRIOU EMULATES KEY BENNETT TRAIT
While there was no doubt that Demetriou had big shoes to fill following Wayne Bennett’s departure, the former Maroon believes that Sunday afternoon’s performance alone could give the Bunnies the boost to go all the way.
In particular, Cronk praised Demetriou’s ability to emulate Bennett and get the best out of Walker and Mitchell at the business end of the season.
“Demtriou’s coaching and Wayne Bennett’s style of coaching is very different to a lot of players,” Cronk said.
“His ability to wrap his arm around, particularly Cody and Latrell and get them doing what they were doing last year.
“I thought when Demetriou was taking over, I thought that’d be very hard to replicate but he has done that.
“What he must have done between last week and this week to basically the whole South Sydney team, but in particular Cody and Latrell after being beaten by the Roosters there seven days later or so coming up against the same team.”
SOUTHS KEEP EYE ON PRIZE WITH HUGE DEFENSIVE DISPLAY
Cronk was impressed with Demetriou’s ability to get his players focused on playing footy in the big moments as the clash with the Roosters descended into chaos.
“To be able to get them to buy in and sort a red line a little bit, but none of those boys who historically tip over the edge, but it was the Roosters blokes that did,” Cronk said.
Cronk believes one good performance like the win over the Roosters can catapult the Rabbitohs to title glory.
“He’s done a tremendous job and that type of performance,” Cronk said of Demetriou.
“It’s like sometimes in finals a team catches fire after one performance, that performance could be that for South Sydney.”
While Craig Fitzgibbon’s Sharks have been one of the more impressive side’s in the competition this year, Cronk thinks that South Sydney’s confidence from last week’s victory could see them knock the Sharks out of the competition.
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Cronk was impressed with Souths’ ability to defend with 11 men against the Roosters, which should hold them in good stead against the Sharks.
“For Souths to defend for eleven men and not let the Roosters score tells me that there’s this spirit and determination in their team at the moment,” Cronk said.
“That type of performance particularly for Cody and Latrell where they stood up and dominated, it can be a ride the wave all the way through type of performance.”
SHARKS CAN’T PLAY INTO SOUTHS’ HANDS
Cronk believes for the Sharks to win they have to make Souths uncomfortable and not play to their strengths.
“I think the thing for the Sharks is that game on the weekend Souths vs Roosters went for over two hours, stop starts, HIA, sin bins and it played into Souths favour,” Cronk said.
“They were able to set up their good ball attack, get down the field, we’re going to do this, Cody pulled the trigger, try for Alex Johnston.
“I think the key for the Sharks is they need to keep this ball in play, no penalties, not many errors and just keep it back and forth, back and forth and I think that’s when the Sharks win.”
However Cronk is tipping the Rabbitohs to ride their momentum to a preliminary final and a third rematch with the team that beat them in last year’s grand final in Penrith.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Souths do it because they look like a team that are super confident at the moment after that,” Cronk said.
EELS VS RAIDERS
Friday, September 16 at 7.50pm
Much to Cronk’s surprise Ricky’s Raiders were able to knock off the Melbourne Storm on at AAMI Park on Saturday afternoon and he won’t be underestimating them again in the semi-finals.
While the Raiders weren’t even hot favourites to trump the Storm, Cronk believes Canberra can go back-to-back and beat Parramatta at home, highlighting four players who’ll help them do it.
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RAIDERS BUOYED BY AWESOME FOURSOME
Cronk believes the awesome foursome of Joe Tapine, Josh Papalii, Jack Wighton and Elliott Whitehead were the key to the victory over the Storm and will have to be on again.
“I’d have to put Joseph Tapine’s first half against the Storm as one of the best front row performances I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Cronk said.
“That offload for Jack Wighton to do his thing that’s elite, that is really good footy.
“His physicality creates quick play the balls but then his ability to create space and offload, I just thought the four best players for the Canberra Raiders were their four leaders.
“Tapine and Papalii’s second stint was amazing, Jack Wighton was ruthless in the way he went about it and Elliot Whitehead just tackled everything that moved and that just summed up the grit and determination.”
UNDERESTIMATE RAIDERS AT YOUR PERIL
Cronk admitted he didn’t give the Raiders a hope in the finals, but he won’t be making that same mistake against Parramatta.
“To be honest I didn’t give them a chance, I thought Storm at home, four Storm players leaving, I just thought that was enough for them but the way that the Raiders played right now I have them beating Parramatta,” Cronk said.
“Depending on Mitchell Moses but well done to Ricky Stuart he proved me wrong, he’s done a tremendous job.”
EELS MISS GOLDEN CHANCE AS STRAIGHT SETS EXIT LOOMS
However, the four time premiership winner revealed that Parramatta’s competition chances are slipping, with a key opportunity missed during their recent loss to the Panthers.
Ultimately Cronk revealed that the confidence Canberra will take from beating the Storm could see them progress to the preliminary final.
“I’m not going to disrespect Canberra anymore,” Cronk said.
“What they did on the weekend, I thought they were sensational.
“I think Parramatta had to win that, I gave Parramatta a big chance and at halftime, they were right up to their eyeballs and I think that’s a balloon popping moment for Parramatta.
“They tried, tried and the big dogs in Penrith just flexed their muscles and said, no not tonight.”
Cronk’s verdict: Raiders
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