Captains agree it’s between Manly, Barba and the Dogs
NRL minor premiers the Canterbury Bulldogs are being tipped as the team to beat in the 2012 rugby league finals series, but reigning premiers Manly could yet disrupt their charge.
THE captains of teams involved in this year’s NRL finals agree the competition winner will come from this Friday’s grudge match between Canterbury and Manly.
The pair, going head to head at ANZ Stadium in a qualifying final, were the overwhelming favourites in a poll of the team leaders at Monday’s captains’ call.
Premiership favourites the Sea Eagles were favoured by Canterbury’s Michael Ennis and Cronulla’s Paul Gallen as the team to beat, while North Queensland’s Johnathan Thurston and Canberra’s Terry Campese like the chances of this year’s minor premiers.
“I can’t go past Manly obviously with the side that they’ve got,” Gallen said.
“It’s a pretty good side and they’ve been there and done it before.”
South Sydney’s Michael Crocker summed up this year’s premiership race perfectly when he admitted he couldn’t pick a favourite between the two.
The Raiders only just squeezed into the finals on the back of a five-game winning streak, but they’ve been dubbed the dark horse of the competition, alongside the Rabbitohs, who emerged from a slump with two wins to finish the regular season.
“Souths have got a really good style of play and I reckon they’re the smokies,” Thurston said.
“They’ve flown under the radar.
“Every team goes through a period like that (where they lose a few) but they’ve bounced back.”
After witnessing the Raiders pile on 36 unanswered points against last year’s grand finalists the Warriors, Crocker admits he will be keeping one eye on the Green Machine.
“The way the Raiders have been playing, they’re a scary prospect,” he said.
“If you look at their performance in the second half yesterday, when they were 22-6 down at halftime, to come out and score 36 points, they’ve got that ability and so many class players across the park.”
The Bulldogs and the Sea Eagles will meet at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium on Friday before the Storm and the Rabbitohs clash in Melbourne on Saturday. The Cowboys will face the Broncos in Townsville on Saturday in an all Queensland affair and Cronulla will travel to Canberra on Sunday to face the Raiders.
Meanwhile minor premiers Canterbury are set to scoop the pool at Tuesday’s Dally M awards with Bulldogs fullback Ben Barba a big chance of taking home three individual honours including the night’s major gong.
Barba is the overwhelming favourite to win the Dally M player of the year and the 23-year-old is already guaranteed one award after tying with North Queensland winger Ashley Graham with 21 tries in the home and away season.
Barba is also expected to win fullback of the year and nobody is happier for him than Ennis, who is in line for captain of the year.
“Throughout all the learning curves that come with establishing yourself as a good NRL player, Ben’s really matured as a person and he’s worked extremely hard on his game,” Ennis said.
“If you come out to Belmore and watch what that kid puts into his game every week, it’s a real credit to him. He’s got great balance in his life with his family and young children there and support of his parents up in Mackay.
“It’s certainly a massive drawcard for the NRL guys like Ben. I’m really proud of Ben. Personally I’ve known him for a few seasons now and he’s worked tirelessly on his game and he’s matured a lot both on and off the field.
“He’s got some rewards on the back end of that this year and no doubt he’ll really enjoy his first finals series coming up.”
Barba could be one of four Bulldogs celebrating positional awards on the night with Josh Morris (centre), Josh Reynolds (five-eighth) and James Graham (prop) all rated strong chances.
Bulldogs mentor Des Hasler could well join the blue and white show as coach of the year after claiming the minor premiership in his first season with Canterbury since defecting from defending premiers Manly.
There appears little opposition to South Sydney No.7 Adam Reynolds for the rookie award, the local junior playing all 24 games as he steered the Rabbitohs to the finals in his debut campaign. – AAP
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