If you think your columnist relies on superior insights as to what makes an NRL team tick, possessing what some might say is an unfair advantage when it comes to workplace tipping competitions, you'd be wrong. Way off. Sure, right on the money last week about the legitimacy of the Broncos but otherwise, no idea for the other three.
A sure sign that while belief might be alive and well in players, it is not always shared by the so-called "experts".
THIS WEEK'S TOP 8
1. Cessnock and surrounds are positively pumped to see their team on the Real NRL's biggest stage. With a chance to do the impossible against minor premiers Wests, it's true David and Goliath stuff. Sneaking into the semis, it's been the Goannas' late charge that has set them up for anything on Sunday. Forget their 57-0 drubbing by Wests a month back. Instead recall their round-seven win. With the greatest respect to the silky skills and rightful claims to favouritism of the Wests boys, if Scotty Briggs' crew were to jag an unlikely victory on Sunday, it would reverberate about the valley for years to come.
2. Why rain on the parade of Bunnies and Eagles fans? It's possible the winner of the first final of week two ends up knocked around sufficiently as to offer little more than a grand final warm-up for the "sweet" sitting Raiders the following week. Courtesy of their boilover in Melbourne, the Vikings find themselves on the easier side of the draw, in the box seat. Amazing the difference a week makes. They couldn't have planned it better. The biggest improvers defensively of 2019, Ricky Stuart's charges deserve their disposition and will likely bank on further improvement to get the job done.
3. With similar styles, the match-up in Melbourne tomorrow could go either way after the Eels' demonstrated they too can ball-play, barge and belt, with the best of them, after an irresistible farce the Broncos will long remember. Granted a huge possession advantage, the Eels were enormous across the park. Even centre Mickey Jennings had crack. Oozing his roguish charm, Nathan Brown's inspirational leadship set the standards for his mates to follow, belting every Bronco bopper he could get his hands on. The Eels can be sure the Storm won't divvy possession as generously as the Broncos, and their ruck momentum should be drastically curtailed by the kings of wrestle. Still, I'd love to see the Eels get up.
4. Blasting the minor premiers out in week two in their own back yard would be one motivating factor in Parra's build-up. For old-timers, a little payback on the occasion of the 10-year anniversary since they met in the losing 2009 decider, might be another. Beaten fair and square in a near thing on the field, it was Storm's management that eventually let everybody down by giving themselves up as rorting their salary cap allowance, thereby forfeiting "official" claims to having won the premiership. Privately the Storm players remain filthy, while their opposition on the day still wonder why the trophy replica hasn't yet been delivered to the Parra leagues club.
5. It's a front-rowers' creed: "Do unto others before they do unto you". The remaining NRL contenders rely heavily on their resident forward leaders to be better than the other guy. If one is to survive in contact sports, it's innate that one's team be endowed with that one big bopper, for when times get tough.
In evaluating the chances of the remaining sides it's worth considering these alpha bulls as one indicator of success. Take Addin Fonua-Blake for Manly last week, colossal, against the Cronulla pack.
Just as Canberra Josh Papalii quelled the Storm; Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is Leroy Brown incarnate, while Nelson Asofa-Solomona is trouble on tree-trunk legs. The Bunnies' big guns are the Burgess boys, where the Eels, true to their mobile mindset, follow the pocket battleship of Nathan Brown. All quality guys who "own" the daunting responsibility of dominating the middle strip on the field. Tough way to make a living. They don't score the flashy tries but since Jesus played on the wing for Jerusalem, they remain the heart and soul of any rugby side.
6. This column noted last week the good luck of Waerea-Hargraves at his previous judiciary visit, even predicting he wasn't far "from a holiday".
Lo and behold, playing magnificently he desperately offers up a Plan B to fleet-footed James Roberts and tripped him. For his detractors, the NRL judiciary acted as the Elliot Ness to his Al Capone. Couldn't get him on the big stuff, but a "nothing" incident has brought him undone. At least he's available for the grand final - if they get there.
7. The Knights wrapped up formalities for season 2019 at their awards night on Wednesday. Not a lot to cheer about, other than the strong camaraderie of the team and their resolve to stay in the hunt. Special shout out to clubman of the year Dr Pete McGeoch. After 28 loyal years attending to the care of every player to come through the gate, his profound contribution to the life and times of the Knights is unmatched.
8.Herald colleague Robert Dillon last week surveyed with a longer lens the carnage of the past decade at the Knights. In a cringeworthy stroll, it outlined Newcastle as the worst performing club statistically in that time - on the field.
Off the field, a slew of execs, dysfuntional boards and company structures, financial mismanagement and diabolical strategic decision making of so-called experts, albeit with the best intentions, played an equally pivot role. Outcomes that ultimately short-changed many a football career, and thousands of loyal fans and sponsors. No small thing.
It would make a great case study for a bright spark at Newcastle uni, don't you think?