A week out from the big one and we have the greatest player of all time and the greatest player in big games at this time of the year in Cameron Smith literally standing in the way of the Sydney Roosters getting a crack at winning back-to-back titles.
It might sound strange because he has good players around him but in my opinion, Smith is doing it on his own as far as orchestrating everything for the Storm. There is no Cooper Cronk or Billy Slater there to provide an extra set of eyes for him.
The Storm defend well and they are really well coached obviously and the players all know exactly what their role is. But Smith just has everyone on a string. He's the puppeteer out there the way he jumps out of dummy half and manipulates the style he wants to play and where on the field he wants to play it. In some respects, I'd even go as far as to say he has taken his game to another level because he's had to because he is almost the sole focal point now.
The contrast to that is the Roosters, where you have almost the perfect team.
You have four or five thinkers out there on the field at the same time. You have Cronk, one of the greatest halfbacks of all time, Luke Keary who is the best five-eighth in the comp, Boyd Cordner, James Tedesco, Latrell Mitchell - they have so many more focal points and more strike across the board.
The Roosters have such a good base and play so well as a team that if one of their stars is a bit off, there is someone there to pick up the slack. Cronk orchestrates things but a heap of their points come off Keary and Tedesco and then you have Latrell and Joey Manu to worry about. They also have a huge aerial presence out wide and two greater kickers to exploit it, the hole running of Cordner and the footwork and skill of their forward pack. It's a great mix.
If there is a slight question mark surrounding the premiers, it is how they perform without forward leader Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. He is a huge loss for them as their win/loss stats with and without him show but the Roosters do have good depth and will be confident of plugging the gap. I can't wait to watch this one.
I'm leaning towards the Roosters, particularly at the SCG but if Cameron gets his own way and manipulates it the way he can and has done so often for so long, a Melbourne ambush is not out of the question.
I've played with Damien Cook in Origin and I wouldn't want to play with any other number nine if your team is on the front foot.
The other game is also a toss of the coin.
You got to hand it to Wayne Bennett. It's been a great coaching performance to get the Rabbitohs to a game shy of the grandfinal and he'll be loving the fact his side is going in as underdogs with all the pressure on the Canberra Raiders. I don't know if the Sam Burgess judiciary stuff was a bit of a smokescreen to deflect attention but whether it was or wasn't, it had the desired effect.
If Souths can play a real physical game against Canberra and grind them into the ground with Adam Reynolds kicking game and Wayne's temperament keeping them calm and clear leading into the game, I can see them really going well.
But the way Canberra's been going, playing with a mix of skillful footy and real physical, unorthodox footy, they will be a difficult proposition.
I can't wait for the battle of the hookers. Josh Hodgson is really creative and plays with tempo but I've played with Damien Cook in Origin and I wouldn't want to play with any other number nine if your team is on the front foot. He's the best player on the field in that situation when the forwards have laid a platform because he is so fast but his selective passing game, particularly close to the line, is right on the money as well. Canberra will fear him the most.
It's a sell out at home for the Raiders so Ricky [Stuart] will have them right up for it. They might just get home in a tight one.
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