Cronulla Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys
Allianz Stadium, Friday 7.55pm
North Queensland are set to travel to Sydney to face the Cronulla Sharks on Friday night, replicating their 2015 finals series schedule.
The JT led Cowboys were defeated in the qualifying final last year, as they were against Melbourne a fortnight ago, before winning every game from there on in to win the premiership.
While they will have to do it the hard way again, North Queensland is in top form and has only lost one of their past five matches.
The Cowboys are favoured to advance to the final, paying $1.78, compared to Cronulla’s $2.08 for the win (odds courtesy of CrownBet).
But a determined Sharks’ outfit stand in their way, who are enjoying a rich vein of form themselves.
Cronulla had a very impressive regular season, as they strung 15 wins together through the middle of the year to find themselves in first position with just six rounds to go.
A loss to Melbourne in the final round saw the Storm leapfrog Cronulla into first place, but a win to the Raiders a day later pushed the Sharks down to third, and a trip to Canberra awaited the Sharks.
Cronulla were facing a red hot Canberra side who were on a 10-game winning streak, but the Sharks played brilliantly and toppled the Raiders to book their spot in the preliminary final.
Despite positive changes for the Sharks it looks as though their poor preliminary final record may continue, as the Cowboys have looked the better side in recent weeks and just have the experience to win on Friday night.
Cowboys by 8
Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders
AAMI Park, Saturday 7.40pm
The top two sides at the end of the home and away season will face off for only a spot in the big dance next weekend.
Melbourne won the minor premiership following a 26-6 win over Cronulla in the final round, while Canberra finished second after leapfrogging the Sharks in the final round.
These two sides played each other just six weeks ago, with Canberra winning 22-8 after jumping out to an early lead.
However, the minor premiers are still favourites to advance, at $1.42, with the Raiders out to $2.95 (odds courtesy of CrownBet).
The Storm will be keen to make amends for last year’s preliminary final loss at home and also give club legend Cooper Cronk a night to remember for his 300th game.
Melbourne has been forced into making one change this weekend, with Nelson Asofa-Solomona out with an elbow injury. Meanwhile, the Raiders will go into the game unchanged following their semi-final win against the Panthers last week.
The Raiders will take a lot of confidence from their big win over Penrith last week and their win over Round earlier in the season, but the Storm at home should be too strong.
Storm by 6