Durko's Dissections for finals week one
BRONCOS V TITANS
First elimination final
Suncorp Stadium, 7.55pm
History: Played 34, Broncos 27, Titans 7
At Suncorp: Played 14, Broncos 13, Titans 1
Last met: Broncos 24-16, round 5, 2016
In round 12, 2002, rookies Corey Parker and Nathan Friend were instrumental in an historic NRL victory when the massively undermanned Baby Broncos beat Wests Tigers in a still-talked-about upset. Tomorrow night one of these warriors - both captains of their respective teams - will call time on their equally impressive careers. History, and NRL records, say the Broncos should win, particularly as they are playing at home where the Titans have a drastic 1-13 record. But finals are a different beast and if the Titans can tighten their defence - which has conceded an average 20 points a game - they most assuredly have the attack to worry big brother. The spotlight will be beamed on opposing halves Ben Hunt and Ash Taylor, but the Titans need Jarryd Hayne to bring something really special while James Roberts could well be the Broncos' x-factor against his former club. If they bring their form of two weeks ago, the Broncos should have too much class.
RAIDERS V SHARKS
First qualifying final
GIO Stadium, 5.35pm
History: Played 66, Sharks 35, Raiders 31
At GIO: Played 25, Raiders 14, Sharks 11
Last met: Raiders 30-14, round 22, 2016
How things have changed since round seven, when the Sharks hammered the Raiders 40-16 in the national capital. Since then the Raiders have won 10 on the trot while the Sharks, after being unbeaten for 16 games, have won just once in the past five weeks. And, as fate would have it, that unbeaten run was halted by the rampaging Raiders, who are averaging 29 points a game. The burning question is whether the inexperienced Raiders, who play a flamboyant style and take risks with the ball, will suffer stage fright in their first finals appearance in four seasons. Conversely, will the Sharks, who have never won a premiership and looked unbeatable during their mid-season charge, have some "here we go again” moments? Some of the one-on-one battles will be titanic, none better than opposing dummy halves Michael Ennis and Josh Hodgson. At home, in front of a fanatical crowd, I like the Raiders.
STORM V COWBOYS
Second qualifying final
AAMI Stadium, 7.55pm
History: Played 32, Storm 22, Cowboys 10
At AAMI: Played 4, Storm 2, Cowboys 2
Last met: Storm 16-8, round 21, 2016
This is a clash designed in heaven - the minor premiers hosting the defending premiers. And in the mind of most pundits - and the bookies - it is the 2016 grand final preview. While star quality abounds in both teams, the two most admired players in the game, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston, will be the central controlling figures as they match wits on the field on Saturday night, and off it between now and then. From one to 13, and even from the interchange bench, there are individual clashes that can win or lose this game. But with these teams the two best defensive units during the 24 rounds of the competition, it will be stopping tries, not scoring them, that will be the difference. And although the Storm holds a 22-10 overall advantage in games played, the score at this ground is even. The difference could well be the home ground. Bring it on.
PANTHERS v BULLDOGS
Second elimination final
Allianz Stadium, 4.10pm
History: Played 89, Bulldogs 51, Panthers 35, drawn 3
At Allianz: Played 1, Bulldogs 1, Panthers 0
Last met: Bulldogs 18-16, round 2, 2016
They are big, strong, fast and fearless, but can the vastly inexperienced Panthers forwards contain the bullies of Belmore? Without doubt, on their day the Bulldogs pack can run roughshod over any opponent - they just haven't done it for the past month. Conversely, the young Panthers ooze confidence and on the back of seven wins in eight starts they no doubt believe they have the attacking game to outsmart the struggling, and at times sluggish, Dogs, who will be without star fullback Will Hopoate as well as retiring winger Sam Perrett. Still feared because of their ability to lift at finals time, the Bulldogs need more from their spine, which this week includes the dynamic Brett Morris. A plus is the return of wrecking ball Sam Kasiano, who always makes a difference. But, on form, the precocious Panthers, led by the veteran Peter Wallace and holding no fear of any opposition, must be favoured.