NRL Finals Week 1: What we liked and disliked from every game

The opening week of finals almost always delivers, and this year was no different.

Penrith proved why they’re premiership favourites, the Storm were bundled out in an upset, Shark Park hosted a thrilling golden point clash, and the Roosters and Rabbitohs played out a chaotic classic.

Here’s what we liked and disliked from Week 1 of the NRL finals.

PENRITH PANTHERS 27 – 8 PARRAMATTA EELS

What we liked: Cleary back like he never left

You wouldn’t have known that Nathan Cleary was coming off a five-match suspension as he tore apart the Eels on Friday night. 

100% conversion rate, two try assists, three tackle breaks and a field goal to cap it all off.

It was an influential performance from the game’s best halfback.

His output, however, shouldn’t detract from the other Penrith players who stepped up.

The likes of Brian To’o and James Fisher-Harris put on stellar performances to help book their side a deserved home preliminary final. 

What we disliked: Blake struggles under the high ball

Errors are part of the game, but unfortunately for Parramatta winger Waqa Blake, he made a lot of them. 

His four mistakes – all of them handling errors – prevented the Eels from gaining momentum, and consequently afforded the Panthers field position. 

The 27-year-old has been reliable for Brad Arthur’s side this season, but Friday simply wasn’t his night.

After dropping a high ball early in the game, the Panthers kept targeting the Fijian winger with bombs, and it paid off.

MELBOURNE STORM 20 – 28 CANBERRA RAIDERS

What we liked: Joe Tapine leads Raiders from the front

Joe Tapine is the best forward in the world. There is no doubt about it after he starred for Canberra in their upset victory over Melbourne.

The Kiwi international was extraordinary, as he took it to the big Storm forward pack almost single-handedly. In the first half alone, he had made over 100m while also being the catalyst for two of his side’s tries.

Opposition defences have struggled all season in getting Tapine to the ground and it was no different at AAMI Park. 

After the Raiders had absorbed an early barrage from Melbourne, Tapine charged through the middle of the park before twisting and finding a late offload to Jack Wighton. That move eventually ended in a try after passing through some more hands.

Tapine’s next big involvement was to fire a short-ball to Elliot Whitehead, which sent his skipper crashing over after Nick Meaney had been isolated on his own defensive line. 

Tapine finished with 209m, 28 tackles, one try assist, three linebreak assists and five tackle busts in a man-of-the-match performance. 

What we disliked: Ricky Stuart’s strange press conference 

After beating Melbourne on their own patch with an impressive team display, you could have been forgiven for thinking Ricky Stuart would have been in a good mood.

However, what followed was a tense performance in front of the cameras where he criticised the referee repeatedly, questioned why the bunker hadn’t given his team a penalty for high contact on Matt Timoko and claimed they received no 50/50 calls in their favour, before engaging in some mind games ahead of next week’s clash with the Eels.

“It’s easy for us, no one expects us to win and beat Parramatta at Bankwest,” Stuart said. 

“So, we’ll have a fun week at training and do our best with our prep and see how it goes.” 

CRONULLA SHARKS 30 – 32 NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS

What we liked: Pretty much everything from a finals classic

Where do you start with a game like that? 

After an absorbing elimination final earlier in the day between Melbourne and Canberra, the two top-four sides sent the entertainment factor up to a whole other level. 

The lead changed repeatedly as the Sharks and Cowboys engaged in a good old-fashioned shootout. 

North Queensland looked dead and buried with the final minutes ebbing away, only for them to come up with a try to send the match into extra time.

The fact it was decided by a 45-metre field goal in golden-point from a former Cronulla premiership winner against his old club, just tells you the kind of drama this final had. 

Jason Taumalolo wound back the years with one of his best performances ever, Peta Hiku ran for close to 300m, the Sharks’ back five all chewed through the yardage, forwards were throwing 30m cut-out passes, while Cameron McInnes was injected off the bench and somehow set the speed of the game even quicker. 

It was an incredible showcase for the game and will be a final that will be chalked up as one of the greatest ever in the NRL.

What we disliked: Nicho Hynes finds himself on the losing side

Nicho Hynes couldn’t have done much more than he did for his side, with the No.7 brilliant throughout. 

The former Storm man has made the transition to halfback seamlessly and led Cronulla around the park with aplomb in his first finals match as the chief playmaker. 

Hynes came up with a huge array of decisive plays, including a one-on-one legs tackle early on his own defensive line, a clever drop-out that got the ball back for his team and his creativity in attack.

The fact he finished with three try assists and four linebreak assists while being perfect from the boot yet still ended up on the losing side is testament to how good the Cowboys’ performance was.  

SYDNEY ROOSTERS 14 – 30 SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

What we liked: Rabbitohs a changed team

After their 26-16 loss in the final round of the regular reason to the Roosters, the Rabbitohs had their work cut out for them if they were to reverse the result in their elimination final.

Sure, Souths were helped by the absence of Joey Manu and head injury to James Tedesco, but they were a remarkably different team when it mattered most.

Latrell Mitchell was at his damaging best whilst Alex Johnston delivered the goods on the left wing. 

Neither side was disciplined on Sunday afternoon, but the Bunnies were able to function better as a unit and it led them to a stirring win. 

They’ve hit their straps at the perfect time.

What we disliked: Radley fails to keep his cool

Victor Radley made life harder for the Tricolours from the get-go, sin-binned for a punch on Taane Milne in the fourth minute.

He then received his marching orders in the second half after getting involved in an altercation.

At his best, Radley can be a game-changer for the Roosters, but unnecessarily spending 20 minutes in the sheds ultimately hurt his team’s chances.

He wasn’t the only ill-disciplined player on the field, but being sin-binned twice in such an important match is inexcusable. 

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