Durko's dissections for week three of the NRL finals
FIRST PRELIMINARY FINAL
Storm v Sharks
AAMI Park, Friday, 7.40pm
Played: 36, Storm 22, Sharks 14. Last met: Sharks 17-14, round 22, 2018. At this ground: Played 9, Storm 7, Sharks 2
Ladbrokes: Storm $1.36, Sharks $3.25
Despite their stellar recent form against the premiers - four wins for the Sharks in their past five clashes, including the 2016 decider - it is difficult to envisage an upset tomorrow night. Storm has won seven from nine at AAMI Park, this is their 15th finals appearance since Craig Bellamy took on the coaching reins 16 years ago, and the most professional team in the competition is at full strength. And although the Sharks once again proved last weekend they are never out of the contest, the loss of Wade Graham plus doubts over the fitness of seasoned internationals Paul Gallen, Josh Dugan and Luke Lewis leaves major question marks on their ability to combat the machine that is Melbourne. Much interest centres on which No.7 actually lines up for the Storm but, irrespective of who that will be, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cameron Munster will run the show. And the return of Will Chambers and Nelson Asofa-Solomona could not have come at a better time for a side that has had a much-needed week's rest. While Valentine Holmes, Matt Moylan and Andrew Fifita will add plenty of attacking polish to what will no doubt be another tradesmanlike performance from the Sharks, in the end the Storm should prove too big, too strong, too fast and, ultimately, too good.
TIP - Storm
SECOND PRELIMINARY FINAL
Roosters v Rabbitohs
Allianz Stadium, Saturday, 7.40pm
Played: 218, Rabbitohs 113, Roosters 100, drawn 5. Last met: Roosters 18-14, round 22, 2018. At this ground: Played 38, Roosters 24, Rabbitohs 14
Ladbrokes: Roosters $1.74, Rabbitohs $2.15
Maybe the fickle finger of fate played a hand in the Rabbitohs' skinny win over the Dragons last weekend, because now the two clubs closest to the soon-to-be-demolished Sydney Football Stadium will draw the curtain on the venue in this much-hyped second qualifier for the grand final.
And what a clash it promises to be, despite the Roosters being down on troops. The combined absence of enforcer Dylan Napa and goalkicking centre Latrell Mitchell is a massive blow - maybe even fatal. While no team, particularly the consistent minor premiers, should rely on one or two players, Napa and Mitchell are both big-game players, and matchwinners on their day. The big plus for the Rabbitohs is a fully fit squad, albeit some will be carrying bumps and bruises, and others some baggage from recent off-field dramas. But with inspirational skipper Greg Inglis cleared to play, that mental boost, plus last weekend's gripping win, will have the Rabbitohs feeling as confident as ever. With points expected to be at a premium, James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk must be at their very best for the Roosters to win. History - this season and right back to 1908 - says there is little between these neighbouring clubs, and that will again be the case on Saturday. Remarkably, this is just the second time since 1938 these teams have met in the finals.
TIP - Rabbitohs