BEST MAN: James Tedesco shrugged off a pre-season shoulder injury to become a standout for the minor premiers.
BEST MAN: James Tedesco shrugged off a pre-season shoulder injury to become a standout for the minor premiers. DAN HIMBRECHTS

Cream rises to the top: Best and worst of NRL finalists

As the top eight teams prepare to embark on an NRL finals campaign, Fox League analyst COREY PARKER looks back at their home-and-away season.

 

 

Blake Ferguson is the Roosters’ most important player. Picture. Phil Hillyard
Blake Ferguson is the Roosters’ most important player. Picture. Phil Hillyard

 

Sydney Roosters

Best player: Blake Ferguson has been a standout and Latrell Mitchell has won a handful of man-of-the-match awards, but for me James Tedesco has been the Roosters' best in 2018. He came into the season with plenty of pressure on his shoulders, but his form in the lead-up to Origin and post-Origin has been incredible.

Most disappointing: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was one of the best props in the competition last year, but for mine he's struggled this year. He's spent plenty of time on the bench throughout the season, which hasn't helped his stats, but on the whole he's failed to reach his heights of 2017.

Best win: The Roosters' 18-14 win over South Sydney in round 22 showed they're capable of going on to win this competition. The Roosters took on the Bunnies through the middle, and the class of Mitchell on the edge was too much for his rivals.

Worst loss: The Roosters have been one of the most consistent teams this season but would have been disappointed with their 30-6 loss to the Warriors in round four and the questions about their attack that followed.

 

 

 

Cameron Munster has been the Storm's best.
Cameron Munster has been the Storm's best.

Melbourne Storm

Best player: Cameron Munster had plenty of pressure on his shoulders after Cooper Cronk's departure but has again proven he's the real deal. Munster has won several games this season off his own back and when he is on, the Storm are even tougher to beat. His form leading into Origin was outstanding and he's only got better as the year has gone on.

Most disappointing: It's not that Suliasi Vunivalu has had a bad year, he's just struggled to reach his heights of 2016 and 2017. Vunivalu burst onto the scene with 23 tries in his rookie year in 2016 and was the leading try-scorer last year with 23, but this year he's struggled to find the line, crossing for just 13 tries.

Best win: It's hard to go past their Anzac Day win over the Warriors. The Warriors went into the match having lost only one of their first seven games, but Melbourne blew them off the park in the first half, going into half-time up 38-0. The Storm went on with it in the second half to run away 50-10 winners.

Worst loss: Melbourne pride themselves on their consistency and discipline, but they were anything but consistent or disciplined against Manly in round 11. The Storm made 15 handling errors and had two players sin-binned in their 24-4 loss to Manly.

 

FOX LEAGUE has every finals game LIVE and ad-break free right up to the grand final.

 

 

Damien Cook has had a stellar season for the Rabbitohs. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Damien Cook has had a stellar season for the Rabbitohs. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Best player: Damien Cook has been close to the best player in the NRL in 2018. Coming into 2017, he was a bench hooker. Now he's a finals series away from a green and gold jersey. He's the main reason the Bunnies are where they are.

Most disappointing: Alex Johnston was a scoring machine last year with 22 tries but has struggled to replicate that in 2018 with just seven to his name. Injuries and a move to fullback haven't helped his try-scoring chances, but he hasn't been as explosive this year.

Best win: If Souths go on to win the competition they'll look back on their round-21 win over the Storm as the turning point. The Storm led 16-6 before Souths scored 24 unanswered points to win 30-20.

Worst loss: Souths will be extremely disappointed in their 24-12 loss to the Raiders in round 24. Souths led 12-nil, but allowed the Raiders back into the game with some ill-disciplined footy.

 

Valentine Holmes can be a finals game-breaker. (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)
Valentine Holmes can be a finals game-breaker. (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

 

 

Cronulla Sharks

Best player: Valentine Holmes started the season a little slowly, but his form leading into Origin and post-Origin has been scintillating. He's not only cemented the Sharks' fullback spot, he's also established himself as one of the best game-breakers in the competition.

Most disappointing: Having come to the Sharks with plenty of expectation, Josh Dugan but has had a frustrating year with injuries and hasn't been able to hit his straps. It's also been a frustrating year for Wade Graham. One of the Sharks' best players over the past two or three years, he has struggled to put games together back-to-back this year.

Best win: Cronulla has been a bogey side for the Storm over the years and their 17-14 win in Melbourne in round 22 shows the Sharks are a side to watch in September.

Worst loss: Cronulla went into round 21 against Manly at Shark Park as raging hot favourites and looked home and hosed with 10 minutes to go, but allowed the Sea Eagles back in, eventually losing in Golden Point 33-32.

 

FOX LEAGUE has every finals game LIVE and ad-break free right up to the grand final.

 

 

Jack de Belin has been consistently good for the Dragons. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)
Jack de Belin has been consistently good for the Dragons. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

St George Illawarra Dragons

Best player: At the start of the year, Dragons halves Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop were not only the best players for their club, they were the best players in the competition. But for me their best and most consistent player in 2018 has been Jack De Belin. He has taken the step from good first-grade player to representative player this season and he's done it with class.

Most disappointing: Cameron McInnes started the season like a house of fire and was pushing Damien Cook for the Blues' hooking role, but since missing out on Origin he's struggled. However, he hasn't been on his own in that department.

Best win: After towelling up the Storm 34-14 in round nine, the Dragons looked like they were destined for big things. Unfortunately it hasn't been smooth sailing since.

Worst loss: You can't go past the Dragons' 38-0 loss to the Dogs in round 24. The Dragons were at home, had a top-four spot to play for and were up against a side that had struggled to score points all year, but played like a side trying to avoid the wooden spoon.

 

Reagan Campbell-Gillard has led from the front all year. Picture: Getty Images
Reagan Campbell-Gillard has led from the front all year. Picture: Getty Images

 

Penrith Panthers

Best player: When Nathan Cleary has been injured, James Maloney has been their best player, and when Maloney has been out, Cleary has been their best. The Panthers' most consistent players this year have been Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Viliame Kikau. Campbell-Gillard has led from the front all year and Kikau has been one of the breakthrough players of 2018.

Most disappointing: The Panthers have had one of the worst runs with injuries in the competition. Reagan Campbell Gillard, Tim Browne, Sam McKendry, Josh Mansour, Dylan Edwards, Moses Leota, Peter Wallace, Waqa Blake and Viliame Kikau have all spent time out.

Best win: The Panthers went into their round-17 game without Maloney, Cleary, Campbell-Gillard and Tyrone Peachey due to Origin and faced a red-hot Warriors side, but dug deep to win 36-4.

Worst loss: The past two weeks have been tough on the Panthers, but their 20-12 loss to Newcastle in round 23 not only cost them their spot in the top four, it also dented their confidence leading into the finals.

FOX LEAGUE has every finals game LIVE and ad-break free right up to the grand final.

 

Matt Lodge has had a top season with Brisbane. Pic Annette Dew
Matt Lodge has had a top season with Brisbane. Pic Annette Dew

 

Brisbane Broncos

Best player: There was no player under more pressure than Matt Lodge coming into the 2018 season, but the way he's been able to put the off-field dramas behind him has been remarkable. Not only has he been the Broncos' best forward in 2018, he's also been close to the best forward in the game.

Most disappointing: Plenty was expected from Jack Bird, but due to injury he hasn't been able to fire a shot this season.

Best win: The Broncos have registered back-to-back wins over South Sydney and the Sydney Roosters in the past two weeks, but for mine their best win was against the Sharks in round 20. In winning 12-10, the Broncos showed they have the defensive steel needed to be a threat in finals footy.

Worst loss: The Broncos' best win was followed by their worst loss. The Broncos had a top-four finish in their sights when they met the Bulldogs in round 21, but were humbled 36-22 by a side that was battling to avoid the wooden spoon.

 

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck continues to wow for the Warriors. Picture: AAP
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck continues to wow for the Warriors. Picture: AAP

 

NZ Warriors

Best player: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been incredible this season. He leads the NRL for kick-return metres and has twice run for more than 300m in a match. Damien Cook is the favourite for the Dally M, but I wouldn't be surprised if Tuivasa-Sheck steals it from him late.

Most disappointing: I don't think the Warriors have had a disappointing player in 2018. For the most part they've bought into the game plan implemented by Stephen Kearney and have executed it more often than not.

Best win: The Warriors always bring their A game against the Broncos and they turned up the heat in their round-18 game at Suncorp Stadium, where they ran away with a 26-6 win.

Worst loss: The Warriors ran into a red-hot Melbourne side in round eight. Up until that point the Warriors had lost just one game from their first seven, but were humbled 50-10.

 

FOX LEAGUE has every finals game LIVE and ad-break free right up to the grand final.


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