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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

NRL semi-finals review: Straight sets exits

For the first time since the NRL changed their finals system to the current model in 2012, two top-four teams have lost in the semi-finals to be knocked out in straight sets.

The Roosters ended the season on a three-game losing streak after a thrilling loss to the Raiders ended their hopes of a three-peat.

The Eels were dealt a massive blow the morning of the match with centre Michael Jennings testing positive to a banned substance and they simply didn’t have enough to beat a red hot Rabbitohs side.

Sydney Roosters 18 – 22 Canberra Raiders

This was the game of the season so far with both sides leaving nothing in the tank with their seasons on the line.

Both sides have built up a healthy rivalry in the past couple of seasons, so there was no love lost with the Raiders looking to atone for last year’s heartbreaking grand final loss.

After a slow start last week, the Raiders needed their middle forwards to fire early and they did exactly that.

Josh Papalii scored the first try before setting up the second with a superb offload, while Joe Tapine scored a brilliant individual try in his 100th match for the Green Machine as the Raiders built an early 16-0 lead.

Hudson Young was brought into the starting side and had a huge impact, running for 163 metres and delivering several solid hits throughout the night.

The Roosters are a champion side, and you knew that even trailing 16-0, they weren’t going to go down without a fight.

James Tedesco scored a try late in the first half to bring them back into the contest and Joey Manu scored first after the break to bring them back to within 16-12 with plenty of time still on the clock.

The game was played at such a rapid pace that both sides looked out on their feet for much of the second half.

The Raiders managed to hit back after Tedesco was wrong-footed by the bounce of the ball and slipped over which allowed Jack Wighton to ground the ball and extend the Raiders lead to ten (22-12).

Tedesco managed to redeem himself with his second try of the night soon after, but it wasn’t enough as the Raiders recorded a famous win to keep their premiership hopes alive.

Papalii was a deserved man of the match, but there were plenty of key contributors to the Raiders victory.

Tapine and Young were outstanding in the middle of the field, while fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was exceptional and probably won the battle up against the best fullback in the world, Tedesco.

Nicoll-Klokstad was everywhere in the first half as he went on to run for a game high 276 metres while also making two crucial try-saving tackles in defence. He even overcame some painful cramps in the second half to finish the match as one of the best players on the field.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Raiders next week, with a preliminary final against the Melbourne Storm at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night, 16 October. They’ll need to rest up after last Friday’s bruising encounter and get ready for another physical battle.

For the Roosters, it brings an end to their reign as premiers and the career of Mitchell Aubusson, who was deservedly given a guard of honour by both sides as he left the field for one final time.

It will also most likely be the last time Sonny Bill Williams lines up in Roosters colours and there are now question marks over halfback Kyle Flanagan after an indifferent season.

However, with Victor Radley and Sam Verrills to come back into the side, don’t think it’s the end of them competing for premierships just yet.

Parramatta Eels 24 – 38 South Sydney Rabbitohs

Damien Cook saluting the crowd before scoring a try
Damien Cook was named the man of the match after a dominant outing against the Eels where he scored a try and had two try assists. Getty

The Eels may have finished the season higher on the ladder, but the Rabbitohs came into this match in better form and proved too strong in the second half.

The Eels dropped the ball on their second run of the match and the Rabbitohs kicked a penalty goal before scoring the first try to lead 8-0 and it looked like it could be a long night for Eels fans.

To the Eels’ credit, they regrouped and Clint Gutherson produced a magnificent five minutes of magic which saw him score two tries and assist on another to give his side all the momentum and an 18-8 lead at half time.

A 10-point lead was never going to be enough against the high-powered attack of the Rabbitohs and they came out humming in the second half with two quick tries to regain the lead at 20-18.

Then, the most crucial play of the game happened. The Eels got a penalty almost directly in front and decided to take the shot at goal to even up the scores, but Mitchell Moses’ kick slammed into the post and the Rabbitohs regained possession. They went the length of the field to score and extend their lead to eight points.

The Rabbitohs already seemed to have the ascendency in the match, but that play took the wind completely out of the Eels’ sails as the Rabbitohs scored another two tries to run away with it.

Damien Cook was a standout man of the match with a try and two try assists, while Jaxson Paulo came up with some big plays and Keaon Kolomatangi was impressive off the bench.

Junior Paulo and Clint Gutherson were the clear standouts for the Eels, but they didn’t get enough from their halves when the game was on the line.

The Rabbitohs have scored an incredible 144 points in the last three weeks against top-eight teams and now find themselves in good form heading into a preliminary final against the Penrith Panthers on Saturday night, 17 October.

The Eels have found themselves down by 10 points or more in both finals but have rallied back to win both games quite comfortably. However, the Panthers are a big step up from the two sides they’ve faced so far and they can’t afford to drop behind because they won’t be able to come back so easily against the best team in the competition.

For the Eels, it’s back to the drawing board to figure out how they can get past the second round of the finals next season.

They started the year so well but faded dramatically and were never a premiership chance come finals time.

The pressure will well and truly be on their halfback Moses next year, after he failed to deliver in the finals yet again. The 25-year-old has now played 150 matches and if he is the man to lead the Eels to their first premiership since 1986, he needs to take his game to the next level in 2021.

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