Illawarra Cutters (2nd) v Newtown Jets (4th)
Leichhardt Oval, Sunday 18 September
LIVE Stream on NSWRL.com.au
Neither the Cutters nor the Jets made the Intrust Super Premiership NSW finals series in 2015, so it is quite remarkable that they are playing each other for a spot in the Grand Final.
If Wests Tigers – who also failed to make the top eight in 2015 - are to win the other Preliminary Final, then the Grand Final will consist of two sides with a stunning turnaround in the space of a year.
The Jets will not be worried about the other game for now, as they are looking to defeat the Cutters for the first time this season having already gone down twice to the Illawarra-based side.
At WIN Stadium in Round 7, the Cutters got up 28-14 with the tries coming from various NRL players including Peter Mata’utia, Taane Milne and Kurt Mann. The Jets were brave and Fa’amanu Brown was dangerous as always, and his double in a losing side proves that the Cutters need to seriously watch him.
It was not quite as close in Round 13 where the Cutters got up 38-14, but Brown remarkably scored another double despite being in a losing side. Shannon Wakeman has had a powerful year, and he scored two tries in this game along with crafty halfback, Drew Hutchinson.
These teams possess two of the most exciting fullbacks in the competition, Adam Quinlan from the Cutters and Jaline Graham from the Jets. These players both have experience playing in the halves, which means they are capable of ball-playing abilities to go along with their reliant support-play and dangerous running game.
While Quinlan leads the charge from the back, Wakemen certainly puts the Cutters on the front foot. He has been arguably the form front-rower of the competition, and he is certainly not afraid to power his way over defenders to cross the white stripe.
Matt McIlwrick is another key for the Jets, and has really made the number nine jersey his own in 2016. He provides Josh Cleeland and Brown with brilliant service, but has enough spark of his own to break the game open at any stage.
Where it will be won:
The classy halves and backs for any Rugby League team are nothing without the engine room, and it is no different for this Preliminary Final. The forwards are where this game will be won, with both sides possessing some serious talent within their packs. Wakeman, as mentioned, is the leader for the Cutters, but he is backed up by the likes of English import Tyrone McCarthy, Jacob Host, Siliva Havili, and Damian Sironen. The Jets, on the other hand, have two high-profile front rowers leading the pack. Junior Roqica and Jesse Sene-Lefao have seen their fair share of first grade, while the ever-reliable Kurt Kara will lock up the scrum after having a blinder of a match last week against the New Zealand Warriors.
The juiciest match-up of the weekend is two of the most exciting halves-pairings in the competition going at it. Drew Hutchinson already has plenty of wraps, and is destined to see more NRL time in 2017. His ability to control a game could be a match-winner for the Cutters, and Shaun Nona compliments him beautifully. Nona was a key player in the NSW Residents side earlier in the year, meaning he has the ability to rise to the big occasion. Fa’amanu Brown, as mentioned earlier, is one of the most gifted players in the world. He already has four tries to his name against the Cutters this year, and scored an unbelievable solo try against Mounties in the opening week of the finals. Josh Cleeland, however, is close to the form player of the competition. He doesn’t over-compensate a skill, having equal passing, kicking and running ability, which is perfect for a five-eighth. It will be very interesting to see which team prevails in the battle of the halves.
Illawarra: Kurt Mann, Taane Milne, Jacob Host
Newtown: Jesse Sene-Lefao, Brent Anderson
Illawarra: Mitchell Porter, Samuel Clune, Hermen Sele
Witness history this September at the 2016 NSWRL Grand Final Day. On Sunday, 25 September the Intrust Super Premiership NSW decider, along with the Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield Grand Finals, take place at Pirtek Stadium, with tickets just $10 for adults and kids under 12 free. Click here to secure your seat.