Wyong Roos (1) v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (4) – Qualifying Final
Allianz Stadium, Saturday 2 September
Broadcast LIVE on Fox League
The 2017 Intrust Super Premiership NSW Finals Series kicks off with a blockbuster at Allianz Stadium on Saturday afternoon, with minor premiers the Wyong Roos taking on the in-form Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs for the first spot in the preliminary finals. Seven competition points separated the two sides at the conclusion of the regular season, but recent history suggests this could go either way.
Wyong come into September as the best-performing team this year, particularly impressive given they’ve had to play without regular halves Jayden Nikorima and Mitch Cornish for various parts of the season. Their recent form leaves some to be desired – they’ve won just two of their past six games, both of which they trailed at points in the second half – but only the bravest fan would dare write them off in the big games. Following a thrilling draw with the second-placed Warriors in Round 24, the Roos required a big second-half showing to down the Knights last weekend, but got the job done in a boost for Rip Taylor’s men.
The Bulldogs’ final regular-season match was also far from the dominant victory they would have liked ahead of the finals; three tries conceded in the final 14 minutes resulted in a draw with Illawarra. Over their own six-week period, however, Canterbury-Bankstown has lost just one game and has largely displayed the type of form required to instil belief in the side.
The match will be the competition’s first played at Allianz Stadium this year, in the lead-up to the Roosters’ final home game against the Titans. It will also be the club’s Old Boys Day – and in celebration of the event, pre-purchased general admission family tickets will be available for just $40. In addition, kids aged 14 and under are encouraged to take advantage of the free sausage sizzle offer operating near the Allianz Stadium gates for the first 1000 fans.
While playing stocks change dramatically between seasons in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, a quick look at the sides’ recent matchups suggests there will not be much between them on Saturday. The margin has only exceeded 10 points twice in their past eight meetings, which most recently included a 30-30 draw at Belmore Sports Ground. Saturday will mark the third consecutive season the sides have met in the finals and on the corresponding weekend last season, Wyong knocked the Bulldogs out with a Joey Lussick field goal in golden point. Bulldogs coach Steve Georgallis is all too aware of the teams’ recent history.
“The players have talked about the fact that they thought they should have won that game last year in the finals,” Georgallis tells NSWRL.com.au, “and we’re also of the opinion that we were very unlucky not to come away with the win when we had that draw this year.
“Obviously they’re a much better team now, 10 weeks down the track and so are we, so it’s going to be a good game.”
Where it will be won:
Both sides are relatively strong defensively, but having scored 90 points more than the Bulldogs throughout their 22 games, the Roos know they have the strike power to overcome their Saturday opposition. A number of form individuals make up the two sides, with each boasting three players in the Team of the Year, but Wyong’s Matt Ikuvalu has not been named for the all-important clash.
With the class on both sides of the park, the result could very well hinge on the team’s concentration for 80 minutes. Both teams have shown lapses in concentration for periods of their recent games and both have also shown they can pile on points in quick succession. For the Roos, those points could come anywhere in their back five – Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck and Joey Manu form an especially deadly right-edge pairing – while the Bulldogs will look to use the Josh Cleeland-Rhyse Martin combination which has worked so well all season.