Why I'm predicting a big NRL finals upset

The play of Cameron Munster will be key to Melbourne Storm's chances. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
The play of Cameron Munster will be key to Melbourne Storm's chances. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

I'll kick things off with a bold prediction on the eve of what is shaping as another fantastic NRL finals series: the two best teams all season and current premiership favourites, Melbourne and Penrith, won't play in a second-straight decider.

I'm tipping the Storm to falter at the first hurdle on Friday night and suffer a shock defeat at the hands of a Tom Trbojevic-inspired Manly Sea Eagles.

Won't that send shock-waves through league circles if it happens, because it will put the Storm on the same side of the draw as the Panthers ... meaning they can't meet in the big one at Suncorp Stadium.

But before looking at the games, who are the players who will have the most influence and hold the key to their respective side's chances in the play-offs?

STORM: Cameron Munster

Melbourne has some wonderful players and a guy like Jahrome Hughes has had a great season.

But in the big games, Munster will be the man for the Storm. He's played at the highest level and dominated before in big games like Origin.

He's unpredictable, unorthodox, not afraid to try things and has the vision to come up with a kick the opposition is not expecting or a stepping run that creates something out of nothing.

Get him on the front foot and he's a massive handful on his own with his footwork and strength or for others like Ryan Papenhuyzen with his ball-playing ability.

EAGLES: Tom Trbojevic

Tommy is just in the most amazing vein of form that it's almost as if he believes he can do what he likes on the field right now.

He is such an imposing force because he has just about every attacking skill there is to have in the game.

He's big, he's athletic, can break tackles himself or create for others and you never know exactly how to defend on him because he bobs up everywhere on the field.

One minute he's sweeping out the back, the next he is taking a hit-up from the dummy half or working alongside his brother Jake or with Daly Cherry-Evans.

And the confidence he gives this Manly side is such that without him, they can't win it.

ROOSTERS: James Tedesco

Teddy has become a great leader and an even better player out of all the adversity his side has faced this season.

It's almost as if he has taken it on himself to inspire this Roosters side every minute of every game.

He is brilliant with the footy, but what has made him an even greater threat is his involvement and the number of touches he has in games.

Just like Trbojevic, he floats around and bobs up everywhere in attack, bouncing out of tackles and he also does an outstanding marshalling job in defence.

If the Roosters take some big scalps in the finals, he'll be right at the forefront of it.

TITANS: Tino Fa'asuamaleaui

This kid is only 21 but he is one of the best young forwards in the NRL.

If the Titans are to upset anyone in the finals, it will be off the back of what he provides up front.

He's big and strong, he's aggressive and he has a good motor and will keep coming at you.

The Titans are going to need to be dominant in the middle if they are to leave any sort of a mark on the finals, so Tino has a huge job to do.

PANTHERS: Nathan Cleary

Cleary had that time out with his shoulder injury, but he's come back and picked up from where he left off and has the Panthers' attack absolutely humming right now.

He's composed, his kicking game is out of this world.

He can play structured or revert to being a little unorthodox and play eyes-up footy and, like all the great players, he has time. He'll be a major force over the next few weeks.

RABBITOHS: Cam Murray

Even without Latrell Mitchell, I'm not writing off Souths. But I don't think they can win it without Murray.

He's such a whole-hearted player who gets through so much work with and without the footy that the Bunnies can't do without him.

The halves, Reynolds and Walker, run the attack but Murray is the glue that holds this side together.

EELS: Mitch Moses

His game management has really improved, but can Moses do the job consistently in the big games ahead? That will be key for the Eels' chances.

The big advantage for him is the power of the forward pack he is playing behind.

A massive plus for his side is the length of his kicking game.

KNIGHTS: Kalyn Ponga

Mitchell Pearce is obviously influential, but so much hinges for the Knights on the brilliance of Ponga.

With his freakish talent, he has the ability to create something out of not much.

But he's going to need a lot more help than he has been getting for the Knights to even get past week one.

MY TIPS 

STORM v EAGLES: I'm sticking my neck out and going for Manly to turn the finals series on its head on opening night.

ROOSTERS v TITANS: With Radley and Waerea-Hargreaves back and Tedesco firing, it will be goodbye Titans.

PANTHERS v RABBITOHS: This will be tighter than many people think and I give Souths a chance, but Penrith are just timing their run to perfection.

EELS v KNIGHTS: The power of the Eels' forward pack will be too much to handle for a wounded Knights side.

This story Why I'm predicting a big NRL finals upset | Laurie Daley first appeared on The Canberra Times.