OPINION

There's no room for inconsistency come finals time

At their very best, the Newcastle Knights are capable of challenging anyone. Photo: Ashley Feder/Getty Images.
At their very best, the Newcastle Knights are capable of challenging anyone. Photo: Ashley Feder/Getty Images.

Of the eight teams contesting the finals series, I reckon the one who is the most frustrating to watch is the Newcastle Knights.

Let me say this from the top, I am rapt for the club and, most particularly, their loyal fans that the Knights have finally broken the drought and qualified for the play-offs. It's been a long seven-year wait that included a real tough period of rebuilding that would have been torture for the fans.

After the groundwork and heavy lifting was done by Nathan Brown, Adam O'Brien, in his first year as a head coach, deserves plenty of kudos for their rise this season.

But their performance against the Gold Coast, with a home semi-final hanging on the result last weekend, just highlights what I'm talking about.

In the likes of Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce, David Klemmer, Daniel Saifiti and others, they have world-class players. How can they be so inconsistent as a team? How can there be such a gulf between their best performance and their worst?

At their very best, they are capable of challenging anyone. At their worst, they beat themselves before even running out.

For the sake of their fans, I hope the finals can bring the best out of them otherwise their stay is going to be short and not real sweet.

THE GAMES

PANTHERS v ROOSTERS

This is an unbelievable match-up. The ageing champions of the past two years, coming off a huge loss, up against the in-form, young tearaway minor premiers who are just oozing confidence and self-belief.

Everyone is expecting the Roosters to bounce back here after the belting they copped against Souths but I'm not so sure. For mine, they have a lot of questions hovering over them that need answering.

There is no Cooper Cronk, no Latrell Mitchell from last year, no Jake Friend in this one, a rookie halfback playing in his first finals series and some tired looking forwards who have played so physical for the past few seasons.

The Panthers, on the other hand, are young, they look fresh, they play with a fearless attitude in both attack and defence, they play real up-tempo and the bottom line is they haven't looked like losing.

Nathan Cleary has been magnificent and their left edge, featuring Viliame Kikau and young Stephen Crighton, is the most dynamic in the competition.

You never write off a champion side that contains players of the calibre of Luke Keary and James Tedesco and the Roosters have the advantage over the Panthers of plenty of big match experience. But will it be enough? I'm not so sure it will be.

MY TIP: Panthers

RAIDERS v SHARKS

Knocking over the Raiders in Canberra is a massive ask for the Sharks and will be too big of a mountain to climb.

The Sharks haven't beaten a top-eight side all season and there is a reason for that. They just haven't been consistent enough with injuries playing a part in that. Losing their go-to man Shaun Johnson on the eve of the finals is, in my eyes, a killer blow.

Against a battle-hardened Raiders side who will be ruthless at home, I don't see the Sharks scoring enough points to win.

I don't think any of the sides in the finals will relish the idea of having to take on the Raiders. They are aggressive, in-your-face and consistent - they never not turn up and never beat themselves.

With Josh Papalii and Jack Wighton driving them, they will be highly motivated by what happened last season. I thought losing hooker Josh Hodgson would be a killer blow but they are getting great value out of Tom Starling and they love playing at home.

MY TIP: Raiders

STORM v EELS

I'm not as completely sold on the Storm in this one as a lot of other people seem to be. My question about the Storm, after the past few seasons, is whether they have got another gear in them at this time of the year to go all the way.

Their great consistency and the class of Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster always gets them into the finals. But can they raise the bar a little higher if they have to?

I've got no doubts Parramatta was playing well enough earlier in the season to win this. Their forwards were on fire with their aggressive, direct approach and their off-loading and second phase play was cutting teams up.

Off the back of that, Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown were having a field day. But they haven't been able to sustain it and have been too lateral with their attack over the past few months. Rediscover their mojo here though and they are a real chance.

MY TIP: Storm

RABBITOHS v KNIGHTS

On last week's form, it's Souths in a canter. But it depends on which team turns up. I've already spoken about the inconsistent Knights and the massive gulf between their best and worst performances. But what about the Bunnies.

Yes, they were absolutely on fire against the Roosters. But some people seem to forget that only a week earlier, they were beaten by a side that only won three games all season.

The key for the Knights will be how much pressure they can put on the Souths' playmakers Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds and Damien Cook. Hang off them and give them space to move and the scoreline could get embarrassing. But if the Knights grab an ascendancy at the ruck and can get in their faces and frustrate them, that's when their errors will mount up. It will also put the likes of Pearce and Ponga on the front foot. On face value though, it's hard to go past Souths.

MY TIP: Rabbitohs