Petero Civoniceva takes a tackle during his last NRL game, an elimination final loss to the Cowboys
Photo: Getty Images
We run through the good, the bad and the ugly from each of the four games on the first weekend of the NRL finals...
CANTERBURY v MANLY
Good teams get the job done, and the Bulldogs are a very good team. In an error-strewn, pressure-packed game the Belmore boys stayed in control and secured safe passage to the penultimate weekend.
Aiden Tolman was magnificent for the winners with 139m running and 33 tackles, helping snuff out the Sea Eagles' last attacking raid to secure the win.
Josh Morris twice got outside his opponents and displayed pace and poise to set up tries. He also recorded the only two line-breaks Canterbury achieved for the match.
This column has noted previously the stunning form of Jorge Taufua. He continued his meteoric rise with 245m running, an extraordinary 14 tackle busts, three line breaks and a try.
In a game where the Sea Eagles' props struggled, Darcy Lussick's contribution off the bench was vital. Manly will miss him next year.
Manly had more possession and made a lot more metres but they had fewer completed sets and committed 17 errors to the Bulldogs' 11.
The Dogs missed far too many tackles for Des Hasler's liking. The worst offenders were Josh Reynolds with 10 and Josh Jackson with nine.
Four errors apiece for Frank Pritchard and Brett Stewart. Must do better.
Hey Steve Matai – any chance you might pass to your winger some time? Actually, scrub that. With the weeks you should get for the high hit on Sam Perrett, you won't be on the field any time soon.
We're not going to say anything about pots or kettles, but collective eyebrows were raised when Anthony Watmough was heard telling Josh Reynolds: "You're a dumb s--t. No wonder everyone hates you."
MELBOURNE v SOUTH SYDNEY
Melbourne's control. The Storm have been a bad first-half team in recent months, but after scoring the opening try then extending the lead with a penalty goal they never looked likely to be run down. They completed 37 of 41 sets. In the second half they played dull, safety-first, uncreative football – which was just what the situation required.
Billy Slater's clean-up work. Twice he swooped in the last line to stop certain tries. His dynamic effort to scoop up a knock-on on his own line, hurdle fallen players and scream up the field set up the first score and energised his team.
Veteran Jaiman Lowe has blossomed at the back end of this season and gave Melbourne some real punch off the bench with 143m and 26 tackles.
We loved the fact that some of the biggest cheers in the first half came when a ground attendant finally got around to stomping on the green and red balloons that had drifted into the in-goal area. He pumped his arms at the crowd as he popped each one, and received a mighty roar for his efforts.
Souths' attitude. Apart from some typically feisty stuff from Michael Crocker (and Dave Taylor, who was certainly undisciplined but at least looked like he cared) most of the Bunnies looked like they'd rather have been somewhere else.
Adam Reynolds had an interesting week. He was honoured for his talent at the Dally M awards, then put in one of his least effective performances.
Kevin Proctor was put on report for a lifting tackle when the game was over as a contest. It could be costly.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of cheerleaders (we're not fans), a sure way to make their role more demeaning is to have them prance around – like the Storm dancers – in skimpy tops with 'Hog's Breath' written across the chest.
NORTH QUEENSLAND v BRISBANE
The Cowboys looked slick and played competent, cohesive football. They completed 36 sets to Brisbane's 22, and only made seven errors compared to the visitors' 16.
North Queensland's bookends are the best pair of metre-eaters in the comp. Matt Scott ran an amazing 212m and James Tamou broke off 169m. They each made 18 tackles into the bargain.
A dream match for Michael Morgan with three classy tries. Our favourite came when he chased a Matt Bowen kick and stuck his right hand out for a superb take, passed the full-back and dotted down.
Matt Bowen is always a joy to watch. His best moment came when he took a kick 12m out and blazed past four Broncos before offloading to Brent Tate who beat his man on the outside for a superb 88m try.
Corey Norman has endured a patchy year but it was good to see him trying things from dummy-half. Yes, he made three errors, but he scored a fine try and looked Brisbane's best creator.
Brisbane's season fell away dramatically after a promising start. This was a tough loss.
The Broncos had few winners on the night, but Jack Reed endured a particularly tough match. He made four errors, unacceptable for a centre, and when there was still the tiniest glimmer of hope for his team in the last 10 minutes he dropped the ball cold five metres from his line.
This was not the way the game wanted to farewell Petero Civoniceva, one of our all-time faves. He has struggled at times this year, and struggled against the Cowboys with just 73m of ground gained – but that was more metres than any other Brisbane forward managed. Have a great retirement, big fella. You're a genuine ornament to the sport.
Justin Hodges lashing out in the tackle with both boots and collecting Ashton Sims in the face.
CANBERRA v CRONULLA
Canberra's halves pairing of Sam Williams and Josh McCrone controlled the tempo and their long-kicking game was excellent, pinning the Sharks deep in their own territory.
Jarrod Croker showed touch and vision, chip kicking perfectly to Sandor Earl for his second try.
The often-maligned John Morris lifted the tempo for the Sharks and tackled with ferocity when he was brought off the bench for Isaac De Gois.
A typically feisty display from Shaun Fensom, with 102m running and 45 tackles.
Blake Ferguson's hands, picking up a ball millimetres from the turf and hurtling through for his second try.
The new finals system which pits six versus seven in a dog-fight, not the old two versus seven walkover we used to endure.
The Sharks' go-forward and ball control. They completed only 17 sets and carried the ball a total of just 962m.
Josh Papalii's hits on Paul Gallen. We love the tough stuff, but the big Raider should have been put on report for his high hit on the Sharks skipper. Worse came later in the first half when he barrelled Gallen late and from behind which appeared to hurt Gal's neck.
Canberra's goalkicking options without Jarrod Croker on the field. Josh Dugan 0 from 3; Blake Ferguson 0 from 1. Will it be an issue next week?
Jeremy Smith had a bad minute that proved critical. Jeff Robson's try beside the posts was disallowed because of Smith's unnecessary obstruction on Dane Tilse. Sixty seconds later he took out Croker on the fifth tackle, conceding a costly penalty at the other end.
The touchies. It's the NRL, fellas, not the NFL.
Cronulla's trophy cabinet. This season the Sharks were near the top of the ladder for a protracted period and their long-suffering fans were entitled to dream of glory. Alas for the Shire faithful, Jack Gibson's crack about waiting for a Sharks premiership being like leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt remains apposite.
The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
Follow BigPond Sport on Twitter: @bigpondsport