James Maloney was superb in Cronulla's preliminary final win.
Photo Source: AAP
James Maloney (Sharks)
James Maloney showed why he was such a wonderful signing for the Sharks this season in a performance that saw him easily the most influential man on the park in Cronulla's powerful 32-20 win over North Queensland. In the first half he made a scything run before setting up halves partner Chad Townsend's try, albeit with what looked like a forward pass. He then put the game beyond doubt with a pair of his own tries: the first through a side-step inside as he then tumbled over the line despite being mobbed by Cowboys, the second through a brilliant juggled intercept and 65-metre run. Next week will be Maloney's third grand final with a different club (he played in the Warriors' losing side in 2011 and the triumphant Roosters team of 2013).
Paul Gallen (Sharks)
Paul Gallen ran for an astounding 126 metres during a magnificent first half as the Sharks forwards monstered the Cowboys and the home side took the contest by the scruff of the neck. The 35-year-old might have re-signed for one more year in 2017, but if the Sharks get the job done next week for their inspirational captain, you would have to think Gallen might reconsider and retire on the highest of highs.
Cameron Munster (Storm)
Billy who? The new Storm No. 1 has had a brilliant second year, ensuring injured star Billy Slater has not been missed at all, and in the process lending plenty of weight to the argument that Slater, 34 next year, might be best to hang his boots up. Cameron Munster had a blinder in Melbourne's gritty 14-12 win over Canberra, remaining steady and sure any time the ball came his way, while also making several great runs and passes to bring teammates into play, with his second-half receive, spin out of a tackle and deft pass to Marika Korobeite for a huge gain downfield the highlight. Not only is Munster the future for the Storm at fullback, it looks like the No. 1 jersey in Maroon should be his for years to come as well.
Edrick Lee (Raiders)
That was some choke. With Canberra down by eight points and eight minutes left on the clock, they launched a beautiful attack out wide on their left, with Jack Wighton throwing the perfect cut-out ball to Edrick Lee, who just had to catch it unopposed and stroll in for a try to get his side back into the game. Yet he somehow dropped a ball he would catch 99 times out of 100. It was an inexcusable blue and might well have cost his side – who scored soon after – a spot in a grand final. Lee will have all summer to think over what might have been.
Jack Wighton (Raiders)
When Jack Wighton held Storm's Marika Koroibete for too long in the tackle you could understand why he did it, with the professional foul enabling enough teammates get back downfield behind the ball after Koroibete's brilliant run. But in the end the play proved the difference, with the ref correctly sending Wighton off for 10 minutes, during which period the Storm dominated and scored a try to extend their lead out to eight points. Ouch.
Lachlan Coote (Cowboys)
Lachlan Coote had an absolute shocker in the first half to set the tone for the visitors. Put a poor kick up at the end of their first set, then spilt a regulation high ball, and his indecisive and nervous play on the goal-line meant he was extremely lucky not to have let Chad Townsend touch the ball down in what would have been an embarrassment. Coote scored a try early in the second half but the Cowboys' first half was so bad the game was all but gone by then.
Who were your heroes and goats from the preliminary finals? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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