NRL Rd 19 - Roosters v Sharks
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 19: Sonny Bill Williams of the Roosters reacts during the round 19 NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the Cronulla Sharks at Sydney Cricket Ground on September 19, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

With the first week of the finals in the book, eight teams have now become six.

After a pair of solid Elimination Final victories, the Raiders and Rabbitohs have progressed to face the top four Eels and Chooks – two teams now on their final strike.

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Now that these two fixtures have been finalised, a new set of quandaries face the quartet of coaches competing this weekend.

Of all the dilemmas that will have the men in the hot seat tossing and turning, these four are likely to slay the most sleep.

Whether the odds-on favourite or the dark horse, these are the queries that face the Semi-Finalists.

Just how much will Ricky Stuart mention redemption?

Ben Cummins’ six again call (or lack thereof) would have broken many a lime green hearts last season.

The veteran referee didn’t just kill a crucial Canberra set in the decider, he effectively terminated their moral and premiership chances.

After Cummins was stood down from any potential officiating duties for Friday’s knockout clash, coach Ricky Stuart won’t have to worry about history repeating itself. However, the question remains – just how much will ‘Sticky’ lean into last year’s pain?

With an experienced and skilled pack at his disposal, Stuart’s charges should not be discounted by any means. However, only he knows the best method of motivation for a group including many that laced the boots in the 2019 Grand Final.

One plan of attack may be to neglect mentioning the indiscretion at all, as 2020 is a new year altogether.

Still, if it’s tight at the half or with ten to go, you can bet that the man never short of a word will be having some with his squad.

A victory on Friday night won’t erase the heartbreak of last year, but it will end Trent Robinson and the Rooster’s quest for a third premiership on the trot. Some may see this as scant consolation; however, it is sure to have Stuart smiling.

Is there anything left in Sonny Bill’s tank?

Despite the officially being listed as a neck injury, there are many in Rugby League circles suggesting that Sonny Bill Williams was in fact dropped from last week’s Qualifying Final.

If the rumours are in fact true, they shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Since his much-touted return to the game in Round 17 against the Raiders, SBW hasn’t just failed to set the competition a light, he has yet to produce even a spark.

In his four appearances this season, the 35-year-old has averaged less than 48 minutes playing time, less than 10 runs and a grand total of zero tackle breaks.

However, the most damning stat is that of offloads. The former dual international made his name attacking the line, drawing the tackler and setting the ball in motion once contact was engaged. Still, since returning for the northern hemisphere, Williams has yet to provide a single offload.

The Roosters, much to the chagrin of the rest of the competition, took a punt on Williams’ return bolstering their three peat chances, but be that as it may, the former boxer has yet to throw a single punch.

If he is offered one last roll of the dice on Friday, all eyes will be on SBW to see if he is with it or just washed up.

What has changed since Round 16?

Parramatta’s Round 16 clash couldn’t have gone any less to script for Brad Arthur and his boys.

Not only did they concede seven tries to a rampaging Rabbitohs outfit, but they were held to a goose egg on their own dunghill.

Since that fateful Thursday night in late August, the Eels have carved out a 3-2 record that saw them barely keeping their spot in the top four.

After Saturday’s finals loss to the Storm at Suncorp, Parramatta have had to cash in their double chance chip and will be forced to face up to a Rabbitohs team that has recently had the scoreboard ticking over frenetically.

The question ahead of Arthur is what’s changed since August?

In the five matches post the South Sydney shutout, the Eels have averaged just a tick over 20 points per game. It must also be noted that they have conceded an average of 22.

If these numbers are anything to go by, don’t part with your hard earned on a blue and gold victory this Saturday. That is unless the Eels can simultaneously reverse their fortunes at both ends of the ground.

Can the Bunnies keep the scoreboard ticking?

56, 38, 16, 26, 16, 60 and 46.

Since Round 15, the Rabbitohs sure have kept the scorers busy.

With key performers like Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds, Damien Cook and Alex Johnston hitting their straps at the right stage of the season, the question ahead of the Bunnies will be whether they can keep putting these types of scores on the board.

Across these seven aforementioned outings, South Sydney toppled a trio of top eight contenders, rendering the previous suggestion that they were unable to match it with the best invalid.

Coach Wayne Bennett has his boys playing the most wonderfully unhinged and unpredictable style of game; however, it does have its downside.

Handling errors have cost the Redferners dearly in the back half of the season, so irrespective of their ability to pile on the points, opposition teams know they are never out of the game if Souths don’t protect the pill.

With the proven ability to behead the Roosters and knockout the Knights in the past fortnight, Bennett is likely to stick with this Harlem Globetrotter approach, but if the Rabbitohs can’t cross the line with ease, will it be too late for a plan B?