With two highlight reel semi-finals over the weekend, we are down to the final four.
An incredible finish in Melbourne and incredible scenes in Auckland have set the scene for a mouth watering weekend of preliminary finals.
Coincidentally the two teams who left the competition this weekend were two teams who roared into the finals on the back of brilliant form. Two teams whose fan bases should be extremely proud of their late-season effort.
So, with a look to this weekend's blockbusters, below are 20 thoughts from Round 2 of the NRL finals:
1. This may upset some fan-bases but I believe we have the perfect preliminary finals. I always like to see the top four advance but especially this year. 2023 was really the top four and then the rest. Only a late charge by Newcastle saw them separate from the likes of the Sharks, Roosters, Raiders and Bunnies as that level below the big four.
2. What is with the recent trend of wanting to move finals? For someone to suggest that Brisbane's final this weekend be moved from Suncorp probably takes the cake for the stupidest comment this season. Where do you put it? The Gabba is being used and moving it to the Gold Coast would be ridiculous.
3. Putting these statements is dangerous as there's always the chance it will come back to bite me but as of right now, Adam Gee should be the grand final referee. I understand Klein is still the number one in officials eyes but Adam Gee has been the most consistent referee across the past month and his form should be rewarded with the decider.
4. He may not be the biggest name in the competition but I am willing to bet he'll be the most sought after play after this past Friday night. The player in question is Roosters monster Terrell May. The Roosters will want to re-sign their young middle before other teams can get their hands on him from November 1. There are some cashed up clubs with starting spots available. It may be a tough ask for the Chooks, especially with Spencer Leniu's impending arrival.
5. The fact that Jared Waerea-Hargreaves looks like he'll be able to serve some of his suspension by missing games for New Zealand absolutely doesn't sit right with me. I get it has been that way for a long time now but you can't tell me the prop makes a full strength Kiwi side right now.
6. Haumole Olakau'atu is one of the competition's elite back rowers. Manly are reportedly about to offer him a contract for about $900,000 a season. This is dangerous considering they have probably half their cap tied to five players in the Trbojevics, Daly Cherry-Evans, Josh Schuster, Josh Schuster and now Olakau'atu.
7. Speaking of near million dollar back rowers, I would not be shocked if Keaon Koloamatangi signs his next deal for something similar. Koloamatangi has been linked to the Dragons, a team who need to splash the cash to improve their roster. That's a move I would absolutely endorse. They are a club that needs to take big risks.
8. A lot of people, myself included, applauded Tyson Gamble for clapping back on comments made by Willie Mason. I couldn't, however understand the reaction to Mason's return serve. Was it classy, or even needed? Absolutely not. Was it expected? From the literal second Gamble said what he did! Mason probably had that tweet in the drafts all week. Not a great look though to be honest.
9. Sticking with this, what's the bet Gamble will end up on Mason's podcast during the off-season? If I'm Gamble, I'm ignoring that call.
10. I've called Cameron Munster the best big game player in the competition. For 78 minutes on Friday night I looked quite the fool, only for Munster to lay on the literal match-winner in the dying stages. Never, ever count out a champion. Cam Munster is the very definition of the word.
11. A huge shout out to both the Knights and Roosters who, two months ago, looked absolutely gone. I wrote both off at the mid way stage and up until they beat the Bunnies, I didn't consider the Roosters a finals team. Newcastle won nine games in a row to make finals. Both sets of fans can be hugely proud of their efforts, with an eye to building further in 2024.
12. I'm happy to hear that the Dogs are ready to lodge an NRLW application but I really hope expansion is put on the back-burner for now. The talent pool just isn't there yet. The Sharks and Raiders were the new sides who just missed out on Finals, while the Tigers and Cowboys struggled. The Dragons and Eels, who were pillaged by the new sides, fell away massively as a result.
13. Sticking with the NRLW, I'd love to see more games in the season be the top priority. With increased eye balls on the competition, more money should come in to enable more games. An 18-game competition looks a stretch but 12 games, from nine this year, would be a step forward.
14. Perhaps I'm developing a skeptical side in my old age but, not for a second, do I believe Shaun Johnson wasn't playing on Saturday evening.
15. That Prime Minister's 13 squad that was named is ridiculously stacked with talent. To think those are players who didn't make the second week of finals is scary. I can't wait for the game this weekend. Let's remember it's more about the occasion than the result.
16. For those who missed it on Sunday evening, the QLD Cup Grand Final was an absolute cracker. The Brisbane Tigers broke a run of nine straight Grand Final losses. They'll play the winner of the Bears and Bunnies this weekend.
17. So help me, if Broncos fans start with the "up the Brahs" this weekend ...
18. I won't single anyone out, although I wasn't quiet about it this week, but some of these club player of the year awards have me questioning who makes these decisions. Fans player of the year awards seem far more accurate.
19. Judging by reactions to something I wrote last week, people pretty much unanimously agree that the Dolphins first season was a big success. Here's hoping their second season is even better.
20. I cannot believe the pile on Nicho Hynes following the Sharks finals exit. He is the literal only reason the club played finals this year. He was the only reason they were in the game against the Roosters. Cleary, Ponga and Walsh all had vastly superior supporting casts than Hynes, yet all four sides played finals. Drop Hynes into any of those three sides and watch out!