Griffin: Depressing reality for NRL finals rivals
THE race for NRL finals places is heating up but most teams are simply making up the numbers because there are only two teams that can win the 2019 competition.
Canberra and South Sydney are very good teams, Manly and Parramatta are in for the fight, while Penrith, Brisbane and Cronulla are battling to secure their top-eight position.
But it won't matter.
Last weekend's Super Sunday matches were classes above the rest of the round and Melbourne and the Sydney Roosters were the star performers.
The premiers are still favourites to be the first team to go back to back since 1992-93.
However, the Storm have been nothing less than outstanding this season.
The standout stat for both teams was that they won away from home and without the football.
The Roosters went to Canberra and withstood a Raiders assault and needed only 42 per cent of possession to come away with the two points.
The Storm fared only slightly better. They had 45 per cent of the ball against South Sydney at Gosford but were always in control.
In further evidence of the strength of their victories, the Roosters and the Storm played the ball quicker and made more linebreaks than their opposition, while conceding more penalties.
Melbourne made eight linebreaks to Souths' three and lost the penalty count 12-7.
If that wasn't depressing enough for their finals rivals, neither the Storm or Roosters were at full strength, either.
Jahrome Hughes, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Brandon Smith should return for the minor premiers before the finals.
The Roosters will welcome back captains Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend and premiership forward Sio Siua Taukeiaho in the coming weeks.
One of the highlights of Sunday's games was how composed both teams looked when the game was on the line.
Midway through the second half in each game the favourites had 10-point leads reduced to four.
The Roosters dug in under a weight of possession and field position.
Their goal line defence stood solid - and even allowed them to remain dominant as Joseph Manu and Cooper Cronk came up with a couple of great stops.
Melbourne held off Souths with great determination before going to the other end of the field and killing them off with a late try.
Another advantage both teams had last weekend and will take with them over the next eight weeks is finals experience - more specifically grand final experience.
And it doesn't come any better than Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk.
There are a few ingredients needed to execute under extreme pressure - skill and technique for example.
To win the really big games you need belief. That's what builds your resilience.
So, if you're under the pump, without any air left in your lungs and you turn around and Smith or Cronk look you in the eye and tell you to hang in there we will get through this - you do!
They make their teammates believe and feel safe. That's what hundreds of games and eight grand final appearances gets you.
They know what it feels like, what it looks like. Just like last year's decider when Cronk ran around like an under-7s coach and talked his team through the game.
It also helps when they have weapons like Cameron Munster and Josh Addo-Carr, or James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell at their disposal.
As playmakers they know their team has points in them, even if the opposition dominates possession.
It's leadership, and both clubs have a major edge on the other contenders in this department. The talent and ability of the other players, both technically and physically, will help you win enough games to get to the playoffs, but the old generals know how to win the big ones in September.
So, with four rounds still to go a lot can happen. The Rabbitohs and Raiders were very good last Sunday and are expecting key players to return also.
Manly and Parramatta have shown plenty of class and fight to put themselves in the picture. They will all improve over the next month - but so will the top two teams.
A few days ago, the Storm and the Roosters won away from home and without the ball. They might not have to do either to get to the grand final.
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