Daly Cherry-Evans celebrates after Manly disposed of the Sharks.
Daly Cherry-Evans celebrates after Manly disposed of the Sharks. CRAIG GOLDING

Anasta: No room for panic in sudden-death finals

IF week one of the NRL finals taught us anything, it's that's anything is possible in finals football.

No one in their right mind would have anticipated the Raiders beating the Storm in the last minute of their encounter at AAMI Park, the depleted Sea Eagles downing the Sharks at Lottoland or the Eels delivering a record-breaking shellacking of the Broncos at Bankwest Stadium.

Those results have left us with two mouth-watering match-ups this weekend which could go either way.

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Sudden-death football can bring out the best and worst in players and the trick to surviving is not playing panicked football.

When you're trailing in sudden-death football it's easy to move away from your game plan and start throwing flick passes or miracle balls in a bid to chase points.

The Rabbitohs will start as red-hot favourites against the Sea Eagles tonight but if there's one thing that Des Hasler's men have shown this year it's that they care little for expectation or reputations.

Everyone has been waiting for the balloon to pop for Manly but in Daly Cherry-Evans they have one of the best big-game players in the sport.

Daly Cherry-Evans during a Manly Sea Eagles training session at Narrabeen. Picture. Phil Hillyard
Cherry-Evans has starred for the Sea Eagles. Philip Hillyard

Cherry-Evans has played in and won enough big games to know how crucial it is for him to keep his head if the going gets tough against the Rabbitohs.

The Rabbitohs, meanwhile, will be hurting and looking to pick up the pieces following loss to the Roosters.

The Rabbitohs welcome back Dane Gagai and their spiritual leader Sam Burgess for the clash. The inclusion of Burgess is massive for the Rabbitohs, he leads the pack and provides the energy for his teammates to jump on the back of.

Burgess returns from suspension but it's crucial for the Rabbitohs he doesn't lose his aggression.

Sam Burgess of the South Sydney Rabbitohs during a training session at Redfern Oval in Sydney, Thursday, September 19, 2019. The Rabbitohs are set to play the Manly Sea Eagles in an NRL Finals match at ANZ Stadium on Friday. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett) NO ARCHIVING
Sam Burgess will strengthen the Rabbitohs. JOEL CARRETT

The Sea Eagles pack, led by Marty Taupau - who is also returning from suspension - and Addin Fonua-Blake, will be keen to bash the Rabbitohs through the middle and their battle with Burgess could decide the game.

If there's a player you want playing for your life in sudden-death football it's Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith.

No one has said it this week, but the Storm copped the rough end of the stick in the 50-50 calls in their game against the Raiders last weekend and they'll be itching to get back on the park against the Eels.

Cameron Smith gestures during a Melbourne Storm training session at Gosch's Paddock in Melbourne, Tuesday, September 10, 2019. (AAP Image/Scott Barbour) NO ARCHIVING
Cameron Smith keeps his cool. SCOTT BARBOUR

The Storm's game is made for sudden-death football; complete your sets, get your kick chase in order and back your defence.

The danger for the Storm is playing too conservative. Sudden-death football can suffocate some players and if the Storm play this game trying not to lose rather than playing to win, it will end their season.

Parramatta showed last weekend - albeit against a terrible Broncos side - they can attack you from anywhere but if the Eels are to beat the Storm, they need to step up their defence.

Mitchell Moses of the Parramatta Eels during a training session in Sydney, Thursday, September 12, 2019. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett) NO ARCHIVING
Mitchell Moses will pull the strings for the Eels. JOEL CARRETT

If the Eels can win the opening 20 minutes against the Storm defensively it will go a long way to winning the game.

The Storm love to play structure and the key to beating them is to break up that structure but where the Storm need to be careful not to be too cautious, the Eels need to make sure they don't get too flamboyant.

The Eels need to play attacking football but they need to win the battle in the middle before they look to go to the edges.

There's only one thing that's certain in sudden-death football, only two teams will survive.

It's hard to tip against both the Rabbitohs and Storm this weekend but if the Sea Eagles and Eels can replicate their form from last week ... well, anything is possible.