A plethora of Queenslanders are set to take part in the NRL finals series and the eight teams to play over the next months have at least one in each side who will prove integral to the success of their respective teams.
In this column I have identified the eight that must fire for their sides to prosper, although not necessarily the “best” player in each outfit.
There is no doubt in my mind that Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith is the leading player in the finals series. It is a given he will play to his usual standards, but I have nominated another Queenslander as the key to Melbourne’s success.
Eight “key” Queenslanders in their respective teams
Melbourne Storm – Cameron Munster
Five-eighth Cameron Munster has had a week off to rest his injured shoulder and will be fresh for Saturday night’s clash with Canberra. Munster has spoken on several occasions this year about his disappointment in his own personal performance in last year’s grand final loss to the Sydney Roosters, where he was sin-binned twice in what was a night to forget on all fronts for the Maroons magician. Munster was a key to Melbourne’s premiership win in 2017 and has matured a lot as a player and a man since last year’s grand final. His game-breaking ability, energy and improved tactical kicking will need to be on song for the Storm to go all the way. Munster has the same competitive spirit as Johnathan Thurston and has the ability and the desire to take the finals series by storm.
Sydney Roosters – Cooper Cronk
The Roosters don’t have an abundance of Queenslanders on their books but halfback Cooper Cronk is a major influencer on any game he plays in. Last year’s grand final, where he played with one arm, is just the latest in a string of memorable displays in big games. In the Roosters' Round 24 win over the Penrith Panthers, the Maroons legend unfurled several kicks that looked like “trial runs” of plays he will look to bring out in the finals series. Needless to say they were pinpoint accurate. No player in the game has more of a mastery over such a wide variety of attacking kicks. Cronk’s game management skills are second to none and in finals it often appears he is on auto pilot when he comes up with his top shelf plays. In combination with Luke Keary, he looms as the man to give the Roosters a red hot crack at going back-to-back.
South Sydney Rabbitohs – Jaydn Su’A
When South Sydney last won the premiership in 2014, it was several huge hits by former Maroons enforcer Ben Te’o in the preliminary final against the Roosters that turned that match. Su’A, who was close to making his Maroons debut last year, reminds me a lot of Te’o with his physicality and intent. When Su’A hits, you stay hit and it may well be one of those Te’o-like shots that changes a finals game for the Rabbitohs. Su’A took a while to get going this year at Brisbane after ankle surgery last season, but appears to be hitting his straps after moving mid-season to Souths. He was the youngest ever Broncos forward to debut as a starting player as an 18-year-old in 2016. It is hard to believe he is only 21 because he carries himself like a seasoned warrior.
Canberra Raiders – Josh Papalii
Josh Papalii has become the spiritual forward leader of the Raiders and this year has been his most consistent at club level by a good margin. It was no surprise that Papalii came up with the incisive surge that secured Canberra a memorable comeback win over Melbourne recently. It was a Papalii try that almost got the Maroons over the line in the State of Origin decider in Sydney as well. That is what has impressed about Papalii this year. The bigger the occasion, the more he puts his hand up to be the man to win the game for his side. Aside from that, he can now be relied on to rip and tear whenever he is on the park.
Parramatta Eels – Reed Mahoney
Reed Mahoney has been spoken about as a Maroons player of the future and it is no surprise because there is a lot to like about the Eels rake. As gritty and hard working as the come, Mahoney has topped 50 tackles on 11 occasions already this year and his contribution to the success of the Eels spine this year has been crucial to the revival of Parramatta under Brad Arthur. Mahoney has played all 24 games of the season and has multiple strings to his bow, including a handy short kicking game, which takes the pressure off Mitchell Moses. He is the kind of player who, despite being young, you know what you are going to get. He should relish the pressure of elimination finals.
Manly Sea Eagles – Daly Cherry-Evans
The Sea Eagles are backs against the wall now with injuries and suspension hitting the club hard. Daly Cherry-Evans’s ever-improving leadership will be crucial in the weeks ahead in finals football. The Maroons skipper impressed in the lead up to the State of Origin series decider when Queensland had been written off. His positive and calm air when things are going against his team will be a major boost to a squad that is light on for finals experience. A survivor of the 2011 premiership win, Cherry-Evans knows what is required in the big games. You get a sense that the Manly skipper has something special to deliver in Manly’s hour of need.
Cronulla Sharks – Kurt Capewell
The Sharks are also not noted for having many Queenslanders on their books, but the versatile Kurt Capewell, who was so close to Maroons selection this year on a couple of occasions, looms as a man with plenty to offer when he comes off the interchange bench. What impresses about Capewell is his versatility and penchant for playing big games against the best teams. Coach John Morris will know he can bring Capewell on in the outside backs or back-row and he will deliver. He has a wide range of skills that will also be crucial in breaking a game open when it is on the line.
Brisbane Broncos – Darius Boyd
This has not been the best season Darius Boyd has had in his 316-game career, but the reality is that whenever he has had one of his better games in 2019 the Broncos have won. A fortnight ago the veteran skipper was man of the match in the Broncos' home win over the Eels when he scored a try, set one up with a raking run and led his side with aplomb. There is no doubt that 19-year-old wrecking ball David Fifita has been the best Queenslander in the Brisbane side this year, but if the Broncos are to go deep in the finals it will only come on the back of Boyd also firing. The Broncos cannot succeed on the back of cameos by the likes of Fifita and Payne Haas against the best teams. Unless their halves fire, the Broncos will fail and that is why I believe Boyd will be so integral to their success.