THE Sunshine State showdown looms as the tightest NRL grand final in years.
The Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys both opened up at $1.90 with sportsbet.com.au after the weekend’s preliminary finals.
The Cowboys drifted out to $2 on the back of a mountain of early money for the Broncos, but it didn’t take long for the bookie to wind them back.
Now both sides are $1.92 to hold aloft the Provan Summons Trophy.
“This grand final is going to be a huge one for the state of Queensland and there’s no separating either teams in the early betting,’’ sportsbet.com.au’s Will Byrne said.
“The odds suggest the grand final is a 50/50 proposition, but the early money is for the Broncos, who’ve never been beaten in a decider,” the bookie’s Christian Jantzen added.
The Sportsbet boys have a couple of specials on the grand final to give you a little added inspiration.
For punters who place head to head bets on the grand final and their team doesn’t win, they can get their money back, up to $100, provided their selection keeps the margin within eight points.
Given that the two sides haven’t been split, this one could be a tight one.
They’re also offering a unique special on the first try scorer, whereby punters’ picks that don’t cross first, but manage to put down the second or third of the match, will give them money back up to $100.
And if that doesn’t whet your whistle, our mates at WilliamHill.com.au have fired off a pair of specials themselves.
The bookie is also offering top odds on the favourite in the NRL finals on the day of the game when compared to major Australian online bookmakers, Sportsbet, TAB, Crownbet, Ubet (Tatts) and Ladbrokes. That’s also on head to head markets.
In the prelims, The Broncos booked their spot in the grand final with a 31-12 hammering of minor premiers the Sydney Roosters.
The Broncos, fresh from having the week off after going straight through to the prelim, crossed for an early try after just 90 seconds and then turned it into a procession for newly crowned NRL coach of the year Wayne Bennett, opening up a 16-0 lead after just 20 minutes.
That effectively ended the contest.
“The early try was something we didn’t expect but it set them back and gave us momentum straight away – it certainly gave us confidence,” Bennett said.
“We were on – we were fresh and on and that’s what we can produce.
“The Roosters were struggling with the pace of the game early because they didn’t have a week off.
“We had the benefit of the week off and we were sharp – much sharper than they were because they had a tough game last week – that’s the way it works.
“We were looking good because we hadn’t been knocked around from last week and had 14 days sitting at home ready to play.”
He urged his charges to seize the day against the Cowboys.
“The hardest part is getting here and when you do it’s a lot easier,” Bennett said of his side winning it’s way into a grand final.
“It was important to get it done, otherwise you come back next year and there is no guarantees about next year – it’s the greatest myth of all time what we are going to do next year.”
The grand final may have a sad script for one star, with the retiring Justin Hodges charged with a dangerous throw.
There’s no doubt the 33 year old will fight the charge.
The grade one charge attracts 125 base penalty points but two prior offences lift the total to 175, incurring a ban.
“It’s a little bit worrying but I know myself in the tackle, there was nothing in it,” Hodges said.
“Obviously, I have to go down on Tuesday and fight the charge to live out my dream to play in the final again.”
And the man he tackled, Aiden Guerra, with whom he plays on the Queensland State of Origin team, has backed the ageing gun to take his place.
“I think common sense will prevail on that tackle,” Guerra said.
“It was a penalty – nothing more, nothing less.
“He’ll be right.”
The Cowboys vs. Melbourne Storm game produced an almost identical result to the other prelim, the Queenslanders proving too good for their southern opponents, winning 32-12.
Cowboys coach Paul Green heaped praise on his team’s consistency in the match.
“It was a good performance, we were consistent with our effort through the whole game,” Green said.
“We knew they would take us on through the middle and I thought our boys stood up really well.
“They have the best dummy half in the world there and if you make an error he is going to make you pay and I thought we were really good on him in particular.”
North Queensland captain Johnathan Thurston said he was looking forward to grand final week.
“This is what you set out to do every October, I am really happy for the boys and the club it is going to be an enjoyable week,” Thurston said.
“We needed to be better than what we were last week and I thought the boys were.”
Thurston is the concern for the Cowboys, benched with 10 minutes to go due to a niggle, but he says he will play.
“It’s just a little bit of a cork to the groin, nothing too serious,” he said.
“It’s good to see two Queensland sides there at the big dance.
“They (Brisbane) were impressive beating the Rooster – we will have to play our best football to beat them.”
Speaking of Thurston, the little master has just nabbed himself his fourth Dally M record for the competition’s best player, an NRL record.
While he wasn’t at the count, preferring to get around his team mates ahead of grand final week, Thurston could have been forgiven for struggling to find things to say after doing it three previous times.
“I can’t explain what it means to be standing here in front of family, friends and team-mates especially,” Thurston said.
“The first people I’d like to thank are the teammates I train with every day.
“This award is as much their’s as it is mine.
“The coaching staff that have put the structures in place for us to execute, our medical staff and all our fans who travel to watch us play.
“We play the game for friendships.
“I get to run around with my best mates week in and week out, when you’re playing at Origin level and for your country as well.
“It’s about having fun out there, it’s a team game.
“The boys I have around me, they do all the hard work for me, I put the cream on top.
“It’s been a heck of a year, I couldn’t be more proud standing up here with my fourth Dally M award.”
Thurston was the raging favourite with sportsbet.com.au and he did punters justice, winning by a record 11 vote margin.
He’s also the punters pick for the Clive Churchill Medal at $3.25, with Jantzen reporting that 40 per cent of all money bet on the market had been for Thurston.
In other NRL news, South Sydney Rabbitoh’s pair Dylan Walker and Aaron Gray have apologised to family and friends after the pair overdosed on prescription drugs and were hospitalised, early last week.
“We couldn’t thank enough the doctors, nurses, ambulance people from St Vincent’s Hospital,” Walker said.
“I would also like to say sorry to our friends and family.
“It is a mistake that we have made and it is a lesson that we have learned and we hope everyone can take a lesson out of this.”
Gray stressed it was important to take prescription medication only as directed.
“We would like to say that we’ve learned from our mistakes and hope that everyone can learn from our lessons, not only rugby league players but just people in general, and just take prescription medication as it is on the prescription box.”
The incident is being probed by both police and NRL Integrity Unit.
NRL grand final markets
Brisbane Broncos ($1.92, out from $1.80) vs. North Queensland Cowboys ($1.92, in from $2 @ Sportsbet)
Brisbane Broncos 1-12 ($3)
Brisbane Broncos 13+ ($5)
Draw ($21 @ Sportsbet)
North Queensland Cowboys 1-12 ($3)
North Queensland Cowboys ($5)
Clive Churchill Medal winner
Johnathan Thurston ($3.25 @ Sportsbet)
Anthony Milford ($7)
Ben Hunt ($7)
Corey Parker ($9)
Michael Morgan ($10)
Jake Granville ($17)
Matt Scott ($17)
Darius Boyd ($17)
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