If the market framers are right, the NRL this weekend will avoid repeating the AFL experience of an “out of town” grand final – but you wouldn’t want to bet your house on it.

The bookies narrowly favour a “home town” grand final on Sunday week between the Bulldogs and the Dragons. For my money both preliminary finals are even money contests. It does not get much better.

Tonight’s encounter between the Brisbane Broncos and the Bulldogs would be a shoo-in for the Broncos if the 2006 encounters between the teams were a guide. The Broncos thrashed the Bulldogs 30-0 just over a month ago in round 24, after a 25-6 win way back in round 12.

But finals football is a different matter – and the markets have the Bulldogs at $1.85 and the Broncos at $1.90 for tonight’s match. Both teams carry strong form into the game.

Tomorrow night’s match between the minor premiers, Melbourne Storm, and the St George-Illawarra Dragons looks like being just as close an encounter. Surprisingly, the Dragons are the favourites: $1.70 against the Storm’s $2.10.

The Dragons could hardly have been more impressive in the finals. In week one, they beat the Broncos 20-4 and last weekend they disposed of the Sea Eagles most comprehensively, 28-0. Despite being the top team all season, The Storm are being marked down for a somewhat ordinary 12-6 win over the eighth placed Eels in week one.

But there is one difference – tomorrow night the game’s most exciting young player, Greg Inglis, is back in the Storm team.

The Storm game will be shown live, yes live, by Nine in Melbourne. With no AFL finals on Saturday night, it surely needs to rate reasonably if the continued presence of an NRL team in Melbourne is to remain credible.

Unfortunately, the lead-up to this weekend’s great matches has seen yet another “boning” of an NRL coach. It will be confirmed today that the Sharks coach, Stuart Raper, has been shown the door after his team ended the season dreadfully.

And, in one of those twists for which rugby league is becoming notorious he is likely to be replaced by Ricky Stuart, only recently shown the door by the Roosters!

Peter Fray

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