NRL Expert @JennaBrooks
NRL talking points: Final series preview, Sam Burgess banned, Ricky Stuart extends Raiders stay
Last Updated: 11/09/19 11:28am
Jenna Brooks has the latest from the NRL as the premiership heads to the finals series, Sam Burgess suffers a big blow, and Canberra Raiders re-sign Ricky Stuart.
And then there were eight
Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters had already secured first and second on the ladder heading into the final round of the regular season, and when Canberra Raiders suffered a surprise defeat to New Zealand Warriors on Saturday, South Sydney Rabbitohs took third.
Those results set up a qualifying final between the Roosters and the Rabbitohs at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday, while Saturday stages minor premiers Melbourne against the Raiders.
Parramatta Eels finished the year in fifth after beating Manly Sea Eagles, who secured sixth position, while Brisbane Broncos lost to Canterbury Bulldogs, which saw them drop to eighth. That means the Eels face the Broncos on Sunday in their elimination final.
Cronulla Sharks snatched seventh place with a vital win over the Wests Tigers on Sunday. The Sharks will travel to the Sea Eagles on Saturday.
South Sydney will play their qualifying final against the Roosters without Sam Burgess after the forward was caught pulling the hair of Billy Smith during last Thursday's derby.
Burgess pleaded guilty - his fifth in two seasons and his third in 2019 - and the England international, who was charged with a contrary conduct over the hair pull is clearly frustrated by it.
"In the context of the game, there were four or five blokes knocked out, 50 stitches put into people's heads after a game," Burgess said. "Then someone sits in front of the computer on Friday and that's what they pick up?
"It says it all. I'm disappointed. Disappointed is the word I'm using today, but I'll let everyone else have their opinions."
Sam's brother George is available after he served a nine-game ban for an eye gouge in July - and George's twin, Tom, is in line to make an early return from a knee injury.
"I trained Monday and Tuesday and pulled up good so we'll just see how we go with recovery until the team run, but it's looking pretty good," Tom said.
Ricky Stuart has signed a contract extension with Canberra, keeping him on as head coach until at least the end of 2023.
At the end of the new deal, Stuart will join Tim Sheens as the longest-serving coach in the Raiders' history.
Stuart has been in charge in Canberra for the past six years and 2019 marks the second year he has led his side to the finals series.
English pair Ryan Sutton and Elliott Whitehead have both extended their time in the capital as well, signing new contracts which will keep them at the Raiders until at least the end of 2022.
Gareth Widdop's final game in the NRL ended with him reaching a special milestone in St George Illawarra Dragons' 24-16 win over bottom-placed Gold Coast Titans.
Widdop kicked four goals in the win, becoming the first Englishman to reach 1,000 points in the NRL in the process.
The win was St George Illawarra's eighth of 2019, in what was a season to forget for the club. The Dragons ended the year second-last, their worst finish as a joint-venture.
It is an outcome which has raised plenty of questions about the future of head coach Paul McGregor.
Despite the Dragons' dismal season, McGregor praised the star playmaker and expects Warrington Wolves-bound Widdop to leave a legacy behind.
"He's the most gifted player that I have got to coach in my journey," McGregor said.
With the end of season quickly approaching, a number of NRL players are being linked with Super League.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall announced he is heading to the Northern Hemisphere and it's believed he has signed with Hull Kingston Rovers.
Reports suggest Cronulla's Josh Dugan, plus Wests pair Russell Packer and Josh Reynolds are all interested in making the switch to Super League as well.
There are also fresh reports linking former Wigan Warriors head coach Shaun Wane with St George Illawarra, should McGregor be shown the door.