Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

The dummies guide to the NRL playoffs

Paul Gallen of the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images.
Paul Gallen of the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images.

Keen on tuning into the NRL finals this weekend but need a quick refresher on who's playing? Chris Rattue is here to help.

Here is the neutral fan's guide to the NRL finals.

NRL Preliminary Finals
Cronulla Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys, Friday 9.55pm. Sydney.

CRONULLA SHARKS

We call them...
Gallen and Gas

Their MO...
A traditional type of footy team with some power forwards and the blistering pace of outside backs Ben Barba and Valentine Holmes.

Their X-factor...
Paul Gallen. Love him or hate him, the human bulldozer takes no prisoners, leaves it all on the field (and all those sorts of hardman cliches). Mind you, they did upset the Raiders without Gallen.

The weakest link
History. Always the bridesmaid...they say it shouldn't matter but with Cronulla, somehow it does.

The Kiwi factor
...a light sprinkling...and the Warriors did develop James Maloney if that counts.

The critics say...
It's the strangest match up of the year: league great Peter Sterling hates the way Andrew Fifita sledges and niggles opponents, saying he deserves a punch on his considerable chin. The Sharks are wind up specialists with Michael Ennis, Maloney and Gallen.

In their defence...
...niggle is not illegal, although it is dammed annoying.

Surprise package...
Ben Barba. The brilliant fullback has turned a corner, after troubled times at the Bulldogs and Broncos initially continued at the Sharks.

Do we love the Sharks?
No. On one hand we should, given their bridesmaid history. But the snarly attitude and doping scandal can't be ignored. They are Unlovable Losers.

The match-up
Good for a close match. Bad for a win.

Paul Gallen of the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images.
Paul Gallen of the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images.

NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS

We call them...
The Northern Stars

Their MO...
The 2015 champions basically aim to ensure that Johnathan "JT" Thurston can do his stuff, and they do this in a fairly basic way. Don't expect to see a lot of offloads.

Their X-factor
Kiwi Jason Taumalolo is the game's Number One wrecking ball.

The weakest link...
They're not entirely a one trick pony, but they don't have a great Plan B if Thurston is shut down. The Sharks will probably try to encircle him.

The Kiwi factor
James Tamou is one of the game's greatest props. Oh that's right. Sorry. Tamou decided he is an Australian.

The critics say...
...they have a terrible record in Sydney - Allianz Stadium has been a finals graveyard for them.

In their defence...
...they have had dreadful bad luck in terms of refereeing decisions which has skewed their finals record in Sydney.

Surprise package...
Centre Justin O'Neill - the Melbourne offload has been so good that the Storm tried to get him back this year.

Do we love the Cowboys?
Well, we all love JT. And JT IS the Cowboys.

The match-up
It shapes as a nail-biter, and Thurston love nailbiters.

Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders, Saturday 9.40pm, Melbourne.

MELBOURNE STORM

We call them...
The Perfect Storm

'Their MO...
Relentless perfection.

Their X-factor
Cameron Smith is the smartest player in NRL history. He's like a magnificent conductor who also plays violin and drums and helps pack the instruments away. He picks opponents apart in ways we can't even imagine.

The weakest link
On their day, they don't have one. That's the point about the Storm. But they lack an explosive quality.

The Kiwi factor.
Forwards Jesse and Kenny Bromwich, Kevin Proctor and Tohu Harris have long been at the heart of this operation.

The critics say...
They use nasty wrestling techniques to slow down the tackle area.

In their defence...
Come on. Every team slows the tackle area down. In fact, Raider Josh Hodgson was nabbed for a grapple tackle on Storm prop Jesse Bromwich this season.

Surprise package
The Storm don't do surprises, or not ones that are easy to detect.

Do we love the Storm?
The Storm are to be admired, admired, admired. Loved? Maybe not.

The match up.
Not good. The super-sized Raiders have the weapons to trouble Craig Bellamy's perfectionists so long as they keep the error rate down.

Kevin Proctor of the Storm is tackled during the NRL Qualifying Final match between the Melbourne Storm and the North Queensland Cowboys. Photo / Getty Images.
Kevin Proctor of the Storm is tackled during the NRL Qualifying Final match between the Melbourne Storm and the North Queensland Cowboys. Photo / Getty Images.

CANBERRA RAIDERS

We call them...
The Incredible Hulks.

Their MO...
Power surges..everyone else is green with envy looking at their massive lineup.

Their X-factor
Joey Leilua...a centre who runs like Jason Taumalolo

The weakest link
Big match inexperience

The Kiwi factor
The boom 100kg wing Jordan Rapana forms a devastating right-side combo with Leilua.

The critics say...
Nothing. Everybody loves the runaway-train Raiders this year.

In their defence
See above.

Surprise package
English hooker Hodgson - a relative unknown who has become an NRL star and the key to the Raiders' game.

Do we love the Raiders?
Almost, the trouble being they are coached by grumpy, Ricky "The-world-is-against-me" Stuart.

The match up.
Damn the oddsmakers. Hold the ball, and the Raiders will win in Melbourne.

Junior Paulo of the Raiders is tackled during the NRL Qualifying Final match between the Canberra Raiders and the Cronulla Sharks. Photo / Getty Images.
Junior Paulo of the Raiders is tackled during the NRL Qualifying Final match between the Canberra Raiders and the Cronulla Sharks. Photo / Getty Images.

- NZ Herald

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