The players that must ignite in finals football.
The players that must ignite in finals football.

Lockyer: Finals X-factor for every contender

WITH the finals just a fortnight away, it's crucial teams not only peak at the right time, but possess an individual who must bring their A-game for the month of September.

These are the players who will give their respective teams the best chance of glory on grand final day.

ANTHONY MILFORD (Broncos)

Payne Haas has been outstanding for Brisbane in the past month but for the Broncos to go to another level and be a real threat, Milford is the man. A very talented player. Milford has made a handy transition from five-eighth to fullback but I believe there is more in him in the No.1 jumper. He has been content to catch and pass in recent weeks. But the position is perfectly suited for Milford to chime in and attack when he sees an opportunity. Without the burden of organising the team, I'd love to see him back himself with his running game. He was the best player on the park in the 2015 grand final.

Anthony Milford is the man to inspire Brisbane. Picture: Darren England
Anthony Milford is the man to inspire Brisbane. Picture: Darren England
LATRELL MITCHELL (Roosters)

We haven't seen the best of Mitchell this year. His NSW Origin axing affected him mentally but I think the finals can ignite him. The only concern I have with the Roosters is whether they have peaked too early. In terms of strike, they are the team to beat. If Mitchell is kept quiet in the playoffs, that brings the Roosters back to the field. But if he explodes and imposes himself on the contest, he will make the Roosters the best team they can be and deliver back-to-back titles.

Latrell Mitchell will drive the Roosters’ historic title bid. Picture: Cameron Spencer
Latrell Mitchell will drive the Roosters’ historic title bid. Picture: Cameron Spencer

RYAN PAPENHUYZEN (Storm)

We all know what Cameron Smith will give you in the finals but Papenhuyzen will have teams nervous. In a tight sudden-death affair, I can see Papenhuyzen bust the game open. He has blistering speed, he works hard, he sniffs around the middle and in a key moment, he can produce a slice of magic to inspire the Storm. I like his temperament. He likes to be involved, he is electric and defensively, he is mentally tough. Without Billy Slater, the structured Storm need a super-fit, unpredictable game-breaker and Papenhuyzen is the man.

 

CHARNZE NICOLL-KLOKSTAD (Raiders)

'CNK' has had an amazing year. He can give the Green Machine another gear in September. Earlier in the year we were all impressed by his athletic ability, but in recent months I've been impressed by Nicoll-Klokstad's game awareness. He is starting to develop a pass in his game and he positions himself well defensively and in attack. He is not only a strong runner but he has produced some clever passes for his supports in the last month. He can be the difference in a tight game.

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DYLAN WALKER (Sea Eagles)

For Manly to be a genuine premiership contender, Walker needs to fire in the halves. Tom Trbojevic is a wonderful player and all the rival teams will have their eyes on him. "Tommy Turbo" will be heavily targeted and that opens the door for Walker. I've always had question marks over his skill-set as a five-eighth, but he's a dynamic runner and a real threat against retreating defence. His kicking game has also improved, so if he backs himself and make inroads with his attack, it will give Manly another dimension. Daly Cherry-Evans pulls the strings but Walker can hurt teams with his running game.

DANE GAGAI (Rabbitohs)

I thought Gagai's game against the Broncos last week was outstanding. I actually prefer him at centre in club land compared to the wing. He has been pretty quiet on the wing for most of the year but in the centres, Gagai gets more opportunities in one-on-one situations. With Greg Inglis having retired and James Roberts suspended, Gagai will remain in the centres for the run into the finals. He's the type of player where the bigger the stage, the better his performance. He is hitting top gear at the right time.

Dane Gagai is firing in the centres. Picture: Dan Peled
Dane Gagai is firing in the centres. Picture: Dan Peled

BLAKE FERGUSON (Eels)

"Fergo" is a loveable enigma but on his day he is one of the most dangerous players in the league. If Ferguson produces 250 metres in a game, Parramatta invariably win. He gets their sets off to a good start with his carries and if he is scoring tries, the Eels go from being challengers to serious title contenders. His energetic ways will be a real asset for Parramatta through September.

ANDREW FIFITA (Sharks)

Who can forget how Fifita tormented the Storm in the 2016 grand final? The Sharks have the hard-nosed players to make a run in the finals and to do that, they need Fifita to bring his A-game. While he has been on the bench the past three weeks, his impact is undeniable and he's one of the few big men who can change the course of a contest. The Sharks are a different team when Fifita is offloading. If he plays tough and creates second-phase, the Sharks are a real dark horse.

BENJI MARSHALL (Tigers)

Marshall's evolution at the back end of his career has been a joy to watch. He was always individually gifted but he now understands the art of playmaking and is using his smarts to improve players around him. At 34, he is turning back the clock to his premiership year of 2005. The Tigers would need a miracle to win the title but if they sneak into the finals, It would be great entertainment if Marshall went on a two-or-three week golden run.

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