Finals footy as much about the coaches as the players
FINALS football doesn't just bring out the best in the game's marquee players.
It also produces some magic from rugby league's top coaches who devise the tactical game plans and set plays that can make the difference in a tense 80-minute battle, or even longer in the case of the Bulldogs' elimination final against the Dragons which went into golden point.
The NRL's big three - Wayne Bennett, Craig Bellamy and Des Hasler - all delivered in close finishes in week one of the finals - something they have been doing for many years.
Great coaches survive on pressure and thrive on the big occasion.
Bennett (pictured), Bellamy and Hasler did that again last weekend.
Bennett's Broncos held out a gallant Cowboys 16-12 in the best clash of the weekend, while Bellamy orchestrated the upset of the round when Melbourne trumped premiership favourites the Roosters 20-18 last Friday night.
Hasler completed the treble in heart-stopping style as the heavyweight Bulldogs eliminated the Dragons 11-10 to set up a showdown with Paul Green's Cowboys in Townsville on Saturday night.
Of the six surviving coaches, Bennett (57 games for 30 wins), Bellamy (28-18) and Hasler (23-14) have a massive experience edge over Cronulla's Shane Flanagan (4-2), Roosters mentor Trent Robinson (7-4) and Cowboys' Green (3-1).
Green and Flanagan have not won a grand final while Bennett (7), Bellamy (3) and Hasler (2) have won a dozen between them.
Two more coaches will bow out this weekend after the Roosters battle the Bulldogs in Sydney on Friday night and the Cowboys host Cronulla in Townsville the following day.
Bennett and Bellamy both have a week off to freshen up their troops and work on the game plans they hope will get their clubs into the grand final on October 4.
History suggests they are in the box seat, although one theory says teams are better off playing every week instead of losing some momentum. But Bennett, who has won seven of his eight grand finals, said he believed a week off was a massive bonus.
"If you could see them (players) in the change room right now, you would appreciate just how important a week off is," Bennett said at the post-match interview after the victory over the Cowboys.
"They'll be freshened right up and not be battered and bruised from playing another game of football next weekend.
"If you looked at our change room and thought we had to play again next week, you'd be thinking how are we going to get them back on the field."