Shaquille O'Neal and Nicki Minaj - this NRL semi-final's got it all

·3-min read
Shaquille O'Neil and Nicki Minaj, pictured here in 2020.
Shaq and Nicki Minaj in an NRL semi-final preview? Image: Getty

Eighty minutes on Friday night will determine whether Manly's season is a genuine muscle flex or was built on quicksand all along.

A win over a Sydney Roosters side being held together by gaffer tape is a non-negotiable if the Sea Eagles are to claim 2021 a resounding success.

Regardless of whether the run stops at a preliminary final or beyond, it would be a remarkable effort for a team which was 0-4 after the first month.

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And things are set up nicely for Des Hasler's men to at least reach the last four.

The Roosters' starting team that thrashed Manly in round one featured six players – Brett Morris, Luke Keary, Joey Manu, Lindsay Collins, Sio Taukeiaho and Jake Friend – who will be watching the re-match from their lounge-room or sideline.

And, with their Medicare card maxed out, the Chooks then copped one to the same region as Nicki Minaj's friend's cousin when Sam Verrills was suspended.

Manly, in comparison, are in the rudest health at the right time of the season. They have the luxury of leaving fully fit players out.

Shaquille O'Neal's mob – Manly's new sponsor PointsBet – has the Sea Eagles a $1.25 against the busted, bruised and battered Roosters ($4). But are they the real deal?

Last week’s humiliation at the hands of Melbourne raised fresh doubts, but not among those who have been watching closely.

Don't let the blowout scorelines fool you, the Sea Eagles' form at the back-end of the regular season was average.

They beat up some ordinary conveyances in the Cowboys and Bulldogs, largely on the back of Tom Trbojevic's brilliance, and fell over the line against Canberra.

The fact is they have not beaten one side in the current top five this year.

There's been two losses to the Storm and defeats at the hands of Souths, Penrith and the Roosters.

The draw over the past few months cocooned them from the heavyweights until Melbourne stepped back in the ring.

The Evander Holyfield fight looked competitive by comparison. Surely, they won't be that bad again.

Our tip: Manly by 12

Parramatta, Sydney Roosters, Manly and Penrith, pictured here before the NRL finals.
Parramatta, Sydney Roosters, Manly and Penrith are all in action in the NRL semi-finals. (Photo by Dan Peled/Getty Images)

Pressure test for boys from the west

Parramatta's elimination semi-final against Penrith is a real sliding doors moment for Eels coach Brad Arthur.

Win and the blue and golds are through to the last four and up against Melbourne in the preliminary final.

Parra has been Storm's kryptonite this year, beating the defending champs twice. But a loss to the Panthers will bring a whole new level of pressure on Arthur.

There will be question marks over whether BA is the man to take this club to the holy grail after a 35-year wait.

Arthur has shown he can get sides to finals, but that's as far as it's gone.

His job is safe regardless of how things fall over the next week or two, but next year will be his last in charge unless there's a premiership at the end of it.

There is no less pressure on Penrith. The Panthers have not been convincing since the Origin period ended and now, somewhat unexpectedly, could be out of the finals in straight sets.

It would be a poor return for a side which has promised so much for two years.

Our tip: Panthers by 14

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