BULLDOGS v SEA EAGLES
Why on earth are Canterbury outsiders?
Canterbury $2.10, Manly $1.75. It's simply astonishing that even after their minor premiership triumphs, many still doubt the Bulldogs' title credentials this year. What's not to like about a team that has won 14 of its past 16 matches - including a recent win over Manly?
The Sea Eagles will have the added bonus of Brett Stewart lurking from the back when the two sides meet this time around, but it's hard not to look past the Bulldogs given their recent dominance.
What's just as intriguing as the game itself is the subplot between the two coaches.
Des Hasler was essentially a part of the furniture until his acrimonious split from Manly last year. A win tonight would be an important milestone in his quest to become the first coach to win back-to-back premierships at two different clubs.
It's also worth noting Geoff Toovey's feats as a first-year coach in the NRL. As Dragons mentor Steve Price has proved with his unfruitful opening year, taking over from an established coach and trying to emulate their success can be difficult.
After a shaky start to the campaign, Toovey has done a stellar job orchestrating Manly's run to the finals. And for that he should be commended.
How many of Melbourne's old secrets will be exposed by Maguire, Inglis and co?
They've both been removed from the club for a couple of years now, but Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy would be acutely aware of Michael Maguire and Greg Inglis' familiarity with his side ahead of their clash tomorrow night.
Maguire slogged out a lengthy apprenticeship under Bellamy, a factor which has been partly behind his success as a first-year coach at Redfern.
The spine of the Melbourne side - Slater, Cronk, Smith - is crucial in their overall performance. By limiting the impact of each of those players through Maguire's own insights, the Rabbitohs will be well versed on what the Storm will bring to the table.
By the same token, there are elements of Maguire's coaching which Bellamy would be familiar with. But it probably won't be of great substance.
There are things not even Bellamy would have taken into account when Maguire first ventured out on his own - namely, the brilliance of Greg Inglis at fullback.
Given his strong record so far, it's safe to say Maguire really has emerged from his former mentor's shadow.
How much of an effect will Petero's farewell tour have on the match?
Petero Civoniceva has been a true icon of the game ever since he reached the top grade last century (yes, 1998).
At 36, Civoniceva has experienced every high the game has to offer.
But can he single-handedly overcome one of the form teams of the competition? Unlikely.
The brilliance of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen has anchored the Cowboys finals charge.
When they're both firing the Cowboys are one of the danger teams.
Given the Broncos' horror form of late, it's unfathomable a retiring player could spur his side to victory.
Apart from the Cowboys go-to men, Civoniceva will have his own problems with the North Queensland pack. With Matthew Scott, James Tamou and Ashton Sims all packing down in the scrum, the Cowboys brute strength alone is poised to rain on Petero's parade.
Does a late-season surge really qualify the Raiders as finals contenders?
Most people will agree that there are two foundation elements for a successful September side: finals experience and momentum.
The latter could hardly be at more extreme opposites for the Sharks and Raiders.
Canberra turned a seemingly mediocre season into a top-eight berth within the space of 10 weeks.
By comparison, the Sharks' "premiership contender" tag from midway through the season has slowly dwindled to "also-ran" status.
The Raiders ability to beat some big-name teams en route to Sunday, including the Bulldogs, more than vindicates their standing in the top eight.
While for the Sharks, trying to turn a poor recent record of two wins from eight into a successful finals campaign will be difficult.
As for the first foundation - finals experience?
The Sharks, with Paul Gallen, Bryce Gibbs and Jeremy Smith, have it in spades.
The Raiders, too, have their fair share of big-match experience, but will rely on the leadership of David Shillington and Shaun Berrigan.