No.1 showdown to decide NRL semi-finals

It’s the NRL’s No.1 semi-final showdown some 545 days in the making.

© Darren England/AAP PHOTOS NSW teammates James Tedesco and Tom Trbojevic will keep close tabs on each other in their NRL semi.

In the 18 months since James Tedesco and Tom Trbojevic last clashed, the NRL has shut down, changed rules and seen an attacking revolution.

Trbojevic has torn two hamstrings and his pectoral muscle, while Tedesco has risen to NSW and Sydney Roosters captaincy.

About the only constant has been the debate over the title of the game’s best fullback.

“That’s why most people will switch on,” Roosters coach Trent Robinson.

“There’s been a lot of talk this year and that’s a credit to both of them the way that they’ve played.”

Statistically, Trbojevic outshines everyone this season.

His strike rate of 25 tries and 30 assists in 16 games is peerless and makes for one of the all-time great individual years.

But he will go in hunt of his first finals win on Friday night, after Melbourne shut down both he and Manly’s attack in last week’s 40-12 flogging.

Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler was on Thursday insistent that defensive collapse was a one off, with hooker Lachlan Croker also cleared to return.

“We didn’t play at a level of semi-final football in regards to the ball,” Hasler said.

“If you’re not going to do that and manage your possession, then it’s going to be difficult to get anyone into the game. Let alone Tom.”

Video: Moses steps up for the Eels (Wide World of Sports)

The Roosters will also come armed with a plan for Trbojevic, with Robinson clear they know where they want to attack Manly in defence.

That will be crucial.

Trbojevic has played fewer games this year than Tedesco but leads in tries, try-assists, linebreaks, linebreak assists, average tackle busts and average metres run.

But not everything is in the numbers.

Tedesco has carried a bruised and battered team missing the majority of their stars.

So much so, Robinson compared Tedesco’s output as skipper to Steve Smith’s astronomical batting rise as Australia’s Test cricket captain.

“In cricket you see captains that are amazing batsmen and once they become captains sometimes their form slips away,” Robinson said.

“Or there are some like Steve Smith whose form went through the roof. 

“If Teddy was a cricketer his captaincy has allowed him to continue and then even rise as a player. 

“The weight of that hasn’t affected his individual game.”

The other thing Robinson marvels over is Tedesco’s consistency.

Which is why he doesn’t believe the battle between the two star custodians will offer any extra motivation.

“Teddy is not a riser and faller based on opposition or moment,” Robinson said. 

“You’ve seen him play in what people would say are just regular season round games against teams outside of the top eight and he attacks the game. 

“If he was playing for the Camden Rams at Kirkham Oval on a Sunday afternoon with cars on the hill, he would attack the game. 

“He wouldn’t need to know how many people are coming through the gates or that the television was on.”

Many more will watch on Friday night though, with two seasons and a No.1 title on the line.

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