NRL Grand Final Preview
Photo Credit: Getty Images/NRL.com/Cover Art
This Sunday, Rugby League’s highest honour, a Premiership, will be bestowed upon the Panthers or the Rabbitohs. Having finished 2nd and 3rd respectively throughout the season, they are two worthy competitors who never fail to lack intensity, physicality, and entertainment value whenever they face off against each other.
In the opening week of the Finals, Souths pulled a gritty triumph out of the bag, scoring just two tries to one, as they prevailed 16-10 at Queensland Country Bank Stadium. Two clashes before that at Apex Oval, the Panthers got it done, just. As a 75th minute, Nathan Cleary FG helped seal the 25-12 result. That after the Rabbitohs had opened up a 12-0 advantage early on in the game. Dating back to 2018, Penrith won 20-12, 19-18 and 18-14, while Souths won 22-18 after Dane Gagai produced the late winner. They HATE but also LOVE to play against each other!
However, if both teams wish to prevail in Brisbane, they will have to overcome some challenging mental hurdles. Starting with the Panthers, they haven’t won a Decider since 2003, while there may still be some mental scars from going down 26-0 in last season’s Grand Final (eventual score 26-20). Brian To’o is 23-years of age, Stephen Crichton 21, Matt Burton 21, Nathan Cleary 23, while Spencer Leniu is 21, and there are plenty of 25-year old’s as well. Their young ages and relative lack of experience won’t work well for them. The Panthers must forget about previous encounters and play to their strengths. That gives them the best chance possible of eradicating this obstacle.
As touched on last week, this is Adam Reynold’s final game for the Rabbitoh’s, while it’s Benji Marshall’s last game ever as a professional Rugby League player. Reynolds has given his entire career to South Sydney so far, while this Grand Final for Marshall represents a 16-year gap between this one and when he first won it with the Tigers way back in 2005. Both blokes are also incredibly loveable and are ones their teammates would give an arm or a leg. So, the pressure on all the Souths lads to win will weigh a tad heavy in this match. In addition, four of their past eight campaigns have seen them bow out in the Preliminary Final. Now they’ve bettered that there are high expectations on Souths to deliver their 22nd Premiership.
Analysing last weeks results, it’s clear they were both worthy victors. Contesting each of their games at Suncorp Stadium, the Panthers overcame the Storm, 10-6. Their win being simply incredible as they withheld a late Melbourne flurry. In comparison, the Rabbitohs withstood a late Sea Eagles fightback to claim a 32-16 victory.
Penrith opened the scoring through Stephen Crichton in just the 3rd minute, as they held their nerve throughout the encounter. Their defence was vital as they forced Melbourne into 42 missed tackles and 16 errors, uncharacteristic of Craig Bellamy’s team. And they just looked lost the majority of the time in their attempts to fight back against Ivan Cleary’s men.
While Souths played a brilliant, clean game, conceding just a single penalty to Manly’s 4. They forced the Sea Eagles to run it off their line a lot, which made them fatigue and get tired quicker than usual. That being something that the Rabbitohs strongly capitalised on. Meanwhile, they were also incredibly damaging with their kicking game, 568m’s gained, and their running game, 1897 m’s gained. They made it look easy at times, somewhat similar to a training run.
Jarome Luai was a massive part of Penrith’s success, likewise Cody Walker with Souths. That’s why the battle of the two incredibly gifted and glitzy Five-Eighth’s is bound to have a profound impact on Rugby League’s 113th-year ultimate match. The St Mary’s-born Luai made his debut for the shield winning Blues this season and has laid out 18 try assists. Meanwhile, the Nowra-born Walker has previously repped NSW on X4 occasions and has dished out 33 try assists on the season.
They are both so creative yet can sometimes be forgotten a bit in the absence of Cleary and Reynolds. However, this is their time to shine! They know how to control a game and are both incredibly well-versed in delivering in the BIG moments. Whilst with what should be a tight contest on our hands, these men could make all the difference with a scintillating moment of individual brilliance.
Success is far from a foreign concept to either club and as such, both will bring their A+++ games here. While both also have the depth required to go hard at it for the full 80-minutes, and possibly even more. And on the sidelines, you cannot pick between the two genius masterminds of Ivan Cleary, a man who once led the Warriors of all teams to the ‘Big Dance,’ or Wayne Bennett, a man who knows Grand Finals as well as the back of his own hands. Penrith wins here simply because of their defence, nothing more and nothing less.
To Triumph: Penrith by 7-12 points (Paying $6.20)
Anytime Try Scorer – Penrith: Brian To’o (Paying $1.95)
Anytime Try Scorer – South Sydney: Alex Johnston (Paying $2.10)
Clive Churchill Medal: Jarome Luai (Paying $11.00)
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