This Sunday sees two versus three as the Penrith Panthers and South Sydney Rabbitohs battle it out in the NRL Grand Final at the first-ever final held out of Sydney. Suncorp Stadium is the saviour as Covid runs rampant through New South Wales.
It was week one of the finals where these two teams met last. A 16-10 win to Souths saw them win where a lot of pundits wrote them off without Latrell Mitchell.
Since that match, Souths have gone on to win comfortably in both of their semi-final matches, whereas Penrith has had to really sharpen up and grind out two very tough victories.
I think a lot of this motivation for the Panthers has come from their grand final loss last season. They were the best team all of that year, came into the big dance with a massive win streak, and were blown off the park by Melbourne.
There were a lot of lessons learnt from the young Panthers group. This season they timed their run a lot better. They’re a year wiser, and they’ve been able to grow as a team.
Souths on the other hand are once of those Wayne Bennett coached sides who did whatever they needed to throughout the season to get to the finals, and then punish their opponents in the finals series.
He’s one of the ultimate coaches in that capacity. Think about his influence on the Kiwis in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, and what he and Mal Meninga did with the “Worst Origin side in history” last year. It’s almost the shorter the format, the better a coach he is.
The Panthers last played back to back finals in 1990 and 1991. They lost the first final to Canberra but got up the second time around against the Green Machine.
Out of the three grand finals the Panthers have made in the NRL era (98 onwards), this is the first time they aren’t Minor Premiers.
Their 2003 side was stacked. The hair bears, Scott Sattler, Italian rugby international Craig Gower, Luke Lewis, and Rhys Wesser just to name a few. And of all the grand final moments you see, it was Sattler’s epic try-saver on Todd Bryne which gets highlighted the most.
South Sydney last made the grand final in 2014. Infamous for Sam Burgess and his broken cheekbone. Greg Inglis and his runaway try and goanna celebration. Issac Luke missing the grand final for a grade one dangerous throw charge, which in today’s game would see him only cop a fine.
They blew apart a Bulldogs side with ease, and the Redfern faithful celebrated massively.
The stakes almost feel higher for the Rabbitohs this time around. Wayne Bennett’s last game in charge of the club, Adam Reynolds who is a decorated Souths junior will play his last game with the club before departing to Brisbane, and this could also be the last time we see Benji Marshall in the NRL.
And imagine being in Blake Taaffe’s shoes? The most inexperienced player to play in a grand final, with only seven games under his belt. What a moment for the 22-year-old.
Penrith’s ability to hold their line over the last two weeks has been truly impressive. This is not something we’ve come to know with the Panthers, who have shown their try-scoring credentials a lot throughout the 2021 season.
To hold the Storm to only six points, and Parramatta to six the week before is a remarkable feat.
We all know they can score points at will, but being able to defend their line for long periods of time is a trait not to gloss over.
Souths ability to get quick play the balls and create tempo is extraordinary. They seem to create time and space out of nothing when this happens. We saw it happen against Manly. It went from an ordinary set of six to a try-scoring one. Cameron Murray plays the ball at a speed like no one else, I don’t know how he does it, but it’s damn fast!
In terms of defence, South Sydney hasn’t been the strongest. They’ve conceded fifty points on multiple occasions this year, and we all know the old adage of a team that concedes fifty can’t win a premiership…
That saying is probably a bit outdated now considering the new rules and the speed of the game. I absolutely believe the Rabbitohs could win this grand final.
However, they still have some concerns they need to tidy up.
Opposition sides have been strong going down the left, so you know that Rabbitohs right side defence is going to be tested by the likes of Luai and Burton.
With Souths conceding points, they know they have the ability to score them at will at the opposite end of the field, so it hasn’t really worried them all year. They have been involved in plenty of high scoring games.
In saying that, they were good enough to grind out a win over Penrith just three weeks ago.
I have the feeling that this game will be one of those solid Grand Finals. A really tense match where both sides go try for try.
Some of the best players in the world right now are playing in these two teams, what a fantastic advertisement for the rise of these clubs and for our game.
As a neutral fan, I am a little torn. Being a proud Kiwi, I want to see Benji Marshall win another premiership. Everyone knows he deserves another. However, seeing the Panthers lose two Grand Finals in a row would suck. Especially for such a strong side. To have two amazing seasons just to lose in the grand final would be tough to swallow.
I’m hoping we’re going to see all of the great characteristics of both sides. The flair and confidence these two produce is almost unrivalled.
First try scorer will be Kurt Capewell, and the Clive Churchill medal will be Nathan Cleary. Panthers to prevail 24-18.
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