The Penrith Panthers have made a late change to their 17 ahead of tonight’s NRL grand final against the Melbourne Storm.
An awful lot’s happened in the NRL this season.
The Brisbane Broncos happened. As the season unfolded it became very, very clear they couldn’t come out of the hole they’d dug. The first wooden spoon in club’s history, the premature departure of Anthony Seibold for personal reasons, the untimely and shocking move of young gun David Fifita to Gold Coast – I think the club, players, management and fans couldn’t wait for the season to end.
Well, it did end for them, and after the turbulence they experienced lies greener pastures. If there’s one man who can turn the club around, it’s Kevin Walters. The Broncos have been his heart and soul, and his last NRL game was in 2000 when they were crowned premiers.
The other 15 clubs had their fair share of drama, but the New Zealand Warriors have been the most resilient team to be part of the competition. The NRL have to really, deeply thank the boys from across the ditch for keeping the competition competitive as ever in these COVID-19 times.
This season, although reduced to only 20 rounds, has provided fans with so much to see and enjoy, and the NRL should be proud of what it has achieved so far despite having its own fair share of problems.
Congratulations are in order for the top try scorer and point scorer, surprisingly both form South Sydney. After 20 regular rounds and as the final series approaches, let’s look at the top eight, and in particular the top four.
The men from the foot of the Blue Mountains in Sydney’s west have proven they have what it takes to go all the way. They had the best defence in the league during regular rounds. It’s their third time crowned minor premiers, and on the two previous occasions they won the JJ Giltinan Shield they went on to claim the premiership at the big dance. Can they make it all the way from the top? No team has been able to challenge that proposition.
They’ve been the most consistent side this season, chalking up impressive wins and also bleeding new players as they look towards the future post-Cameron Smith and Craig Bellamy. Melbourne are a club that just know how to get the job done in October. They have always been at the deep end of the finals in the past decade, and only in 2014 did they fail to reach the second stage of the finals. The 2020 season will be no different to last year, and they have what it takes to reach the big dance.
Their season has been hot and cold. They’ve scored the fewest points of the teams that make up the top eight. As a team they have shown patches of their potential to be premiership contenders this year, but finishing third should not make Parramatta fans believe they have what it takes to go all the way. Starting off strongly during the early rounds of this season, they basically were very ordinary during the last six to seven rounds of the normal competition. If they really want to win this year, Brad Arthur’s men need to really dig deep.
The Chooks have scored the most points this year despite the reigning premiers having their fair share of problems, in particular the number of players they have on the injury list. Despite losing so many players from their regular 17-man squad during the course of this year they still managed to stay afloat in the top four, and despite the recent flogging they received last round, they are poised to make a charge into the deep end of October if they bring their best.
The remaining bottom four side of the top eight also can stake their claim as contenders. The Canberra Raiders, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Newcastle Knights and Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks have battled this season, and where they are on the ladder is a reflection of their performances round in and round out.
This year’s finals series will hold no surprises. In the qualifying finals the two top-seeded teams will claim bragging rights for a home preliminary final, while Canberra and South Sydney will get the job done over the Knights and Cronulla.
One thing most will argue in of the favour of the Chooks is that they have the experience of playing in big games. Confidence is a big factor that contributes to winning.
But Penrith also have confidence by the bucketload, and with a home ground and home crowd advantage, I see them winning convincingly unless the Tricolours really bring their A-game on Friday night.
Melbourne, with their returning regular starters who were rested in last week’s loss to the Dragons, will be just too much for the Eels, and I see them closing this one out.
The Raiders and Souths will get the job done convincingly, as I don’t see either the Knights or the Sharks putting up a decent challenge, and with the runners-up also having some of their regular starters returning, the Green Machine will wrap it up as they did in the last round.
The finals series in 2020 will be hard-fought, although I’m predicting a Melbourne-Penrith grand final.
But you can’t write off the rest just yet.