I can already feel your rage and angst in me declaring Cooper Cronk as a better halfback than Johnathan Thurston. I also know everything you’re going to say in argument.
Season 2020 has been one like no other for the NRL.
We’ve seen the competition suspended for two months, teams spending months living away from their families interstate and overseas as well as new rules implemented that have sped up the game.
Despite all the surprises 2020 has thrown up, it’s no surprise that the top two teams all year are playing off in the grand final.
The Penrith Panthers have had an amazing year. After a disappointing season in 2019 where they finished tenth, they have rebounded after making some astute recruitment decisions. They released the likes of Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Waqa Blake and James Maloney, bringing in experience in Apisai Koroisau, Kurt Capewell and Zane Tetevano.
They also continued their focus on developing talent, with 22 of the 27 players used in 2020 making their first-grade debuts at the club.
The Panthers’ department of youth have proven themselves to be winners throughout their formative years, winning junior rugby league, SG Ball, NYC and NSW Cup premierships on their way to first grade. Many of the players in the current squad have played together right through those grades.
It’s that winning culture that has helped them to record an incredible 17 straight wins leading into the grand final. Even the two matches that they didn’t win, a 14-all draw against Newcastle in Round 3 and a 16-10 loss against Parramatta in Round 5, came when they arguably should have won.
They were comfortably the best side of the regular season and deserve their place in the grand final.
The Panthers might have the youth and excitement on their side, but they have perennial contenders the Melbourne Storm standing in their way.
The Storm have been almost as good as the Panthers in 2020, losing only four games all year. As it is, their only two losses since Round 6 came with a severely weakened side. They’ve also had their success stories in their squad, with Craig Bellamy turning the likes of Jahrome Hughes, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Brenko Lee into representative-quality players.
It hasn’t all been easy for the Storm, forced to relocate from Melbourne to the Sunshine Coast in June. They’ve had their share of injuries, but they have shown once again why they are such a good team.
The Storm still have nine players from the side that won the 2017 grand final. They have over 30 grand finals of experience in their squad. This will be their tenth grand final in their 23-season history. They know what grand finals are like.
For the Panthers to win, they need to get off to a fast start, defend strongly and disrupt Melbourne’s natural game. For the Storm to win, they just need to do what they do, use their experience to their advantage and turn the pressure back on Penrith.
No matter what, with the top two teams going head-to-head, the game will be a beauty.