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Finals come early for the Panthers and Rabbitohs in Brisbane this Friday night

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Roar Guru
16th August, 2021
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There are just over three weeks until the finals series gets underway, but September will come early for the Penrith Panthers and South Sydney Rabbitohs when they face off at Suncorp Stadium this Friday night.

With the sides currently sitting in second and third place on the ladder, respectively, this match would serve as the second qualifying final if you played the finals now.

Both sides are level on points, though it is the Panthers who sit higher thanks to a superior for-and-against (+329 to the Rabbitohs’ +289).

This has been partially attributed to the Round 11 match between these sides that was played in Dubbo, in which the mountain men ran riot en route to an easy 56-12 win.

For the Rabbitohs, that was their second loss in a three-week period after also losing to the Melbourne Storm by 50-0 at Stadium Australia in Round 9; Wayne Bennett’s side had also lost to the southerners at AAMI Park in Round 1.

Since their Round 11 clash, Ivan Cleary’s side have been beset by injuries to key players and very recently suffered a 37-10 loss to the Melbourne Storm at Suncorp Stadium, though have hit back with wins over the Roosters and Dragons to lock up a top-three finish.

Aided by the return of Nathan Cleary, who has yet to play in a losing side all year, the Panthers made light work of the Red V, winning 34-16 to rack up their fourth consecutive victory against the joint-venture dating back to mid-2018.

Nathan Cleary of the Panthers celebrates kicking a field goal

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Meantime, the Bunnies have won their last ten matches, making this their longest winning streak since they re-entered the competition nearly two decades ago, and since 1989 which is the year the club won its most recent minor premiership.

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By beating the Gold Coast Titans by 36-6 last Saturday, Wayne Bennett’s side became the first team in Australian rugby league history to score at least 30 points or more in eight consecutive matches – something not even the Broncos or Storm could achieve.

Halfback and captain Adam Reynolds continues to break all sorts of records as he looks to depart Redfern on the highest possible note – with a second premiership medal.

He scored a personal haul of 16 points, including his 100th goal for the year, eclipsing his record of 221 points in a single season in the process.

No wonder why Brisbane Broncos fans cannot await his arrival long enough, with the once-powerhouse club doomed to finish in the bottom two for the second year in a row.

The 689 points (and counting) the Rabbitohs as a team have scored so far is the most scored by the club in a single season, though it is also easy to forget that they did suffer that aforementioned humiliating loss to the Storm at home earlier this year.

Having already been beaten by the southerners twice this season, the Pride of the League will want to avoid a second loss to the Panthers after the aforementioned round eleven loss in which they coughed up 50 points or more for a second time in three weeks.

After those two horror losses, which came on either side of a 32-22 win over the Sharks in Magic Round, many were prepared to write off the Bunnies’ premiership hopes, given no team in Australian rugby league history has gone on to win a title after conceding more than 50 points in a single match, let alone two.

Adam Reynolds of the Rabbitohs

(Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

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The closest any team has come to doing just that were the North Queensland Cowboys in 2005, when they reached the grand final from fifth place before losing to the Wests Tigers in the decider.

That season, the northerners copped a 50-12 loss to the Parramatta Eels in the regular season then suffered an embarrassing 50-6 loss to the Tigers in the first week of the finals series.

However, ten straight wins later, as well as an attacking prowess that has seen them score 30 points or more in eight consecutive matches, could see the club buck that trend this year, though they may have to face the Storm in the grand final, if they do get that far.

If the Rabbitohs win every match from here on in until the end of the year, including the decider, then they will equal the record for the club’s longest winning streak of sixteen, which was set all the way back in 1925-26.

In fact, neither they nor the Panthers can drop any lower than third, as both sides are currently four wins clear of the fourth-placed Sydney Roosters with three rounds of the minor premiership still to be played.

Their clash will take place twenty-four hours after the Storm face the Gold Coast Titans on the holiday strip, in which Craig Bellamy’s side will be expected to win a premiership record-equaling 19th consecutive match, matching the record set by the Sydney Roosters in 1975.

This would leave the Panthers and Bunnies to jostle it out for second place on the ladder, with the teams all but certain to again face each other in the second qualifying final in the first week of the finals series.

With the entirety of the finals series set to take place in Queensland, home ground advantage will go out the window, so whether they finish second or third won’t really matter, as the loser will still face whoever wins the second elimination final (sixth versus seventh).

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And while the Storm may be the team to catch in this year’s premiership race, in recent weeks both the Panthers and Rabbitohs have been making strong cases to mount a serious challenge to the defending premiers come September.

Thus, expect fireworks when the two sides throw everything at each other at Suncorp Stadium this Friday night.

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