Almanac Rugby League – 2021 NRL Grand Final: History to be made on Sunday

 

 

 

Sometimes I wonder if I watch the same games that the so-called experts comment on and report. Last weekend’s Storm v Penrith match is just the latest example. But more on that later. Let’s deal with the qualifiers in order.

 

The Rabbitohs continued on their sparkling way to the Grand Final by dispatching a willing but tired Sea Eagles outfit by 36-16. If ever there was a game where the bounce of the ball and the rub of the green went all one way, then this was it. The Bunnies got every break, every call and every bounce in the first half to lead by 22-0 at the break – game over. To be fair, it wasn’t all fortuitous. The Bunnies were in control because they were more eager, better organised and better in their execution. The Sea Eagles were the opposite – dominated, hesitant, disorganised and error ridden. Consequently their big guns (DCE, the Turbos, Foran) were stifled out of the game.

 

The early loss of Keppie didn’t help matters, nor did the technically correct but practically wrong denial of a try that would have locked the scores at 6-6. (That interpretation of obstruction simply has to be reviewed over the summer. Reynolds was no chance of having any impact in stopping the try because he was flat footed and many metres from the ball, having chosen to man up on one of the attacking Manly players.) Then Tom T lost the ball over the line a short time later. Nothing went their way. But, to their credit, they kept trying. Then, late in the second half with the game well decided, you know that it was never going to be your night when you see the opposition score the likes of the Jaxon Paulo try – running backwards after a good catch to fall over the line!

 

Well played, Rabbitohs! A fine team effort from 1-17; efficient up front, slick in the halves, opportunist on the flanks and safe at the back. The only question mark is the fitness of Reynolds. Bad luck, Manly, but a great comeback after starting the season 0-4, and with good prospects ahead. Just stick with Des!

 

Unlike just about every commentator I listened to and written report I read, I thought the second qualifier was one of the worst games of the season – a mistake-athon between the top two teams who both seemed to have lost the key to their ‘A’ game. Even allowing for understandable nerves and pressure with so much at stake, this was not the pulsating, ‘in the trenches’ confrontation of the previous weekend’s Panthers v Eels spectacular. This was just plain awful, a drab spectacle made all the more so because these were, supposedly, the two best teams in the comp.

 

Look at it this way: the supposedly slick Panthers could muster just 10 points against the Storm who had only 15 players for three quarters of the game after they lost two key forwards (Welsh and Smith) to injury. The Storm played their worst match of the year (and probably the worst since their 40-0 drubbing in the Grand Final by Manly in 2008), were disjointed, error-ridden and two men short – and yet they only lost by four points. At least the Storm had the excuse that they were undermanned and there was always going to be a game like this coming sometime. What’s the story for the Panthers?

 

The Grand Final

 

That we will not have the Grand Final we long expected, Storm v Panthers, makes this one all the more interesting and harder to unpack. There are many reasons why each side could win as well as might lose. On paper, there’s a hair’s breadth between them as overall teams as well as on a man-to-man basis. Yet, somehow, I think that whoever wins will do so comfortably by 15+ points.

 

Penrith deserve favouritism on the basis of their efforts over the past two seasons and their top two position on the ladder throughout this year. They have more recent Grand Final experience and are a year better as a combination than they were in 2020. They boast a host of representative players and have demonstrated that they can win both tough encounters and free flowing matches. If defence wins big games, and history shows that it does, then the Panthers are well placed as they have one of the most impregnable records in the league.

 

BUT…they are playing a bit busted with several players carrying injuries, always a risky proposition in big matches. The early loss of one or more combatants will hurt them badly – look what it did to the Storm last weekend. The Panthers are coming off consecutive hard-fought, bruising, energy sapping games against the Eels and the Storm – have they got enough fuel left in the tank? In recent times they have lost their capacity to rack up good scores. We know Souths can and do score freely on a regular basis. Do the Panthers have 30+ points in them to ensure a win? Perhaps they’re just overdue a big total. Souths had more than their measure in Week 1 of the finals as well as a better record through September to get to the final. So which team has form and momentum at this point?

 

Souths will fancy their chances because they have gone from strength to strength in the last half of the season with a record equal to anyone. We all know they can score points regularly and quickly from anywhere through any of their several lethal strike weapons, not the least of which is Damien Cook. Their defence is the most improved in the comp since May. They’ve overcome the loss of Mitchell and found a more than adequate replacement in Taaffe. Souths handled the Panthers competently back in Week 1 of the finals and will have self-belief. They have an X-factor on the bench in Benji Marshall. And they have the wiliest of old foxes in the coach’s box.

 

BUT…we all know that no team has ever won the competition after losing a minor round game by 50 or more points – Souths did that twice this year, including once against Penrith. Reynolds is not fully fit which limits his very important kicking game. Their forward pack is workmanlike and relies heavily on Cook and Murray – Grand Finals are won by dominant packs, not individuals. Souths lack Grand Final experience, not that that stopped them in 2014. Gagai and Walker must play the ball rather than the man so as not to concede silly penalties. Souths are at their best in up tempo situations and less impressive in a grind – if the flow of the game is slowed down, they’ll struggle more than Penrith.

 

Referee Gerard Sutton is the best referee in the competition and deserves the whistle for this one. He had a bit of an off game last weekend, in particular allowing too much lingering in the ruck, and then there was that misplaced conversion. Expect Sutton to be back at his best this week and let’s hope he opts for a flowing game that entertains. Let’s also hope that The Bunker doesn’t pick this game for a match-deciding howler.

 

The bookies have the Panthers at better that $1.70 with Souths at about $2.30 – I think that will tighten a little come Sunday. Most commentators have also gone for the Mountain Men. If it’s tight, I favour Penrith (just); if it’s a flowing game, then Souths will win it. Fairytales happen and so with Bennett, Benji, Reynolds, Su’a and Gagai in mind, I’m going with the Rabbitohs to have their dreams come true.

 

 

Sunday October 3

Panthers v Rabbitohs, Suncorp Stadium, 6.30pm (local time, check guides)

 

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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of Footy Almanac's online editors, I moonlight as an editor for hire - check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au

Comments

  1. Roger Lowrey says

    Go Rabbitohs!

    Win this one for the memory of my old geography teacher and 1949 Souths grand final player, Father Arthur Moynihan. See here my column on 6 September 2019.

    BTW Ian, your match prediction is suitably dispassionate and makes perfect sense…BUT which team will you be privately barracking for?!

    RDL

  2. Ian Hauser says

    It’s there right at the end, Roger.

  3. Roger Lowrey says

    Sorry. I missed it.

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