Penrith Panthers vs Sydney Roosters – Friday night – Panthers Stadium
I think there are five genuine premiership contenders left in the running, and most people would agree who those five contenders are. The Panthers have won the minor premiership by a hefty margin, and minor premierships don't get the recognition I think they deserve...so kudos for that. They've won two minor premiership prior to this, and went on to win the grand final on both occasions. The other four contenders this season are the Storm, Roosters, Raiders and Rabbitohs. Penrith have beaten every one of them this season, but here's the rub. Penrith has only had to play those four teams once each, and they were the home team every time. Three of those wins were early in the season when the Panthers were flying under the radar. That said, their win over the Raiders in round 13 was pretty bloody dominant. Their last seven games have been against what I would call also-rans (Warriors, Sharks, Tigers, Broncos, Eels, Cowboys and Bulldogs). They can only beat what's in front of them, but three of their last four games were against the three bottom teams. They've had a very good draw tis what Im saying. The Roosters had to play the Storm, Raiders and Rabbitohs twice this season. The Storm had to play the Roosters, Raiders and Rabbitohs twice this season. Tougher competition, but a top four finish for both sides nonetheless. The Panthers and Roosters clashed all the way back in round one at this venue. The Roosters led early, but were run down late 20-14. Note that the Roosters were backing up from a World Club Challenge on the other side of the planet in late February. I think they ran out of legs against a fit young team playing at home. Tipping a team that conceded 60 points a week ago seems unusual, particularly against a side that has lost just one game all year, but finals football is a different beast. In the 2019 finals series the Chooks played the Rabbitohs, the Storm and the Raiders. Those three were in the top four that year, and the Chooks beat them all. Interestingly, those teams mentioned (Roosters, Rabbitohs, Storm, Raiders) are four of the five teams in contention this year. The other one, the Panthers, didn't play in the finals at all. They're young, they're exciting, and they're talented, but I think limited big game experience brings them undone.
Verdict – Roosters by 4
Result – Panthers 29 defeated Roosters 28
Canberra Raiders vs Cronulla Sharks – Saturday afternoon – GIO Stadium
If I'm going to have a crack at the Panthers and their draw it would be remiss of me not to have a crack at the Sharks. Their draw was so easy their price to win the premiership was almost cut in half after the draw was released. Despite every advantage, the Sharkies have fallen into the top eight, losing as many games as they won. They also conceded as many points as they scored (480), and they haven't beaten another team in the eight all season. Not any of them. Not even once. The Knights, barely a top eight team themselves, put seven tries on them three weeks ago. They had their best chance last week, playing at home against a Raiders outfit with nine of their best players rested. They still lost, and they still conceded 38 points. One week later they face them again in Canberra, and the Raiders welcome back Nicoll-Klokstad, Wighton, Croker, Rapana, George Williams, Bateman, Whitehead, Papalii and Tapine. The Sharks do bring a few players back this weekend too (Townsend, Dugan, Talakai and Katoa), but this does look like a lop-sided contest. The Sharks could win if they niggle so much the Raiders lose their cool, but it's a long-shot.
Verdict – Raiders by 20
Result – Raiders 32 defeated Sharks 20
Melbourne Storm vs Parramatta Eels – Saturday night – Suncorp Stadium
It's been a peculiar year for a whole bunch of reasons, and one of those reasons is the Eels finishing the season in third position. They've had a pretty good year, by Eels standards at least, but they do look like the 'one of these things is not like the other, which one is different, do you know' team in the top four. They've done enough to win enough games, but the second half of the season looks pedestrian at best - a 2 point win over the Bulldogs, a 2 point win over the Sharks, a 2 point loss to the Dragons, a 38-0 loss to the Rabbits, a 6 point win over the Warriors, an 18 point loss to the Panthers, a 14 point win over the hopeless Broncos and a 4 point win over the Tigers. Somewhere in there they also beat the Storm 14-0, but the Storm were missing Cameron Smith, Munster, Hughes, Jesse Bromwich and Vunivalu. Those five will all be back on Saturday night, plus a whole bunch of other proper footballers who have had a week off. The Eels are treading water, and now they face a near to full-strength Storm at a venue where the purple machine regularly win by 50. There are no certainties in life and football, but you can only tip one team in this.
Verdict – Storm by 22
Result – Storm 36 defeated Eels 24
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Newcastle Knights – Sunday night – ANZ Stadium
Did I say there were no certainties in life? The Rabbits rack up 60 against the premiership favourites while the Knights get given a footballing lesson by a team that missed the top eight. That team the Rabbitohs scored 60 against beat the Knights by 30 points in round 18. It all looks ominous for the Novascastrians, unless the Bunnies put in a performance like they did against the Bulldogs two weeks ago. That's possible, but unlikely.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 38
Result – Rabbitohs 46 defeated Knights 20
Wally Lewis - finals week one selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- PANTHERS vs Roosters
- RAIDERS vs Sharks
- STORM vs Eels
- RABBITOHS vs Knights