South Sydney Rabbitohs (3rd) vs Manly Sea Eagles (4th) – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
I love rugby league for what it delivers on the field, but this is one of those games where what happens off the field could be just as entertaining. Des Hasler and Wayne Bennett will spend the lead-up doing everything they can to give nothing away. I'm not sure who blinks first...perhaps neither. These sides have met earlier this season, in round 2 where the Bunnies prevailed 26-12. This time around both sides will have a different fullback, as Trbojevic wasn't available for Manly while Mitchell donned the number one jersey for Souths. Those two changes alone well and truly even out this contest. The lingering question mark hanging over the Sea Eagles is that they haven't beaten Souths, Melbourne or Penrith this season. Clearly that has to change and it has to change now. For the Rabbits, each game could be the last (in Souths colours) for Adam Reynolds and coach Wayne Bennett. Should the Bunnies claim the title, Bennett becomes the first NRL coach to win premierships with three different clubs. The Bunnies were judged in much the same way as the Sea Eagles - convincingly beating most teams, but falling short (and way short) whenever they faced the Storm or the Panthers. That all changed in week one of the finals. In that game they did a good job of limiting the impact of Brian To'o. They'll need to repeat that on the Manly fullback, and the Storm showed them it can be done in week one of the finals (and Bennett will have taken notes). You can't stop players like To'o and Turbo, but you can slow them down. If they slow down the Turbo they'll win, and I think they can.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 7
Result – Rabbitohs 36 defeated Sea Eagles 16
Melbourne Storm (1st) vs Penrith Panthers (2nd) – Saturday afternoon – Suncorp Stadium
Penrith are an outstanding young football team - you don't win 21 of 24 games during the season if you aren't. That said, this outstanding young football team are showing signs of wear and tear. They had a long season in 2020, they carried a representative burden in the Origin series like never before, and they've been away from home for a long time. This is no excuse of course, as their opponent has done exactly the same thing, the Storm just seem to thrive in these conditions where other teams wither on the vine. Penrith haven't fall off a cliff mind you - they've conceded just 22 points in two games of finals football. It's their attack that is struggling. They scored one try against the Eels and one try against the Rabbiths - both off Cleary kicks. Part of that is quality opponents of course, but the clinical finishing we were so used to all season is less clinical. Now they take on a rested Storm outfit whose defence has conceded 137 less points than the Rabbitohs this year and 176 points less than the Sea Eagles. These sides have already played twice this season - in round 3 the Panthers won 12-10 in Penrith in what was one probably the best game in the first half of the 2021 season, and in round 20 the Storm won 37-10 in Brisbane. Notably, the Panthers were without Clearly, To'o and Fisher-Harris in that round 20 game. They'll make a profound difference, but the Panthers are looking tired. They had some luck over the Eels, conceding just two penalties in the match and sneaking home in the lowest scoring game of the year. Can they contain the Storm with their defence and win this? The Storm are averaging 34 points a game this season. They scored 40 against the Sea Eagles two weeks ago. They're rested, and their best finisher returns for this game on the wing. I don't think the Panthers can hold them out.
Verdict – Storm by 10
Result – Panthers 10 defeated Storm 6
Wally Lewis - finals week three (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- RABBITOHS vs Sea Eagles
- STORM vs Panthers