Penrith Panthers (1st) vs Melbourne Storm (3rd) – Friday night – Accor Stadium
If not for the heroics of the Storm in 2020, the Panthers would be lining up for their fourth premiership in a row this year. Since then, it's reasonable to argue that the Panthers have improved and the Storm have come down from their absolute peak. That's not to say the Storm can't reach those heights on their day - they just don't have those days as consistently as they used to. The form from week one of the finals was fairly ominous, and it's held up through week two of the finals. Those that finished in the top four at the end of the regular season are our last four teams. The teams soundly beaten in week one (Storm, Warriors) were the teams that won in week two. For me that franks the form of the top two teams, and makes them very hard to beat with an extra week to prepare. In a year where injuries have played a pivotal role in the prospects of so many, the Panthers have the luxury of naming their best possible side on Friday night. Luai and Tago return for this clash. Their only top 25 player that is unavailable is Taylan May, and I doubt he'd make the first seventeen at the minute. The Storm will have Jahrome Hughes back on Friday and he's a massive inclusion, but I'm struggling to visualise anything but a Panthers victory. In round 18, the Panthers beat Melbourne 34 to 16 in Melbourne. Munster was honest about that game, and described his opponents as a class above. He's right.
Verdict – Panthers by 19
Result – Panthers 38 defeated Storm 4
Brisbane Broncos (2nd) vs New Zealand Warriors (4th) – Saturday night – Suncorp Stadium
These sides have already met once this season, where the Broncos prevailed 26-22 in Napier. That was a genuine contest, but the Broncos side in that clash were without Haas, Carrigan, Flegler, Walsh and Cobbo. The Warriors, by comparison, were near enough to full strength. Those five Origin players listed are lining up for the Broncos on Saturday night, and they're playing at home, and they've had an extra week to prepare. Few have enjoyed the Warriors efforts this season more than I have, and I'd be genuinely happy for them if they progress to the grand final this year. But I think the best story in the NRL this season comes to an end on Saturday night. A Broncos victory means the best two teams in the NRL this year play in the grand final, and that's a good thing.
Verdict – Broncos by 19
Result – Broncos 42 defeated Warriors 12
Wally Lewis - finals week three (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- PANTHERS vs Storm
- BRONCOS vs Warriors