Week 1 of the 2021 NRL finals, and four unmissable matchups. Melbourne Storm beat the Manly Sea Eagles, South Sydney Rabbitohs beat Penrith Panthers, Sydney Roosters beat Gold Coast Titans, and Parramatta Eels beat Newcastle Knights. Melbourne and Souths’ victories mean they get the all-important week off. In fact, 13 of the last 14 Premiers have won their first finals game and benefitted from putting their feet up in Week 2. It is season over for the Titans and the Knights. The Roosters’ and the Eels’ win set up mouthwatering clashes next week. There were talking points from each finals encounter.
Week 1 of the 2021 NRL Finals
Sam Mackeown reports on this past weekend’s results.
Melbourne Storm 40-12 Manly Sea Eagles
There was a lot of talk about the on fire Manly attack causing problems for the Storm. The minor Premiers hadn’t looked at their sharpest, having conceded 92 points in their last five games. Manly, led by Tom Trbojevic, were tipped to upset the odds and beat Melbourne. Storm coach Craig Bellamy had other ideas. His experience at stopping an opponents’ talisman shone through, and Tommy Trbo was shut out of the game. He ran for 151 metres but didn’t come close to scoring, and was outshone by his opposite number. Ryan Papenhuyzen scored 24 points and was outstanding for the Storm.
Sydney Roosters 25-24 Gold Coast Titans
There were no second chances for the losers of this elimination final. Sydney limped over the line into the finals. The Titans emphatically beat the Warriors 44-0 to qualify in eighth position. The score was back and forth, although the Roosters were never behind. The final minutes, with the score tied at 24-24, will be remembered for a long time. 19-year-old Sam Walker kicked a field goal in the 78th minute, thanks to some controversial blocking, to nudge Sydney a point in front. The youngster had only come on in the 71st minute, but his influence was felt at both ends. In the final attack of the game, his tackle on Phillip Sami saved a certain try. Roosters coach Trent Robinson was thrilled with his player’s vital cameo, “it was a pretty ice-cold finish by him, but also the tackle save…Sammy has done well in finishing games for us.”
Penrith Panthers 10-16 South Sydney Rabbitohs
Third beat second in Townsville in what was, on paper, the only upset of Week 1 of the 2021 NRL Finals. It was a feisty affair, not least between the two coaches. The defence of the Rabbitohs was outstanding and stubbornly withstood constant Panthers pressure in the second half.
Rookie full-back Blake Taaffe filled in for the suspended Latrell Mitchell and proved the difference, assisting what proved to be the winning try for Jaxson Paulo early in the second half. It was just Taaffe’s sixth career game at the top level, and after an early error off a high kick from Nathan Cleary it looked like a tough night was in store. He bounced back well, and impressed coach Wayne Bennett, who said “I think he did a tremendous job.” Penrith, uncharacteristically out of shape in attack, have lost the chance to enjoy a week’s break, as well as ruling out a Penrith v Melbourne Grand Final.
Parramatta Eels 28-20 Newcastle Knights
Eels halfback Mitchell Moses has been much maligned in big moments, but he stepped up in Rockhampton. A try just before half-time, as well as a great running performance (15 runs for 145 metres), dragged Parra over the line. Kalyn Ponga attempted to do the same for the Knights and set up two of Enari Tuala’s three tries. A late penalty try, awarded with the scores at 22-20, was hotly debated by Newcastle. Hatrick hero Tuala was adjudged to have tackled Will Penisini off the ball, despite doubts as to whether Clint Gutherson knocked on during the build-up. Despite Paramatta’s poor finals record, they’re through to Week 2.
A Look Ahead to Week 2
Manly face the Roosters on Friday in Mackay. Sydney will be looking to replicate the job Melbourne did on Tom Trbojevic. Should they be able to, their experience and momentum from the last gasp win last week may be enough. Manly must exploit the at times vulnerable defence of the Rooster. The clash of styles, free-flowing attack vs physical resilience, makes for an enticing matchup.
A Western Sydney derby awaits on Saturday; Penrith v Parramatta. Brett Kimmorley, for NRL.com, claims the Panthers should still make the Grand Final, “they have made it quite hard for themselves but there is no reason Penrith can’t bounce back and win three amazing games.” The Eels will need Mitchell Moses to step up once again and prove he can control the attack as well as his opposing halfback, Nathan Cleary. Veteran Blake Ferguson scored twice against Newcastle and he will be up against young gun Brian To’o on the wing. Penrith are favourites but Parramatta cannot be ruled out. Every second of week 1 of the 2021 NRL Finals was tense and fascinating, and Week 2 should be more of the same.
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