Here we are, 25 rounds, 200 matches, and 9193 points later. The 2021 NRL Grand Final: Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs.
One of the most tumultuous seasons of NRL is down to its final weekend. The Grand Final will take place in Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium after the entire competition moved to Queensland in July.
This was to avoid the COVID-19 outbreaks and related lockdowns in both New South Wales and Victoria. Questions were asked about how this would affect the teams from NSW and Victoria, but after all sides took on the challenges involved to reach the season conclusion with no major effects of the global pandemic, it is two Sydney-based rival sides that will contest “The Big Dance.”
Penrith v Souths: previous meetings this Season
The two sides have met on three occasions so far this season:
Round 11: South Sydney Rabbitohs 12-56 Penrith Panthers
Round 23: Penrith Panthers 25-12 South Sydney Rabbitohs
Finals Week 1: Penrith Panthers 10-16 South Sydney Rabbitohs
When Penrith put 9 tries and 56 points on Souths in Dubbo, the Rabbitohs were written off as Premiership contenders. This is due to the old adage that a team that has conceded 50+ points in a game have never been Premiers. As true as this may have been in the past, there has never been a season like 2021.
Injuries, suspensions, and the disruption of moving to QLD have seen some wild score-lines and a high number of blowouts.
Souths fans will look to Week 1 of the Finals, in which Wayne Bennett set his side up to defend hard. Penrith were heavy favourites but on the night the Rabbitohs thoroughly deserved the upset win. That win gifted South Sydney a week off and a rest before the Preliminary Final against Manly.
A fresh Souths once again defended solidly and at 22-0, the attack had practically won the game by halftime. Penrith have done it tough after losing in Week 1. Close fought and physical contests against Parramatta and then ‘Minor Premiers’ the Melbourne Storm have critics wondering if fatigue will catch up to them?
Where this year’s Grand Final will be Won
Will Sunday at Suncorp be the Souths’ perfect goodbye for legends of the game, or redemption for Penrith? The Panthers will no doubt be thinking of their 2020 Grand Final loss to Melbourne.
Ivan Cleary’s men will desperately want to avoid being the first side to lose back to back GFs since the Sydney Roosters in 2003 and 2004.
Momentum is with them after beating heavy Premiers favourites Melbourne. The confidence gained from that win could be invaluable. Innovative tactics have been a feature of Cleary’s attacking style. An example being Stephen Crichton’s opening try was a stroke of genius, capitalising on Melbourne’s tendency to tuck in on defence.
Both teams go into the Grand Final with star men walking wounded though. Adam Reynolds, in his last game for his boyhood club, has a groin problem. It stopped him from most kicking duties in the Prelim and young fullback Blake Taaffe had to step in.
On Monday, pictures emerged of Penrith’s Brian To’o in a wheelchair. The young winger has an ankle injury but the Panthers insisted this was a prank. Both Reynolds and To’o have been named to start but neither will take part in full training this week.
Adding to their fatigue woes, Tevita Pangai Junior is out and will be a huge miss in the forwards for Penrith.
Big question: Who wins the 2021 NRL Grand Final?
2021 will be the first NRL Grand Final without dominant sides Melbourne or the Roosters since 2015. It really is almost too tight to predict and is perfectly balanced with no clear favourite.
Billy Slater, speaking on Inside the NRL, emphasised how close the Grand Final will be. The Melbourne and Maroons legend said, “you need a little bit of luck to win a Premiership…everything is falling into place for South Sydney…I really don’t know, I’m going to tip Penrith.”
The experience of Wayne Bennett, aiming for his 8th Premiership crown, could be the difference. He knows how to win Finals against attacking teams. Souths restricted the high scorers of Penrith to 10 points and Manly to 16 enroute to the Grand Final.
However, if Nathan Cleary can dominate with his kicking game, Penrith could have the upper hand. Whoever comes out on top, it will be a close fought and absorbing occasion after one of the greatest seasons of NRL in recent memory.
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