And then there were four! Spots in the NRL grand final go on the line this weekend in what should be an enthralling weekend of rugby league.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Manly Sea Eagles
This is going to be a high-scoring game. There is no two ways around that.
While the Rabbitohs did muscle up in their qualifying final a fortnight ago against the Penrith Panthers, the fact is that both teams possess unreal attacking weapons, while defence has been somewhat shaky across much of the season.
There is virtually nothing in it, attack-wise. Seven points, to be exact, with the Sea Eagles scoring 798 and the Rabbitohs 791. What that doesn’t consider though is Manly’s slow start to the season and the incredible form of Tom Trbojevic, who has averaged well over three try involvements per game and scored five hat-tricks during the season.
He was well and truly off during the qualifying final against the Storm in Week 1 though, and with Manly making more handling errors than any other side, without his individual brilliance, they were thumped.
The Rabbitohs will look to let their left edge do the talking, where Cody Walker has broken the record for most try assists in a season. The Rabbitohs also sit third for post-contact metres this season, and that could be a telling factor, particularly if Manly can’t fix up their error rate.
South Sydney’s style of play has also seen them engage the line more than any other side, which won’t fit Manly’s defensive patterns.
At the end of the day, if Trbojevic is at his best, Manly could well win, but even then, the Rabbitohs go in as narrow favourites.
Melbourne Storm vs Penrith Panthers
This was supposed to be the NRL grand final, but a shock Week 1 loss to the Panthers ensured it wouldn’t be. Instead, they based themselves silly against the Parramatta Eels last week in a physical, low-scoring victory.
Controversy stemmed from the contest, but Penrith will need more than luck to get over the Storm, particularly with plenty of injury clouds hanging over the side. The most important of them is star winger Brian To’o, who not only scored 14 tries in 19 games this season, but also averages more metres and post-contact metres than any player in the competition.
Even if he plays though, the Panthers will need to be perfect defensively. They do hold the competition’s best defensive record, and that’s been evident in a pair of low-scoring games across the finals, but they now run into an attacking juggernaut.
Melbourne have scored more points than any other team, hold more possession than any other team, and lead line breaks while sitting fifth of offloads. That comes alongside their outstanding defensive efficiency which is known to squeeze teams out of games on a regular basis.
To’o absolutely must play if the Panthers are to win, but even then, it’s difficult to see the purple horde being slowed down here.