Preliminary Final weekend is often touted as the best of the season, and this year’s edition did nothing to harm that idea. Both games were enthralling in their own right, and by their conclusion two teams had confirmed their spots in the 2022 Grand Final. Let’s take a look at how both games went down.
Friday Night: North Queensland Cowboys vs Parramatta Eels
This always loomed as a difficult game in which to separate the two sides, and the betting sites certainly agreed, with little separating the Cowboys and Eels heading into the game. And in the first half, there was nothing to indicate any different. It took just six minutes for the visitors to open the scoring courtesy of a try to Will Penisini, but within five minutes the Cowboys had levelled the scores through a converted Reuben Cotter try. A similar trend followed over the next 15 minutes; the Eels again got a six-point break in the 18th minute, this time through Reagan Campbell-Gillard, but five minutes later the home side again answered back with a Murray Taulagi try. This time around, Valentine Holmes wasn’t able to convert to tie up the scores, but he did so in the 38th minute via a penalty goal anyway to ensure we headed to half-time with the scores locked at 12 apiece.
With a spot in the Grand Final up for grabs, the second half was unsurprisingly fierce, and this time it was the Cowboys who got the first points of the board courtesy of a Holmes penalty goal in the 49th minute, before a Murray Taulagi try and Holmes conversion in the 52nd minute gave them an eight-point lead. Much to the dismay of the vocal Townsville crowd, however, they couldn’t hold onto the lead for long. Campbell-Gillard scored his second try of the game within just three minutes of Holmes’ conversion, and when Moses managed his own third conversion from three attempts the visitors were just two points down with a little over 20 minutes to go. It seemed likely to be difficult for either team to add another score with the veracity of the defence being played, but the Eels did so just a few minutes after they Campbell-Gillard’s second try; a 64th minute Maiko Sivo try was converted by Holmes to give the visitors a 24-20 lead, and from there it was a case of digging in their heels to hold onto the lead and earn a spot in the Grand Final. And try as the Cowboys might, they couldn’t get past the resolute Eels defence, and no team was able to score over the remaining 15 minutes of the game. The Cowboys, subsequently, were sentenced to a heartbreaking loss, while the Eels will now appear in their first Grand Final since 2009.
Next Match for North Queensland: N/A
That’s the season done and dusted for the Cowboys. And despite the heartbreak of last Friday night’s game, it was a season of great improvement and they’ll again be a force to be reckoned with next year.
Next Match for Parramatta: Panthers ($1.38) vs Eels ($3.10)
The Eels are into the Grand Final. But getting there is one thing; winning against a team as good as this Panthers outfit is another entirely.
Saturday Night: Penrith Panthers vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
In the eyes of many, this was the game from which the Premier would emerge. Most had the Panthers pegged as that team, but with the Rabbitohs installed as the second favourite to win the flag with NRL betting sites, if they ended this game victorious they were likely to enter the Grand Final as favourites. Doing so was always going to be a big task, but so impressive had their form been that they were always going to be a chance. And 20 minutes into the game, they were more than just a chance; they scored the first try through Cody Walker in the 11th before Richard Kennar scored in the 18th, and with Latrell Mitchell converting both the underdogs had well and truly thrown the gauntlet down to the best team in the competition, opening up a 12-0 lead.
But the Panthers have been the nominal Premiership favourites all season for a reason, and were never going to go down without a fight. With just a few minutes to go in the first half they still trailed by 12 points, but in a five-minute period which highlighted everything that makes them such an incredible team, they scored two tries – through first Apisai Koroisau and then Brian To’o – and with Nathan Cleary converting them both, they tied the scores up at half-time and entered the changerooms with all the momentum. It was a flattening period for the Rabbitohs, and when they came out after the break it was clear that the spirit which was so evident early in the game had been dampened. Spencer Leniu gave them the lead just four minutes into the second stanza before Izack Tago extended it ten minutes later, giving them a 12-point lead which they would never relinquish. Taane Milne was sent off a few minutes later as things began to unravel for the Bunnies, giving Nathan Cleary a penalty goal, before he himself finished things off just before the final whistle with a try and conversion of his own to take his points total for the game to 16, and give the Panthers a 32-12 lead – and a chance at a second consecutive Premiership.
Next Match for Penrith: Panthers ($1.38) vs Eels ($3.10)
The Panthers are into another Grand Final, and though their opponents are capable of playing some brilliant football, if Penrith play at their best they will be very hard to beat.
Next Match for South Sydney: N/A
The Rabbitohs’ attempt to make it into a second consecutive Grand Final ultimately ended in failure, but they ended their season in fine style and will be buoyed about their chances heading into 2023.