Saturday, 17th October, 2020, 7.50pm AEDT (6.50pm AEST)
Well folks, here we are again, for the third year running. A preliminary final. Win this, and we’re in the Big Dance. Lose, and we taste the bitter sting of a season that could have been once more.
No Inglis, no Surgess, no Gurgess, no Sutton. Latrell Mitchell signed. Arguably, the biggest year for ins-and-outs, in terms of quality. The opening two rounds left us with a 1-1 record and 40 points differential.
Then Covid really hit. The game shut down for a little over two months.
Teams took their chances. They trained. It was like extra off-season for them. Get fit, get ready. Who knows what will happen? Maybe there will only be 10 games.
We got 18. 18 games, rounds 3 to 20, to determine the ladder. 4 less than normal. We ended with a record of 11-7. In that period, we didn’t lose more than 2 in a row – Roosters and Melbourne to kick it off, and Newcastle and Canberra when Mitchell got suspended for striking against the Tigers.
More importantly, it had a run of 5 in a row. We got ourselves entrenched into the 8. The finals were looming, and a few weeks out, we’d booked a spot.
The Games that Fell Into Place
The Bulldogs beat us. Unbelievable, but it looked as thought it had been coming for a few weeks – losing to Melbourne took a lot out of us, and then we raced out of the blocks against Wests only to barely hold on. And then we lost to the Bulldogs. However – it handed the spoon squarely to the Broncos. Newcastle then beat the Dragons… and a trip up the F3/M1 looked likely.
North Queensland ensured the Broncos the spoon. And then the Titans put the sword through Newcastle. Winning against the Roosters and getting a home final… is it too much to ask? The answer, given almost immediately, was an emphatic No.
The top 8 was set at the end of that round. The Roosters were on the opposite side of the draw to us, as was Canberra. Melbourne, if they beat Parramatta, would be on the same side. Roosters, Melbourne, and Canberra would kick the crap out of each other, while we looked and saw our path – Newcastle, Parramatta, Penrith.
The Best Team Who Only Play 70 Minutes
Each of our last three games has had ten minutes of just terrible football. We drop the ball, and concede tries.
But it’s always early in the game, never late. We’ve conceded some consolation tries but why risk yourself like Mitchell did in our first Parra encounter, and get an injury? Especially now – a win by 1 point is just as meaningful as a win by 50.
The question we have to ask is, at what point does that 70 minutes become not enough? If we can score 46 points in 70 minutes – how much damage can 10 minutes really do?
I call this backing your attack . It’s often said that teams ‘give away a penalty and back their defence’. Or, ‘take the 2 points and back your ability to defend it’. But I often think of the 2005 Wests Tigers team. I read somewhere once that one of their players said “we don’t care if you score 40 points – we’ll score 41”, and that’s how I feel about the way we are playing. So what if we have a weak period of 10 minutes? We’ll outscore them by enough in the other 70. And honestly, it’s not the worst way to play football. As long as you back your attack.
Last Week: Parramatta Eels
We were only at 70%. That’s what Bennett said. I honestly don’t even think we looked 100% against the Roosters.
We won this game through controlling the pace. We did the same against Newcastle, and we did the same against Easts. Our pace is simple – it’s fast. Quick play the balls, quick runs. Easts started much harder and faster and then we switched it on. Newcastle did the same. We were on against Parramatta, until they took control back; then we decided in the second half to just dominate them.
Newcastle made the mistake of thinking they could beat us at our own game, and we punished them for it. The Roosters weren’t expecting it, and couldn’t control it once it got out of hand. Parramatta faltered and couldn’t pull it back from the brink, but offered the stiffest defensive effort we’ve seen in weeks.
Corey Allan is being vocal and has safer hands than I ever thought. Cody Walker is roaming both sides of the field. Reynolds is controlling the game and running the ball. Damien Cook is finally understanding how to use the 6 again rule to his advantage.
But more excitingly, the players who stepped up against Easts, weren’t the same as the ones against Newcastle, and were different again to the ones against Parramatta. We have all of our players hitting a vein of form at the same time, and when one is shut down, it opens up room for another.
This Week: Penrith Panthers
This will be our toughest test yet. Make no mistakes, Penrith have been very good this year. They have beaten everyone who has been put before them. Sixteen wins in a row is impressive. Even if you played the Broncos 16 times in a row, you’d be hard pressed to win every one of them.
They are a team very similar to our own. Their halfback controls the game while their five-eighth roams. They have big boppers who can put on a step in the front row, a quick dummy half who loves a dart, a workhorse lock who will be captain one day. Their fullbacks aren’t big names but are playing out of their skin. One experienced winger, one newbie. Even the benches are evenly matched, even if their makeup is slightly different, with Penrith having an attacking utility.
The same ways you’d shut down our team, are the same ways to shut down the Penrith team – and this is where I think we’ll catch them off guard.
Penrith have had the week off. This could be a blessing, giving them a rest to freshen up; or a curse, breaking the momentum of their run. They’ve won 16 in a row, which has all the pundits wondering – are they due for a loss?
Kikau, the most dangerous player on the Penrith side, has been suspended. This is massive for us. He is a point of attack with his damaging runs, and the Penrith use of him as a decoy makes Luai incredibly hard to shut down. He is their fear factor, their forward leader, and x-factor. Instead, they’ll have Kurt Capewell come into the starting side. Kurt Capewell was a great pickup by Penrith at the start of the year, and has filled in more than adequately when called upon.
Matchups & Dangermen
Take your pick, honestly. Pretty much every player in our team is comparable to their opposite number. So let’s do this by groups.
Both teams have strong spines. The fullbacks aren’t superstar household names, the hookers are quick and play off the back of rolling forwards, the halfbacks control the game, the five-eighths can pull something from nothing. Nathan Cleary is the dangerman to watch out for here. His kicking game, like Reynolds, can be ball-on-a-string stuff, and we will need to make sure the pressure is on the coach’s boy. We should be putting pressure on Dylan Edwards, who is known to have a dropped ball, and trying to get under Luai’s skin to earn some penalties.
An older player with experience. A younger player in his first taste of finals football. But where both of the Penrith centres are young and have only tasted NRL finals this year, ours are a little more experienced. Dane Gagai has found his origin form and brought it to club level. Graham is carrying an injury by the looks of things, but has huge wraps on him. From here, the danger man is Stephen Crichton. He has been outstanding this year and he and Graham will be against each other for a spot in the NSW squad. Put the pressure onto Brian To’o. His handling is not great, and if we target him, we should score some points.
With Souths at full strength and Penrith replacing Kikau with Capewell, both teams are very strong in the forward pack. Our second rowers are damaging, our props aren’t the lumbering type who don’t fit the modern game, and our locks are workhorses earmarked for captaincy in the future. The danger man is, believe it or not, Kurt Capewell . He’s not the attacking superstar that Kikau is, but we need to make sure we don’t think we can just run through him. I’m not even sure who we should be targeting here – the Penrith forward pack are very good.
The main difference between our benches is the use of utility Tyrone May by the Panthers. Spencer Leniu, who has been called into the squad, should also be pressured; it’s a big moment for him and likely his last game of the year, unless we injure another forward. Tyrone May is definitely the danger man though – when he comes on, we’ll need to be sharp. Hopefully by the time he comes on it’ll be when the panthers are playing catch up footy, and we can draw some mistakes from him.
Cody Walker’s Retaliation
People need to stop pissing Cody Walker off. When Pearce gave him lip, he turned the game around. He and King of Shit Gutho got into it just before half time on the weekend, and lo and behold – we score 30 points in the second half.
Luai is a bit of a cheeky bugger. If he tries to get under Walker’s skin, I think it will backfire big time. If he doesn’t, I hope someone like Reynolds or Cook says to Walker, “You should hear the shit Luai is saying about you”, and makes Cody think Luai is talking shit.
Souths 2012 – lost prelim.
Souths 2013 – lost prelim.
Souths 2014 – won premiership.
Souths 2018 – lost prelim.
Souths 2019 – lost prelim.
Souths 2020 – …?
Penrith 1991 – Minor Premiership #1, Premiership #1
Penrith 2003 – Minor Premiership #2, Premiership #2
Penrith 2020 – Minor Premiership #3, …?
2020 – Played 1. Panthers 1, Rabbitohs 0
All-time – Played 93. Rabbitohs 50, Panthers 41, Draw 2
Finals – Played 0.
This is a tough one to call. Both sides are capable of pulling out a performance that makes them look unstoppable, and both teams are liable to make errors. Both teams have attacking spark all over the park, but can often look clueless with the ball in hand when entrenched in the opposite 20, and need something.
It’s flip-a-coin stuff for me. I’m worried if I tip Penrith they’ll win, if I tip Souths they’ll lose, and if I refuse to tip, I’ll be punished with a loss. So I’m going to try and come at it from a neutral perspective.
Souths are running hot at the moment but have weak points in their game that Penrith will have had two weeks to review and break down. Penrith are the Minor Premiers, who have won 16 in a row, and are fresh off a week’s break. We have nothing to lose – we’ve gone further than most people expected, and every win from here is gravy. But for the minor premiers, the pressure is on. Everyone expects them to win, expects them to make the Grand Final, and expects them to go 17 in a row.
Souths are in with a great chance, more chance than I give Canberra against Melbourne but…
Penrith by 2 in an absolute nail-biter.
Sorry for the wall of text… I had a lot to say about this, and I’ve avoided the pre-game discussions to keep them here.