1st Preliminary Final: Panthers vs Rabbitohs

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.

Season Snapshot

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.

The Spine

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.

The Backs

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.

The Forwards

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 Bench

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.

The Patterns

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, …?

The Records

2020 – Played 1. Panthers 1, Rabbitohs 0
All-time – Played 93. Rabbitohs 50, Panthers 41, Draw 2
Finals – Played 0.

The Verdict

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.

Final Comment

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.

28 Likes

What a year to be a Penrith fan. There’s something special about this team and it’s been fantastic to see the work the club has put into developing young players finally paying off. A lot of these kids have been playing together for years and it shows. On the field, they work as a cohesive unit where everyone’s on the same page. Off the field, they’re just a group of great mates who’d still be friends outside of football. It’s easier to show up to work every day and put in the effort when you’re surrounded by co-workers you like, and I think that vibe is a big part of the Panthers’ success this year.

But then, Souths… the last few weeks, you’ve looked dangerous. When Cody Walker turns it on, he’s near unstoppable. Even 18-8 down at halftime to Parramatta, I thought Souths were a sure thing. The final play before the half time siren was spectacular to watch. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit nervous about this one.

What I want to see from my team: I’ve been consistently impressed with our completion rates this year and hope to see that continue. It’ll be important to maintain possession and minimise errors, because if we give away too many opportunities, Souths will take them. We’ve forced more dropouts than any other team, and hopefully Cleary’s kicks can put a bit of pressure on your backline.

What we need to watch out for: With Kikau suspended, I fully expect Souths to target our right edge all night. Mansour is prone to a defensive lapse or two, and Jaxson Paulo looked good last week - we could leak points down that side of the field.

My prediction is that it’s going to be a fast, exciting, high scoring game, but I think it’ll be close. Even the neutrals will love this one. Penrith are coming back from a week off – it’s hard to say whether the break will have them well-rested and raring to go, or if losing momentum will put an end to the 16-week winning streak. Souths are just now hitting their season best form, at exactly the right time.

May the best team win, and go the mighty Panthers.

  • North (Mrs Saithis)
20 Likes

Nice write ups Mr and Mrs Saithis.

Panthers have been the most consistent team all year but as mentioned on a player to player level we match up pretty similarly to them. It will be a cracker of a game with the determining factor likely being how Penrith handle the week off.

Reynolds hasn’t kicked many cross field attacking kicks in recent times, I think we’d see success in doing so on both sides.

I am thinking of where we are right now after winning two semi-finals this year already and having six years now where we have won at least one semi and actually won a premiership and think about where we were- this from 1997.

3 Likes

@sathis Great write up :+1:

1 Like

My worry is Cleary’s bombs, they are the best in the comp, they come down on their end which makes them difficult to catch.
Allen has dropped a few normal bombs lately, so watch Cleary bomb him and Paulo all game.

I have a feeling we are up for this one.

Cracking well thought out write up. Really enjoyed the read.
I reckon the Riff will come out a million miles an hour like they did a few weeks back when they played Parra out at Penrith.
I remember watching them that night and thought, these blokes have to be on something. The pace they were playing was incredible, yet they couldn’t manage any early points.
If we can withstand that early onslaught and be ahead or within 6-8 points at the break and get a fair share of possession in the 2nd half I think we are a great chance.
We cannot let them get out to more than a 12 point lead at any stage. Parra capitulated last week but I don’t see Penrith doing the same.
Our edge defence, which at stages against Parra was pretty ragged, has to be watertight against this mob. Naden and Crighton are very quick, strong and evasive and can cut you to pieces if you give them space and time.
Too hard to pick this one. I’m hoping we can get the job done and will be bitterly disappointed if we miss the big one for the 3rd year in a row as you don’t know when this chance will come our way again.

Bunnies by 14

2 Likes

Nicely done

Great write-up, and I loved the his’n’hers aspect giving the perspective of both teams.

I’m quietly confident for this game. Yes, the Riff have had a great run, and were deserving minor premiers. But finals is a whole new competition, one most of their team haven’t played before, and one they haven’t been very well prepared for with their soft run home. As we all know, they only played 2 Top Eight sides in the last 10 rounds, and one of those was Cronulla, who only barely qualified. They might have been better off losing to Easts in the Qualifying Final, and got a big battle hardened. As it is, they might be a big underdone on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, they won’t be easy beats - but then neither will we be.

Souths have hit top gear at exactly the right time, and our biggest weapon is our ability to lay on 3 or 4 tries in quick succession. Souths are playing with such confidence at the moment, that I think we can beat anybody.

Mighty Rabbitohs by 10.

8 Likes

Great right up and all but at the end of the day, you can’t plan against our attack and no one can stop it.
We have strike everywhere.
Penrith have had it easy for too long this season, that stops Saturday!

Great write up from both parties, it’s a 50/50 call due to kikau being out.
Rightfully Penrith are on fire, so many people dismiss the winning streak which is unbelievable really.
The media brush over it like it’s nothing for some reason.

If we get the bounce of the ball and Nathan fizzles which he does have in him we could have this.

Newcastle and Parramatta both had a poor 2nd half of the season after starting well in the 1st 10 rounds.

Like the most on here I pray for a Rabbitohs win but should the Panthers get up I will definitely be cheering for them in the big dance.

It might be a good idea though if you and hubby do a bit of social distancing during the game to ensure wedded bliss continues,:grinning:

4 Likes

The pressure will get to the young Panthers who have had 2 weeks to think about it.

Hang tough through the first 30 minutes, keep it tight and we will finish all over the top of them.

Souths by 8 and on to the Storm next week.

Up the Bunnies.

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If Penrith have any nerves about this game, I think it’ll be early. We should start quick and strong to try and get in front and keep them under pressure. As the game goes on they will settle and forget the nerves. I feel the first 20 minutes are critical to both sides. Who ever wins that period wins that game.

Very well written Saithis (& North too), very comprehensive thank you.

Thanks for the great write up Saithis and North, most appreciated.

I see this as a flip of the coin as you also noted. Something special may be the winning play and I like having Cody Walker as the player who can do this. I tip us by 3 points with Reyno at his top regards kicking, both at goal and in general play.

Superb analysis Saithis. However, I disagree with your conclusion. The riff weren’t too convincing in their last game, and Sths have all the momentum. Souths to win by a small margin (<10)…

Big write-up befitting of a BIG game.

So very looking forward to this one. It has a different feel to me than the last 2 prelim finals where we squeaked in the week before and were running on fumes from the first 2 weeks of the finals.

This year we are just gelling - I find it hard to see us scoring less than 28 points, which would just mean not allowing the panthers to score more points than we have conceded since we let in 30 against the Cowboys way back in Round 14. Fingers crossed we can do it.