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NRL Tips & Game Previews | Grand Final | 2021


NRL | Grand Final | 2021


Game Preview Notes

Finals Football:

Finals Facts

  • 16 of the last 20 Premiers have won the comp off the back of finishing top 4, winning week one and having a week off into their Prelim final game (and then winning)
  • 9 of last 10 winners of week 3 did so after a week off
  • 11 of last 13 Premiers were one of the Top 2 defensive sides that season – this year Panthers and Storm (same as last year)
  • 6 of the last 7 grand finalists who had played 4 weeks straight, have lost
  • No Origin or International Rep #7 or #6 – No Chance
    In the last 41 years 39 of the 41 Premiership winners had a rep (Origin or International) #7 or #6


Key Winning Criteria

  • Top 4
  • Top 2 best defence
  • Win Week 1 then Week off
  • Origin or International Rep #7 or #6


Overall Record (excluding finals)


Grand Final Preview Notes

Coaches Head to Head

I.Cleary 9 Bennett 15                    

My Handicap
+1.0 Panthers v Rabbits – Suncorp

I am certainly different to the market (-3.5 Panthers) and have a small lean to Rabbits, who arrive here with the distinct advantage of a week off, less recent wear and tear and two recent positive match ups against the Panthers – where in Rd23 they led 12-0 before some very questionable lopsided referring decisions that saw an 11-2 penalty account against them and then an important finals week one 16-10 win. Panthers off four weeks back to back play have now lost Pangai and have questions over quite a number carrying injury issues.

Ground: Suncorp
36.5 Total Points (market position) – note opened 40.5 and has quickly through recent days dropped to 39.5 then 38.5 then below

Panthers have won 6 of the last 8 head to head, but Rabbits come off quality recent week one finals win. It’s worth noting that favourites have a poor record in recent Grand Finals with just 1 of the last 6 covering the handicap line.

Pangai early out for Panthers, and significant to final match up. Both sides will have numerous players carry injury of some sort as we’d expect into this game, but the Panthers seem somewhat more noticeable with the likes of key players Fisher-Harris, Leota, Nathan Cleary, Edwars and Kenny while the Rabbits have Reynolds. All of these expected to play but what eventual influence this has in either their ability to play at full tilt and or be busted in the game could well have very obvious influence.

As noted above the advantage of a) finishing top 4 and then b) winning week one and a week off can’t be understated, this has produced 16 of the last 20 title winners. The last team to face a GF playing 4 weeks straight was the Cowboys in 2017 when then flogged in the final game 34-6, while they to were the last team to win through all 4 weeks in 2015 when winning in golden point extra time 17-16. In the modern game this week off and factor has clearly become a major factor.

Delving a little deeper into this, there are two key points. Firstly, into the final round many top of table teams chose to rest many key players from the final round game and save them for their finals campaign. The early indications 10 days prior was that the Panthers were likely to do the same but then off the back of the Storm’s surprise loss to the Eels and the Minor Premiership title now within reach should results go their way Ivan Cleary chose to play his full list against a depleted Eels (13 outs) with a revised goal of a possible minor premiership and then look to win week one and then have their week off. Such plan then did not eventuate with their week one loss to their now opponent and so if we work backwards from the final round the Rabbits key players have had the benefit of not playing the final round and then week two, while the Panthers have now been full tilt all the way through for the last 5 or 6 or 7 weeks. In the final series alone this has mean that to date the Panthers have had 3 finals game equaling a total of 1,167 tackles @ an average of 389 per game, while the Rabbits have had 2 finals games totaling 628 tackles @ average of 314 a game. That’s an extra 529 that the panthers have made in physical contact and wear and tear across what has also been a series of demanding physical games in Rabbits, Eels and then Storm. All of this doesn’t leave the Panthers dead in the water, but it sure as hell has to be an issue and could well start to tell into the last 10 minutes into half time and or through the second half.

Another factor off any of this injury dislocation is the strength and positional back up and rotation off the bench for each team. Pangai is a major out, he’s a big physical body who takes it upon himself to hit and hurt people and intimidate the middle (and did an excellent job of this last week v Storm). In carrying injury what level can Fisher-Harris and Leota play up to – they have each had stand out seasons, does Koroisau have a back up in Kenny or is he likely to be asked to play full minutes and or is the rotation Tyron May? I certainly think the Rabbits have a far stronger bench offering with players of influence in Thomas Burgess, Arrow and Marshall should the Panthers have late changes and or fatigue issues.

Weather – Brisbane is forecast to get rain Thursday, heavy rain Friday and then possible light rain early Saturday and then clear into sunny drying conditions. Suncorp is a ground that drains and drys very well but with heavy rain Friday it’s likely the top surface could be a bit slippery underfoot at times.

I think the two most recent match ups between these two teams and then the appointment of Gerard Sutton as referee tells us everything we need to know about how the game will be played. It is clear through the last 4 weeks that the referees have been told to keep their influence out of the game as much as possible and so we have seen far less 6 again calls and penalty influence which has then led to a very short space between both sides (not 10 mtrs) and at times a dogs breakfast of a mess in the play the ball. With both teams on top of each other and far less room to play and move the game is going to be resolved through the middle, and any expansive play and ball shifts likely only after a clean line break or second phase off load. Everything else is going to be sorted out in the middle third of the field.

While the Rabbits have been well known through recent seasons for their ball shift, expansive running play and attack in particular to their left edge Bennett has tighten thing up significantly through the last four weeks, and in the Rd23 clash with the Panthers took them on early in the game through the middle, had success in opening some yardage and opportunity off which a couple of his key play makers were able to play off and they led 12-0. In the finals week one match up they went with a similar plan and again found opportunity, came from 0-6 down to a 10 all half time and then a very hard fought 6-0 second half result for a final 16-10 win. As the game and score indicated there was very little between them in a quality knock em down drag em out style of finals footy, but these last two games for mine certainly provide a pretty clear blue print for what we’ll see in this title deciding game.

Since the influence of Origin and being based away from Penrith Park for many reasons the Panthers for mine have been well off their best of this season and while winning their last two finals games are not back at that level. Defensively they have and remain outstanding, even under duress and fatigue they just keep turning up and scrambling and through their last five games have only conceded a maximum of 16 points while in their last two finals outings it has only been 6. But with the ball they have not been playing with as much yardage and room and the overall form and influence of their key #7 and #6 has been below the 5 star level of of pre Origin. That defensive attitude and effort will take them deep into this game – and could well win it for them, but they are going to also need some sharp attack and at least 3 tries to be in a winning position.

Conversely I think the Rabbits at the hands of the master Bennett have been at a new peak through the last 4 or so weeks. Their first half effort in Rd23 and then overall 80 minute in beating the Panthers has been all but their best this season, and made of the right defensive attitude and effort that wins games in September. They got the job done last week with in the end a comfortable win over the Eagles, conceded a couple of junk time tries in the final minutes but still a commanding win and I expect them back at a level similar to the recent finals effort against this opponent a few weeks ago.

The match up, middle forward strengths and styles and then likely referring all combine to point to a tough tight forward dominated game. A key error or fatigue look the turning points. I think the Rabbits have some advantage through the middle and both teams if they can create some room or a half break can both finish down either edge. There’s not a lot between them.

11 of the last 14 grand finals have delivered tough tight games with the final score total under the market setting, while 4 of the last 6 have seen only 33 points or less and 5 of the last 6 head to head match ups between these two teams have resulted in games with 37 or less points. Only 1 of the 5 finals that the Panthers and Rabbits have been involved in so far this month has seen a total over 38 points. Given how the game looks to be played through the middle, the defensive strengths and offering of both teams through recent weeks and the lack of room and 10 mtrs points under 38 points looks the obvious betting play.

Given my expectation of a tight physical game through the middle I like two stand out forwards for the best on ground Clive Churchill Medal, Cameron Murray (Rabbits $10) and Isaah Yeo (Panthers $13), both have had outstanding seasons and have such significant influence on the game and their individual teams performance.

Final game result? I lean to the Rabbits, think that week off is significant and I like the way they have played this opponent through their last two match ups and the quality of their offering in winning in week one. If I was betting on the game result then I think the +3.5 for the Rabbits looks generous.

Tip: Rabbits
Score: 20-12
Best Play: Points Under 38.0
Clive Churchill Medal: Cameron Murray (Rabbits $10) and Isaah Yeo (Panthers $13)



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