We have finally reached the end of the 2021 NRL Season and despite a few interruptions along the way, all games were played. For the first time in the history of the competition, the NRL Grand Final will take place outside of Sydney, with Suncorp Stadium taking centre stage. The atmosphere of that place is electric, and it will be full of screaming fans. Ironically, the decider features two Sydney teams and a rematch of Week 1 of the Finals with the Panthers and Rabbitohs facing off against one another. If the previous finals matches are anything to go by, this promises to be a blockbuster contest.
Read on for our Grand Final preview and NRL betting tips, but if you would prefer to listen to our preview then Scooby provides all his analysis in podcast form below:
Suncorp Stadium, Sunday 7:30pm AEST
The Panthers earned their way into the Grand Final on the back of some very tough matches. Most recently, it was their 10-6 victory over the Storm which not only secured their second consecutive Grand Final appearance but proved many of their doubters wrong.
In a spirited performance, the Panthers scored in the 2nd minute of play and never surrendered the lead. Credit must be given to their defence, as they limited the Storm to just one try and were even able to overcome their 48 missed tackles. Elsewhere, with just 46% possession, they completed at 77%, averaged 8.3m per carry, had fewer post contact metres (489 v 459) and made two line breaks. The Panthers will want to improve on their 12 errors, as it stopped their momentum at key times; they were not made to pay for their mistakes either with the Storm executing at a poor rate (69% completion rate, 16 errors & 42 missed tackles). Regardless, they get a chance to make amends for their Grand Final defeat last year.
The Rabbitohs had an easier time in their 36-16 victory over the Sea Eagles. The result was set up with a dominant first half display which saw them lead 22-nil at HT. They were in control from the start, took their chances and relied upon their defence to pressure their opponents. The two tries the Sea Eagles scored late were nothing more than a consolation. Over 80 minutes, they had 57% possession, completed at 77%, had 8.3m per carry, made considerably more post contact metres (600 v 442), had four line breaks, missed 34 tackles and committed 11 errors.
Both teams have their share of injuries to players ahead of this game and will want to field their strongest possible team. That aside, both will take confidence from their performance last week and will be desperate to win the competition.
Head-to-Head = Panthers 20 Rabbitohs 16
At Suncorp Stadium = Panthers 50% Rabbitohs 46%
Last 10 Matches = Panthers 6 Rabbitohs 4 – The average winning margin is 12.3 points for the Panthers and 9.8 points for the Rabbitohs. Despite losing in Week 1 of the Finals, the Panthers have still won 5 of the past 6 against the Rabbitohs
There isn’t much between these two sides. The odds offered are not a direct indication of how close these teams are to one another.
Despite questions around their potential moving into the Finals, there has been a lot to like about the Rabbitohs since they defeated the Panthers in Week 1 of the Finals. While the chances of the Panthers were just about written off following that defeat (and a subsequent 2-point win over the Eels), a lot of opinions changed when they defeated the Storm last week. To put that victory into perspective, the Storm were not at their best and they have given their opponents (Eels and Storm) plenty of attacking chances recently. For the Panthers to win, they need to restore confidence in their attack and expose the Rabbitohs weaknesses. Like the Panthers, they have given their share of chances to their opponents, namely their right edge defence. Before going wide, the Panthers will need to win the battle in the middle; their forwards will be out to make amends for their display against the Rabbitohs in Week 1 too.
The Rabbitohs chances depend upon their forwards combating this and setting a strong platform for their halves to operate off. This will come from a fast ruck and getting clean ball to Reynolds and Walker with space to move. Last week, the Sea Eagles moved off the line hard and this saw passes go behind outside players and balls dropped. They were able to adjust on the run and proved that their right edge can be just as capable. As good as each team is at attack, this game will come down to defence. The Panthers have the best defence across the season, averaging just 11.9ppg and 9.3 points during the Finals. In equal measure, the Rabbitohs averaged 18.9ppg on defence during the regular season and 13 points in their past two Finals matches. Assuming both sides are at their best, there is a slight lean towards the Rabbitohs at the inflated odds. The young Panthers team would have learned a valuable lesson from their defeat in last year’s decider and will be out to start this game strongly. However, the one thing which keeps popping up is the fatigue levels of the Panthers. They looked gassed for stages against the Storm, and this should give the Rabbitohs the slight edge that they need. It will be close though and for that reason, rather than taking them on, I am suggesting the line. If you have no issue with selecting either team, then consider also investing around a victory by less than a converted try.
First Try Scorer
Grand Final stat – 5 of the past 9 first try scorers have been wingers. Only two forwards (2012 – second rower & 2019 – hooker) have scored recently. The other two players were a fullback and centre.
Both sides have no shortage of attacking weapons and outside backs are the preferred options of both teams this year. The leading try scorers at the Panthers are Burton (16), Staines/To’o (14) and Kikau (9). 3 out of the 4 Panthers tries so far in the Finals have come from kicks, meaning To’o and Crichton are leading contenders. The sweeping plays on the left edge for the Panthers supports To’o as the preferred selection. Crichton has been the first try scorer in 2 out of the 3 Finals matches for the Panthers, so he would be the next best selection. As for value, it’s been a few quiet weeks for Burton and there is every chance that, rather than pass to To’o on his outside, he backs his own ability.
For the Rabbitohs, they have the competition’s leading try scorer in Alex Johnston (27), Walker & Mitchell (14) and Gagai (10). They have a lethal left edge attack and like the Panthers, this appears to be the way to go. The only thing which may stop this is that the Panthers will be ‘jamming up hard’ in defence, looking to cut down their options. Therefore, the value selection is for their Walker to ‘dummy’ and take the line on himself. Both he and Johnston have scored twice during the Finals.
Favourite – Brian To’o @ $8
Value – Matt Burton @ $13
Favourite – Alex Johnston @ $9
Value – Cody Walker @ $19
Grand Final stat – Since 2012, seven ‘man of the match’ awards (known as the Clive Churchill Medal) have played either Fullback, Five-Eight or Halfback. The last time a hooker won the award was Shaun Berrigan back in 2006. The two players who received the award outside of that were both forward playing in the back row (second row or lock).
This is one award not without controversy from time to time. As mentioned above, it is heavily favoured to the play makers. I am going to give you two selections per team, one favourite and one value selection.
The Panthers hopes largely depend on the performance of Nathan Cleary. He has been instrumental in their success over the past 2 years and his winning record across all levels is superb. It is hard to go past him as the favourite to win this award should the Panthers win. Lock Isaiah Yeo is the value option; while not a playmaker, he is like previous forward winners in that he plays in the back row. There is no surprise that the improving success of the Panthers over the past 2 weeks can be put down to his involvement in the middle. Last week, he ran for the second most metres (123m) and made 39 tackles with no misses across 80 minutes. The way he passes the ball is also import to the Panthers success.
For the Rabbitohs, Cody Walker came very close to winning the Dally M award earlier this week and his form across the season has been crucial to the success of the Rabbitohs. While slow to start last week, Walker soon clicked into gear and was key to his team’s victory. He led the competition in try assist and will need to contribute heavily if his side are to win here. Like the Panthers, lock Cameron Murray is the value option. His form hasn’t gone unnoticed and even with a rest in the middle stages of the game, he has a large impact on the opponent’s ability to play quickly through the middle. When carrying the ball, like Yeo, he offers several options.
Favourite – Nathan Cleary @ $3.50
Value – Isaiah Yeo @ $13
Favourite – Cody Walker @ $7.50
Value – Cameron Murray @ $11
Grand Final stat – The average of total points scored in Grand Finals is 32.4 points. The Rabbitohs and Panthers average 40.5 points in their past 10 games played against one another.
Some other statistics which may be of benefit to you:
Margin – 6 out of the past 9 matches have been decided by 1-12 margins. 2 out of the 3 13+ games had losing teams from the bottom half of the Top 8 (2014 – Bulldogs 7th & 2017 – Cowboys 8th). The average winning margin since 2012 is 11.1 points. Only 3 out of the past 10 matches between these two sides has seen a 13+ points margin, with an average winning margin of 11.3 points.
Highest Ranked Team – The higher ranked team on the competition ladder at the conclusion of the regular season has won 5 of the past 9 Grand Finals. When the lower ranked team has won (2012, 2015, 2016 & 2020), 3 out of the 4 times they were separated by just 1 position on the ladder.
Playing 3 consecutive weeks – Teams playing all 3 weeks prior to the Grand Final have a 25% win record in the decider. They have played in 4 deciders since 2012 (2013, 2014, 2015 & 2017). Only the 2015 Cowboys have won the competition in this situation.
2013 & 2015 – Both of these years saw teams play in the Grand Final after facing one another in Week 1 of the Finals. In 2013, the Roosters defeated the Sea Eagles 4-nil in Week 1 and 26-18 in the Grand Final. In 2015, the Broncos defeated the Cowboys 16-12 in Week 1 but lost 17-16 in the Grand Final.
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