The NRL Finals are finally here and despite having 1 less game, this Saturday evening promises to be super! With COVID impacting scheduling and locations, the NRL has chosen to host a double-header in Townsville. The second match promises to be a thrilling contest with the Panthers up against the Rabbitohs. Only meeting a few weeks ago, these two sides know one another well. Check out our preview and NRL tips for the Qualifying Final below!
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Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Saturday 7.50pm (AEST)
The Panthers chose to name a full-strength team for their final match of the regular season and up against a reserve-grade Eels team, the Panthers comfortably won 40-6. Barely troubled by their opponents, the Panthers team appeared to be getting back to their best. Most importantly, their combinations looked strong. A convincing case can be made that they are the ‘team to beat’ in the Finals series. Statistically, they were back to their best too. They completed at 85%, averaged 9.3m per carry while limiting their opponents to 8.3m, made more post contact metres (587 v 457), had 8 line breaks and missed just 22 tackles. They are a dangerous team and are arguably stronger than they were this time last year.
The Rabbitohs took their opportunity to rest several players. Nevertheless, their inexperienced side still captured a 20-16 victory over the Dragons. Jumping to a 20-nil lead early in the second half, the Dragons were finishing strong but the Rabbitohs prevailed. Their victory was built on a strong completion rate (91%) and carrying the ball strongly (9.1m per carry). While it will be a different team which takes the field this week, it defines the culture of a club to perform well with new players on the park. The biggest challenge for them is covering the loss of their fullback, Latrell Mitchell. Last week was their first opportunity but with the quality of their opponent drastically improving this week, Week 1 of the Finals poses a new challenge altogether.
Head-to-Head = Panthers 20 Rabbitohs 15
At Queensland Country Bank Stadium = Panthers 100% Rabbitohs 100%
Last 10 matches = Panthers 7 Rabbitohs 3 – The average winning margin is 10.9 points for the Panthers and 11 points for the Rabbitohs. The Panthers defeated the Rabbitohs twice this year; 56-12 in Round 11 and 25-12 in Round 23.
One of the main statistics (aside from the Panthers having the recent edge) is the Rabbitohs inability to score points against this side. They haven’t score 20+ points against the Panthers since Round 19, 2019 and have just recorded that feat once in their past 7 meetings. The Rabbitohs thought that they could break this statistic when they jumped to a 12-nil lead in Round 23. Unfortunately, they switched off at different stages and, with favoured momentum, the Panthers clawed their way back into the match.
The Rabbitohs were good in the way they started the match but that was with Latrell Mitchell. They were unsuccessful with him in the team and regardless of what story you read, it is near impossible for them to cover his contribution. Their only chance is (legally) taking Cleary out of the game and pressuring Luai every time he gets the ball. Then again, plenty of teams have attempted this in his career and Cleary counters that with an impressive kicking game. This game should be no different. The Panthers are the preferred selection for this game, but it will not be as dominant as the first two meetings this year have been.
This game will be brutal in the middle and the Rabbitohs pack will want to draw the Panthers into an arm wrestle. Eventually, the Panthers class should become too much for their opponents in a narrow result.