It’s Week 2 of the NRL Finals and after Friday night, just 5 teams remain. It is also the second fixture for the weekend in Mackay, a great initiative by the NRL to take a semi-final match to this location. Ironically, it is the battle of Sydney’s west for the third time this year and with elimination facing the loser, both sides will be desperate to extend their season for another week. The task does not get any easier ahead of this match, with the winner booked to face the Melbourne Storm; but first, let’s find a winner!
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Penrith Panthers vs Parramatta Eels
BB Print Stadium, Saturday 18th September, 7.50pm (AEST)
The Panthers headed into Week 1 of the Finals full of confidence following a dominating win over a reserve-grade Eels team in Round 25 and facing a Rabbitohs team without their superstar fullback. Unfortunately, the game didn’t go as planned as they were defeat 16-10 and were kept to just one try over 80 minutes. Hardly resembling the attacking dominance they have displayed in 2021, the Panthers appeared to have no momentum as their attacking plays well defused by their opponents. As much as the news post-match was about the comments of their coach (and that of Wayne Bennett), the Panthers need to look at their own performance as a key contributor for this display. Well held by their opponents, they had an inferior completion rate (75% v 84%), had fewer post contact metres (442pcm v 509pcm), made more errors (12 v 9) and missed more tackles (28 v 21). There were some positives though; they managed to average 9.3m per carry while limiting the Rabbitohs to just 7.5m but in the end, they were unable to come up with a key play to close out the match. Thankfully, they get another opportunity in the Finals and that performance could be quickly forgotten with a strong performance here.
The Eels won their way through to Week 2 of the Finals with a 28-20 win over the Knights. In a closer than anticipated match, the Eels took until the 76th minute to close out the game. It was again a case of doing the simple things right; they carried the ball strongly, dominated the middle, kicked well and when their halves were presented with an opportunity, they took it. Credit must go to Mitchell Moses, who lead his team strongly and will undoubtedly gain extra attention this week. Even by allowing the second worse attacking team in the competition to score 20 points, the Eels performance was littered with positives. With 55% possession, they completed at 89%, averaged 8.8m per carry, had more post contact metres (607pcm v 432pcm), made 5 line breaks and committed 8 errors. If they can again control the little factors in this match, they are a big chance of disrupting the Panthers momentum for the second week in a row.
Head-to-Head = Panthers 23 Eels 21
At BB Print Stadium = Never played here
Last 10 matches = Panthers 7 Eels 3 – The average winning margin is 11.3 points for the Panthers and 6.7 points for the Eels. The Panthers have won 4 out of the past 5 games against the Eels. Only 2 of their wins have been by 13+ and if you take the most recent victory out (due to it being against a reserve grade team), the Panthers average drops to 8.5 points. The Panthers have twice beaten the Eels this year – Round 16 13-12 (without Nathan Cleary) and Round 25 40-6 (Eels reserve grade team played).
Common sense suggests that winning form is better than losing form, but the performance of each team needs to be put into perspective. While losing last week, the Panthers were drawn into a very tight contest with the Rabbitohs which they would hopefully improve upon moving forward. That game will surely take a toll on their bodies too. The Eels win against the Knights may also not appear as good as it seems. They allowed the second worse attacking team in the competition this year to come within 2-points of them with 5 minutes remaining. For the Eels to win this game, they need to keep things simple. When they have been successful, they have controlled possession, carried the ball well in the middle and defended strongly. These factors allow for the best opportunity for Mitch Moses to reach his peak; this was achieved last week with a similar set up. His kicking game is crucial. They have strengthened their bench rotation with Ryan Matterson recalled to the team too.
As much as the successful formula worked for the Eels, you can be sure that the Panthers will have worked hard this week to increase their chances at success. They are not the invincible side many thought they were and perhaps, for a young team, it is a good reality check moving forward. They are boosted by the return of fullback Dylan Edwards and prop Moses Leota, with bench player Scott Sorenson adding further strength to their interchange. The Eels can keep it tight for majority of the contest, but the Panthers are the stronger of the two sides. They appear to have their opponents covered in every area; the two remarkably different areas are at hooker (where the Eels are on their 3rd choice) and the outside backs. The Panthers strength here should contribute to a comfortable victory.
Big guns to fire = Crichton/Burton/To’o to score a try @ $5 – It was a quiet week last week for the Panthers strike weapons, with just 1 try for the entire 80 minutes (to Crichton). As mentioned above, they are superior to their opponents in this area and should look to strike as much as possible.
Crichton/Burton/To’o Anytime Tries
It pays to be specific = Panthers win by 13-18 @ $5 – It is recommended to carefully invest in this option. The value on offer is due to the risk involved. That being said, if the Panthers are to win by 13+ points, this is the range which appears most likely to be achieved.