The NRL finals are finally here and it all begins in Penrith with the 2020 minor premiers up against the defending champions. The two teams will square off on Friday night from 7.50pm at Panthers Stadium and matta91 has you covered with a full preview and betting tips below.
Penrith Panthers (1st) v Sydney Roosters (4th)
Panthers Stadium, 7:50pm Friday
Penrith will hit the finals with an incredible 15 game winning streak and a very small injury list. They were afforded the luxury of resting a few starters before the finals and cruised through the last few rounds against bottom 8 opponents. That's probably the only concern with the Panthers as they've only played one top 8 side in the last 5 weeks (Parramatta). But it's always hard to argue with winning form. In terms of team news, the big guns are back for the home side. Dylan Edwards returns to the fullback position for the unlucky Danie Laurie. Crichton is back in the centres and that'll shift May to the bench. The human wrecking ball Viliame Kikau is back in the second row and Capewell will move to the bench.
It's hard to remember a worse Roosters performance in the last few years than last week's 60-8 defeat to South Sydney. Considering this result came within one week of the finals is either a good or bad thing for this team. On the positive side, they should be fired up after conceding 60 points and it's rare for the Roosters to put in two bad outings in a row. But on the flip-side, the Panthers will obviously be looking to exploit the same weaker defensive areas that Souths exposed and a week's training might not be long enough for Trent Robinson. They'll also be missing Jake Friend at hooker after a head injury last week and impressive young hooker Freddy Lussick will get his shot. They also have Lachie Lam on the bench as extra cover. In other changes, Brett Morris is back on the wing, Joey Manu in the centres, Isaac Liu and Lindsay Collins also return in the forward pack. At this stage, Crichton will start from the bench but that may change.
In the stats department, these two teams are very similar in most areas and that does give the Roosters confidence of a rebound. In terms of points scored, the Roosters are averaging 28 ppg and have feasted on bottom 8 sides this season. Meanwhile, the Panthers are just behind on 26 points and because of their elite defence, they've rarely had to put up large numbers attacking wise. Speaking of their defence, they've allowed just 12 points per game and the Roosters average has increased after last week to just 13 points. So all signs can possibly point to a low scoring finals clash. In other statistical areas, the Panthers lead the league in possession of the football (55%) and they were the top set completion team in the NRL (82%). They also dominated the run metres category and sit 1400 metres ahead of 2nd place. Meanwhile, the Roosters were a bit better in the attack department as they finished the regular season as the top side in linebreaks, tackle breaks, try assists and line-break assists. But breaking through this Panthers defensive structure will not be an easy task.
Probably the most interesting storyline in this Qualifying final will be just how the Roosters respond after last week's defensive woes. Although, we're not quite willing to write off a team that's reached 2 straight Grand Finals. Penrith obviously take favouritism into a home final and their 15 game winning streak is hard to ignore. However, we do like the chances of the Under considering two factors. These two teams average around 12.5 points conceded per game and the last 2 meetings have totalled 34 & 28 points.