What a season it's been so far in the NRL and now just two teams remain! The Penrith Panthers will square off against the Melbourne Storm in the NRL Grand Final this Sunday night and as usual, Scooby has you covered with a full preview and betting tips for the clash below.
Stadium Australia, Sunday 7.30pm (AEDT)
At one stage this year/season, many doubted whether or not the competition would get to this point. Through plenty of hard work and sacrifice, the two best teams in the regular season are now left to compete for the 2020 Premiership. The Panthers finished the season as Minor Premiers, losing just one game all season and overcoming the Roosters and Rabbitohs in consecutive weeks. No doubt that the week off between matches worked in their favour to rest following a bruising encounter against the Roosters. They came out firing against the Rabbitohs and the difference in intensity was evident. As has been the case in both their Finals matches, they conceded an early try (4th minute) but quickly struck back with a try 3 minutes later. They generated their own momentum and controlled the speed of play well in the first half to lead 14-6; for those watching, it was a surprise to see the Panthers not take a more commanding lead into the break. An even second half had attacking moments for both sides to capitalise but in the end, the Panthers prevailed 20-16.
While victorious, the Panthers were not as clinical as they have been during previous matches. They committed 13 total errors, limiting their possession to 45% and completion rate to 72%. There is no doubt that a better team would’ve made the Panthers pay for such mistakes. There were some positives though; they dominated the metres made (9.6m per carry v 8.01m), had more post contact metres (541 v 489), line breaks (5 v 3) and tackle breaks (40 v 27). The Storm were far more convincing in their victory over the Raiders, jumping to a 12-nil lead inside 10 minutes and extended this to 24-nil inside 25 minutes. A try to the Raiders 10 minutes prior to the break narrowed the HT margin to 24-6 but the game was all but over at that point. All they had to do was to shut down the Raiders attacking opportunities and they did this with strong defensive pressure, eventually prevailing 30-10.
It is hard to believe that this same team was once questioned upon the resumption to the season after the COVID break. All statistics point towards them being in a better position than previous attempts to win the competition; in their win, they completed at 88% with 52% possession, averaged 9.2m per carry, made just 4 errors, had more post contact metres and 34 tackle breaks. In defence, they missed 29 tackles and scrambled well to cover the misses when needed. This game promises to be an exciting encounter, with fans spoiled with the two remaining teams being the best the competition has to offer in 2020.
The Storm benefitted from some dominating displays towards the end of the season to finish at the top of the ladder when it comes to points scored. They averaged 27.3ppg (1st) for the season compared with the Panthers 26.6ppg (4th). Despite being considered inexperienced, the Panthers still average a 82.2% completion rate (1st), while the Storm are 10th with 77.9%. In terms of building pressure with possession, the Panthers averaged 1,879.9m (1st), 645.9pcm (1st) and 31.5 tackle breaks (2nd) and appear to do it well. Despite being behind their opponents with 1,715.2m (7th), 573.5pcm (9th) and 29.3 tackle breaks (6th), the Storm know how to build pressure with a strong kicking game at the end of their sets. When creating scoring opportunities, the Panthers have a slight edge with 3.4 line breaks (3rd), 3.8 try assists (2nd) and 5.0 line breaks (=3rd) compared with the Storms (3.3 (4th), 3.4 try assists (4th) and 5.1 line breaks (2nd); this suggests that despite momentum in the middle, the Storm are a dangerous attacking team. In terms of negative play, the Panthers commit an average of 9.2 errors (16th) and miss 26.4 tackles per game (10th), with Storm worse off in errors (10.9 – 8th), yet have fewer missed tackles (24.9 – 15th). Thankfully for the Storm, the Grand Final has not changed location; they have a fantastic 64% winning record at this ground compared with the Panthers 47%.
In terms of overall history, these two sides have met 35 times since 1998, with the Storm dominating the contest for 26 wins. Of the past 10 matches, the Panthers have won just 3 matches (dating back to Round 9, 2013), with the home ground advantage split evenly over this period. During that 10-game period, the average margin of victory is 16.2 points, with 4 games decided by 12-points or less. While history is important, this strength of each team has changed dramatically since 2013. These two sides met in Round 6 of this year, with the Panthers prevailing 21-14 at Campbelltown. They carry similar teams into this match, although, Jerome Hughes was missing from the line-up for the Storm at 7. Both team completed at a high rate in that game (Panthers 83% v Storm 81%), with the Panthers slightly dominating possession (53%). The statistics in that game were fairly even, except for metres per carry; the Panthers averaged 9.4m per carry compared to the Storms 8.8m, while the Storm also made 11 errors (Panthers 7). This suggests that if the Panthers can establish a similar platform, they will have a good opportunity of winning this game. Momentum and confidence are major contributors to performance, so it is important to look at just how these sides faired in the run towards the Grand Final. In the last 5 matches (including finals), the Panthers have scored an average of 28.6ppg and conceded 11.6ppg with 3 matches being played against Top 8 teams; the Storm averaged 36.4ppg in attack and 19.6ppg in defence with 2 matches (the last two Finals games) coming against Top 8 teams.
You could make a case for either side winning this game and, while the odds have the Storm as favourites ($1.72 v $2.20), it is far closer than the market suggests. Many are doubting the inexperience within the Panthers team and for the biggest game of the year, that could count for something. In many ways, they could work in their favour as they are not overawed by the moment or their opponents. They Panthers have proven throughout the 2020 season that, while they may lack experience, they certainly make up for this in talent. The one concern though, is the way they have executed their past two Finals matches. On both occasions, a better team would’ve made them pay for the mistakes they have made.
There were also numerous opportunities for them to shut their opponents out of the match and they were unable to do so. This could change this week but the Storm were dominant in their two most recent matches. Sure, the Raiders were fatigue and impact by travel in their match last week and the Eels were on a form slide, but rather than just winning those matches, it has been the fashion in which they have won which has been most impressive. Once they had the opportunity to push the result beyond doubt, they were able to do so and their relentless attacking pressure is difficult for even the best teams to halt. The defensive structure of the Storm is also well coached, to the point where they will be given every opportunity in preparation to analyse what attacking movements will be coming their way. A slight lean towards the Storm and, given it is the Final game of the season, a blowout victory would be unexpected to say the least.
Before looking at the best options for each team, let’s have a look at the recent history of this medal. 7 out of the past 10 winners have come from players at either fullback, five-eight or halfback; interestingly, the only player in the spine yet to win the medal (in that time period) is at hooker. The last time a hooker was award the medal was Shaun Berrigan back in 2006. Of the other 3 winners in this period, all three have been from the backrow, with two locks (Glenn Stewart & Sam Burgess) and one second rower (Luke Lewis) winning the award.
Generally speaking, the winner comes from the victorious side (except last year) so if you like a team to win, then pick a player from that team. Unfortunately, there is a fair bit of uncertainty in this market as it comes down to the opinion of a select few individuals and what they see in a game may be different to others. If the Storm were to be victorious, the obvious selection would be Cameron Smith ($3.75). He has been dominant in his teams victories and the (possible) fairy tale finish is on offer here for him. As a value bet, Ryan Papenhuyzen ($10) is worth some consideration. He has been electric for the Storm with their attacking movements and adds another dimension in this area.
The organisation he manages at the back is somewhat underrated too. For the Panthers, the obvious selection is Nathan Cleary ($4.25). Not only has he been playing well individually but, his fingerprints are all over the attack of the Panthers, while also possessing a strong defensive game. As a value bet, it’s hard to go past Isaah Yeo ($21). He was named the Dally M Lock of the Year and was again influential in his sides victory over the Panthers. History does show that if a player isn’t chosen from the spine, a player in his position could be selected. The hype around him and the improvement in his game is also generating interest.
Best Bet: Nathan Cleary $4.25
Value: Isaah Yeo $21
Best Bet: Cameron Smith $3.25
Value: Ryan Papenhuyzen $10
This is no shortage of hypothetical attacking movements which could lead to the opening points of the match. Before progressing though, take time to look at who has dominated the scoring for each team this season. The Storm have Josh Ado-Carr who has lead the way with 16 tries for the season, followed by Vunivalu with 13 and Olam/Papenhuyzen with 10 tries; it is no secret that this team loves a sweeping attacking movement finished off placing the ball in the hands of their finishers. For the Panthers, Stephen Crichton leads the way with 16 tries, followed by Naden with 12, Mansour with 11 and To’o/Kikua/Cleary/Luai on 7. Their left edge has been a focal point for this team all year and you can expect plenty of pressure to come from this edge.
As for the selection, the Panthers have opted to name Tyrone May in the centres last week to increase their defence. While he is great, the Storm will undoubtedly test this new combination and force an error in communication. For this reason, the favourite selection is Vunivalu ($8.50). For the value, the way Ryan Papenhuyzen sweeps into a backline movement and take the ball to the line gives plenty of hope at $13; he will not be affriad to back himself if he sees a slight opportunity. For the Panthers, their left edge is too hard to go past. They will look to target Brenko Lee in defence and while he has improved dramatically in recent weeks, the large, dynamic frame of Stephen Crichton will create plenty of issues, perhaps drawing his winger in and leaving Josh Mansour ($10) unmarked. As for value, Nathan Cleary ($26) has plenty of promise. He takes the ball to the line, chases his own kicks, looms up in support and isn’t afraid to back himself when close to the line.
Best Bet: Josh Mansour $10
Value: Nathan Cleary $26
Best Bet: Suliasi Vunivalu $8.50
Value: Ryan Papenhuyzen $13
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