The Panthers will take on the Rabbitohs in the second NRL preliminary final on Saturday night from 7.50pm! As usual, we have you covered with a full preview and betting tips for the clash from our Rugby League expert, Scooby!
Stadium Australia, Saturday 7.50pm (AEDT)
The Panthers headed into the Finals after wrapping up the Minor Premiership and faced a tough test in Week 1 against the Roosters. It was a real acid test for this team as questions were being asked about how mature they were with so many young players within their squad. Those questions were certainly answer following their 29-28 victory, coming back from a 10-nil deficit after just 10 minutes. They scored 28-unanswered points from the 15th minute until the 63rd and looked very dangerous. A fightback from the Roosters narrowed the gap, as did a late try but the composure of Clearly assisted in their 1-point victory. The Panthers were superb with the ball; they completed at 95% with just 49% possession and controlled the speed of the match. They didn’t have things all their own way though; their opponents were superior in just about every other area including metres, line breaks and tackle breaks. They also had 42 missed tackles, ensuring that defence would’ve been a focus last week.
The Rabbitohs head into this game on a 3-game winning streak; most recently, they defeated the Eels 38-24 in exciting fashion. They too found themselves behind after jumping to an 8-nil lead, with the Eels finishing the better of the two sides to lead 18-8 at HT. they scored 24-unanswered points in 25 minutes to completely turn the game on its head and all but decide the outcome. While it took some luck, the Rabbitohs performed well in most areas. With 55% possession, they ran for more metre, more post contact metres, had more line breaks and tackle breaks compared to their opponents. They also had fewer missed tackles (22) but will want to improve on their 71% completion rate that could be used against them by their opponents. Both sides have proven themselves as dangerous attacking teams and this game promises to be a very fast and exciting contest.
This game promises to be an exciting one and the statistics support this; the Panthers average 3.8 try assists per game (equal 1st) and the Rabbitohs are just behind them with 3.4 (4th). The result switches around when it comes to line breaks, but only just, with the Rabbitohs averaging 5.1 per game (3rd) ahead of the Panthers 5.0 (4th). When it comes to running metres, the Panthers average 1,888.7m per game (1st) and 660.3pcm (1st) and the Rabbitohs 1,769.8 (4th) and 606.5m (6th). Expect each team to attempt to dominate the middle as much as possible to gain an advantage.
Of the 32 times these two sides have played one another, the Panthers have the slight edge, winning 17 matches. Going on their last 10 matches (dating back to Round 6 2014), the result is split 5-a-piece and with a 60/40 split in favour of the home team. The average winning margin in the 10-game period is 8.2 points, with 7 out of the 10 margins being by 8 points or less. As for wins at this venue, being their home ground, the Rabbitohs have a 56% winning record compared to the Panthers 46%. This is also the first time these two teams have met in the NRL Finals.
Much like the first Preliminary Final this weekend, it is so surprising to see the difference between these two sides in betting markets. The Rabbitohs ($2.75) are arguably the form team of the competition and while they have issues they need to improve upon (errors and right side defence), they have a form line running through the Roosters which suggests this game will be a close one. The Panthers are also without Kikau, which is sure to limit the potential attacking threat on their left edge. The game will not solely be won or lost in this area.
When you look at influencing factors, these two sides are similar. They both have (confident) ball running halves, play with speed generated by their hooker and have a fullback that adds an impact that has been somewhat overlooked this season. A win to either side would not surprise, which make the +6.5 line to the Rabbitohs ($1.85) worth some consideration. Rather than invest there and also taking into account the statistics above, the recommendation is to have either side winning this match by 8-points or less. For what it’s worth, the defensive errors that the Rabbitohs are prone to could be too big or a hurdle to get over in the head-to-head stakes.
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