Two key moments stick in the memory bank from Penrith’s 27-8 defeat of Parramatta in the opening weekend of the Finals.
The first came just before half-time, when Eels halfback Mitchell Moses attempted to break a 6-all deadlock with a field goal. His shot missed, and Penrith marched down field where Nathan Cleary attempted a shot of his own, which went through. It was a significant ‘mind game’ moment and Cleary won the battle.
The second was on the stroke of full-time. Powerhouse Parramatta winger Maika Sivo had the ball and, as he often does when so close to the line, looked certain to score. But Penrith, despite having an unassailable lead and with the siren about to sound, produced some stunning defence to keep him out. It showcased the effort plays this Penrith side has become renowned for.
Those two moments are all the proof I need to be convinced that Penrith will get the job done on Saturday night against South Sydney. Partly because they’re moments that win football games, partly because I don’t think the Rabbitohs do the same in similar circumstances. Penrith are just on another level.
I’m far from convinced that the seventh placed Rabbitohs are going as good as it seems. They ran into a Roosters side that finally ran out of puff and lost inspirational skipper James Tedesco in the first half, and a Sharks team that attacked more like a wooden spoon side than an outfit that finished second.
The loss of Tom Burgess and now Siliva Havili will hurt their forward rotation significantly.
But Preliminary Finals are notoriously tough and as Penrith proved in this corresponding game against Melbourne last year, anything can happen.
Souths are banking on the in-form Latrell Mitchell to do something special on Saturday night to help push the Rabbitohs into the Grand Final.
And sure, there’s a lot to like about Latrell. But would you have him over Dylan Edwards?
Edwards has scored nine tries this year, Mitchell has bagged seven.
Edwards has 103 tackle breaks, and 10 line breaks. Mitchell has 88 and nine respectively. Edwards’ average running metres per game is 217, Mitchell’s is 101.
Nobody is saying Latrell Mitchell is not a game-breaking player but Dylan Edwards has emerged as a player Penrith simply can’t do without – he just does it without the chest pumping and mid-game push-ups.
Edwards runs more than any fullback in the competition, tops the NRL in kick return metres and is second in the comp in support play. He is, without question, the competition’s most under-rated fullback.
South Sydney’s effort to reach the Preliminary Final from seventh spot can not be ignored. There’s no doubt they can produce a try out of nothing almost better than any other team in the comp.
But Preliminary Finals require a few key things: a calm and measured playmaker, a strong bench and a quality kicking game. Penrith wins all three of those battles with ease.
With Penrith almost full-strength and the Bunnies suffering a few injury and suspension setbacks, it’s just all lined up for the Panthers to march into their third straight Grand Final.
The occasion calls for a tight first half, maybe even a tight start to the second half, but Penrith has been too good this year not to run away with this in the end.
Tip: Panthers by 18.
Penrith and South Sydney play on Saturday, September 24 at 7.50pm at Accor Stadium.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.