It is the Grand Final we expected, but the result is much harder to predict.
Penrith and Brisbane both won through to the season decider with convincing victories last weekend, and the ledger is square in terms of clashes between the two sides this year.
The Panthers’ victory over the Storm was relentless and first class: another sensational defensive effort, and a terrific performance from Nathan Cleary, who has controlled this Finals series superbly.
Brisbane were great against the Warriors, though nerves clearly played a part in their opening 20 or so minutes. It’ll be interesting to see if that emerges in the game on Sunday.
For me this is a 50/50 game – I say that with the head, even if the heart says Penrith all the way.
If there is one team that could counter the way Penrith play, it’s Brisbane. There is no doubt they will throw the ball around a lot and their offloading game will be a key to this contest. If there has been a chink in Penrith’s armour at times this year, it has been when sides play ad-lib footy against them.
The Broncos topped the competition in line breaks this season, and actually scored more tries than any other side in the competition.
We know where Penrith win games though: defence. Penrith’s stunning defensive record this season, conceding just 312 points compared to Brisbane’s 425, is the difference between them and the rest of the competition. And it can’t be brushed aside here – if anything, the Panthers will be more switched on in a Grand Final.
They’re not suddenly going to concede four or five tries in a game, which will mean Brisbane must find a way to match their defensive resolve.
Like most Grand Finals, an individual will be the shining light here and likely prove the difference.
Could it be Reece Walsh, who has lit up the competition this year and has a swagger about him that is infectious?
Or Adam Reynolds, who knows what it takes to win Premierships and would like nothing better than to grab a little bit of revenge on Penrith after that 2021 Grand Final loss when he was with the Rabbitohs?
On the Penrith side of the ledger, could Dylan Edwards produce another Clive Churchill Medal winning performance at the back, or will Brian To’o continue his terrific try scoring run?
Will Isaah Yeo, already one of the game’s best lock forwards, stamp his mark on his game and enter Grand Final folklore?
Grand Finals are won as much in the preparation as they are the 80 minutes on the field. We saw last year how Parramatta’s failure to treat the Grand Final with the respect it deserved backfired.
Kevin Walters knows a thing or two about Grand Finals so I suspect Brisbane’s preparation will be first class, but there is no doubt that Penrith have an advantage given they’ve done all this before. It’s second nature, and for them it’s all based in Sydney.
I believe this will be a Grand Final for the ages. A low scoring slug fest, with the winner potentially decided beyond the 80th minute. Strap yourselves in – this is going to be one we talk about for a long time.
Tip: Panthers by 4.
Penrith and Brisbane play at Accor Stadium on Sunday, October 1 at 7.30pm. The game is live on Channel 9.
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.