NRL Rd 18 - Panthers v Eels
PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 11: Nathan Cleary of the Panthers is tackled during the round 18 NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels at Panthers Stadium on September 11, 2020 in Penrith, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

With the regular season concluded and the Giltinan Shield gifted, the seeds are in and the eight is set.

It’s finals time!

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As the routes home for each of the premiership contenders have been set, we’ve dusted off our crystal ball with the aim of directing you through the next month of football.

From the first round to the big one, here’s how we see October playing out.

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1. Week One

Qualifying Final 1 – Penrith Panthers (1st) v Sydney Roosters (4th)
The masters versus the apprentice. The upstarts against the old hands.

It would take a concoction from culinary mastermind Alain Ducasse to surpass this mouthwatering clash.

In a season that has yielded just a singular loss, the Panthers have managed to turn doubters into true believers over the course of the last twenty rounds.

With an even mix of experience and youth led by the father and son combination of Ivan and Nathan Cleary, Penrith are primed to continue their onslaught at the season’s after party.

Their final round 42 – 0 thrashing of the besieged Bulldogs proved their proficiency on both sides of the ball.

The boys from the foot of the Blue Mountains excitement should also have been piqued by their opponents run into the clash proving far more chop shop than tune up.

The Roosters record loss to the Rabbitohs had coach Trent Robinson stunned at his post-game presser. A ten try to 2 loss against a fellow contender is far from ideal when chasing a potential three peat.

When you consider that no team has ever been crowned premier following a fifty point loss, the chasm between the Chooks best and worst may be to tough an ask to bridge in a week.

Prediction: Penrith


Qualifying Final 2 – Melbourne Storm (2nd) v Parramatta Eels (3rd)
Storm coach Craig Bellamy has left the media waiting. The swarm of scribes are desperate to know one thing – where will he be next season?

Following the Storm’s final round loss to the Dragons, Bellamy told journalists that they would have to wait until the end of the season for an answer.

Should all things go to plan, said sports writers will be left to wait for at least another fortnight.

Bellamy will be unfazed about his side’s loss coming into the post season; however, you can count on the fact that his opposite will be using it as motivation.

Eels head coach Brad Arthur stated publicly that he was pleased with his side’s round 20 fightback against the Tigers. Still, if his troops are to deliver blue and gold hearts their first scrap of joy since 1986, a slow start against a clinical Melbourne outfit cannot be repeated.

With a mastermind in the box and another in the nine jersey, expect the Storm to dice the Eels at Suncorp and book yet another Prelim berth.

Prediction: Melbourne


Elimination Final 1 – Canberra Raiders (5th) v Cronulla Sharks (8th)
A repeat serving of last week’s menu, only this time with the inclusion of some quality ingredients.

The team sheets of both the milk men and the pride of the shire will be bolstered with names such as Bateman, Williams, Katoa, Dugan, Nicoll-Klockstad and Rapana set to return for the knockout clash.

Although both teams are reinforced, expect the result to remain the same.

Canberra can count themselves desperately unlucky to have missed out a double chance by the length of an Apoidea’s phallus. Whilst the Sharks will be muttering appreciative hail Mary’s after scraping in by a similar margin.

It must be noted that John Morris’ men haven’t beaten a top eight team all season, so don’t expect the trend to begin on Saturday evening.

In front of their horn and the Viking clap, expect a Canberra team desperate to go one better than last season to smash the Shaun Johnson-less Sharks.

Prediction: Canberra

 


Elimination Final 2 – South Sydney Rabbitohs (6th) v Newcastle Knights (7th)
The pair scheduled for the final dance on the first week card could not have come into clash any further juxtaposed.

One knocked off the reigning premiers 60 -8. The other was blitzed by a bottom eight club.

Knights coach Adam O’Brien looked bereft of answers following his side’s 36-6 drubbing dished out by the Gold Coast Titans.

It is clear his troops don’t have them either, as they have failed to win consecutive games since August.

On the flip side of the coin, the Bunnies have enjoyed a 4-2 win/loss record in their final six regular season matchups. This record was produced via conceding an average of only 16 points and scoring a mean of 35.5.

This game will no doubt be won in the halves, with the combination of Mitchell Pearce and Mason Lino pitted to take on the experienced Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker.

However, with the latter combining for 28 points last week, the Redferners are odds on
favourites to win that bout.

Should the Rabbitohs correct their handling errors and begin to complete sets at crucial stages of the game, it should prove too tough a task for the Knights to hold them out.

Despite Kalyn Ponga lining up for the Knights, the Bunnies’ backs should be too much to handle for the Novacastrians.

Prediction: South Sydney

 

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