Penrith Panthers vs. Melbourne Storm

ANZ Stadium, 7:50pm, Sunday October 25

Team News

Brent Naden returns to the starting side, with Tyrone May dropping to the interchange. Viliiame Kikau returns from suspension in the back-row, pushing Kurt Capewell to the bench and Mitch Kenny out of the side.

Melbourne are unchanged.

Key Match Up

Cameron Smith vs. Apisai Koroisau. The two form hookers of 2020 face-off in the decider, with the potential retirement of Cam Smith sure to steal headlines. Koroisau has won a Grand Final before, in 2014 with South Sydney, so he has the big game experience on the board. It’s simply a question of who’s respective game will outdo the other?

Api has a lethal running-game while there is no better hooker in the game in terms of controlling a match than Cam Smith. He never seems rushed, he never seems to take the wrong option. The big deficit is in the try-assists, Koroisau has registered four this season while Cam, the Dally M Hooker of the Year, has notched 15 assists in one less game.

It’s going to take a mammoth performance for Koroisau to make Penrith fans Api on Sunday night.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 17: Cameron Smith of the Storm runs with the ball during the round 23 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Parramatta Eels at AAMI Park on August 17, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

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Prediction

Here we are. When we sat inside back in early April, confined to our own homes, circling that ‘May 28’ relaunch date over and over again, did anyone think we’d make it here? The NRL Grand Final? I didn’t think we’d be as complication-free as we have been, only forced to reschedule a single match of the 152 games played since Project Apollo kicked off.

There’s a host of mouth-watering match-ups on the table. The eyes-up Jahrome Hughes against a dominant Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai takes on fellow energetic five-eighth Cameron Munster. The big bodies collide out wide with Mansour and Vunivalu. While Papenhuyzen’s pace will meet Dylan Edward’s precision.

Experience is a different story, with the Storm dominating this youthful Panthers outfit, with Dale Finucane alone having played Grand Finals than the entire Penrith 17. The Panthers have the momentum of 17 straight victories, but that counts for very little in this contest. Kikau is a massive in and we can’t expect Penrith to make the handling errors they did against the Rabbitohs, but no side in the NRL punishes an error like the Storm do. Penrith could finish the match having completed 35/38, but the Storm will capitalise on those three errors.

The Panthers can’t afford to give them a sniff, and the Storm are too much of a well-oiled machine to crack on the big stage. It’s Craig Bellamy’s ninth Grand Final appearance, Cam Smith’s eighth. They know what it takes to win these games, and having lost two of their last three deciders, they’ll be eager.

If Cameron is retiring, he may not say a word to the playing group about it, not one, but his team mates will have a fire in the belly nonetheless to send him out a winner. Despite a Dally M snubbing, Nathan Cleary will be his dominant self and the Storm’s back three will have to be on song to diffuse his kicks.

Penrith have far and away been the best side of 2020, but not all fairy tales have a happy ending. It feels like the Storm have more to play for, four members of their Grand Final side are departing, and they’ll be sent out winners as Penrith succumb to their second loss of 2020. Melbourne by 8.

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