Grand final week, a week like no other. We've seen the lines out the door of Peter Wynn's Score in Parramatta mall and I dare say the scenes will be similar out Penrith-way.
Before the season signs off with the battle of the west, we look back to the week that was. A week that saw multiple grand finals across multiple grades.
Below are 20 thoughts from the prelim final week and beyond:
1. This will upset the fanbases of 14 other clubs, but Penrith and Parramatta really is the storybook grand final. Arguably the two most talented squads in the competition. Add to that the rivalry and the storyline of the Eels winning both regular season games combined with the week one clash, won by Penrith, and you have yourselves a potentially 10 out of 10 contest. I'd bet it'll be an exact 50-50 split in the stands also.
2. All the talk, all week, was about Latrell Mitchell. He was the fourth-best fullback across this weekend of Prelims. Dylan Walker is the game's most underrated number one while Scott Drinkwater was his side's best. Clint Gutherson was all class in seeing his side into the decider.
3. Again I saw ridiculous comments across social media about the Cowboys "choking" or being "frauds" following their loss to the Eels. They just hosted a preliminary final, a game they were in up until the very last set of the game. League fans need to drop the bitterness. Anyone bagging the Cowboys season is kidding themself.
4. Referencing the above; the same goes for the Bunnies. They lost a title-winning halfback yet made another preliminary final. With a rookie coach no less. Another team who massively overachieved considering.
5. The above said, Souths have now made five straight grand final qualifiers for one grand final and no competition wins. We should probably be talking about Souths as a dynasty, but no one remembers the teams who finish outside the grand final. Premiership windows only last so long. Will Souths look back at this timeframe as a missed opportunity?
6. They were never, ever, going to suspend Viliame Kikau for that shoulder charge. I'm not buying into any conspiracies or agendas, but to miss a grand final for that would have been a disgrace.
7. As for the other big moment of the weekend, Taane Milne absolutely had to be sent off. Gutsy decision from the officials given the stakes but they were given no choice. I could have done without the afters of the Panthers having to hold Spencer Leniu back but that was one of the all-time awful tackles.
8. Most sides don't seem to really care about the reserve grade competitions. Last week we saw Craig Fitzgibbon withdraw Mawene Hiroti and Luke Metcalf from the Newtown preliminary final to sit in the stands for the Sharks. The Panthers had a chance to activate Sean O'Sullivan on Saturday night due to concussion caused by foul play. They opted against it knowing he had the NSW Cup grand final the next day. It shows just how much Penrith value winning at all levels.
9. For all the blow-up about the draw in 2023, each team is still playing 24 rounds of footy. The three byes due to the inclusion of the Dolphins makes the season look a lot longer than it actually is. I absolutely love the fact Origin is being played in consecutive weeks. As fun as Origin is, it disrupts the competition for a third of the season. Now it's over within a month. Brilliant stuff. I still feel for the team's fanbase who have the bye in Round 1.
10. It didn't matter but how did that Stephen Crichton try not get given? They froze it on the shot that showed he clearly grounded the ball only for the bunker to rule there was no grounding. If that happens next week, half the stadium's collective head will explode.
11. The Newcastle Knights NRLW side are into the grand final. For those who missed the 2021 season (played earlier this year due to Covid) the Knights finished last, and winless in what was their inaugural season. They're now in the decider in their second go round. Says a lot about the recruitment and retention team who turned the club around in one off-season.
12. Todd Smith should have officiated a final. You cannot convince me he's not the game's best up-and-coming referee. I'd even say best referee in general.
13. Congrats to the Sharks who managed to drag their player of the year awards night into a third hour as if they couldn't have just placed it around the neck of Nicho Hynes within ten seconds. No other player was in the same universe as the halfback this season. The Dragons awards night could equally have been a five-minute-long ceremony to crown Ben Hunt.
14. Can we stop with these "ambush" and "revenge" shouts days before a big game please? You, by very definition, can't announce an ambush.
15. Perhaps I'm a sucker for a facelift but Accor Stadium looked dark, drab and uninviting compared to the freshly opened Allianz. I'm not on the Allianz pay role but the difference in quality, watching on TV at least, is massive. You couldn't see the fans behind both sets of fans. First world problems.
16. He may not have the pedigree or rep caps of some of their other signings but Sean O'Sullivan is the Dolphins' best recruit heading into 2023. He is entering the peak of his career and has huge things ahead of him. Great signing. Coincidentally another Panthers half Isaiya Katoa could also be massive in the long term.
17. Sticking with massive signings, how big is Apisai Koroisau's signing to the future of the Tigers? He changed the game on Saturday night when he came on and is undisputedly the second-best nine in the game right now, at worst.
18. The Eels joining fellow expansion team the Knights in next Sunday's NRLW grand final is a huge feather in the cap of those pushing for expansion. With the greatest of respects to the Broncos, it was unexciting to see them win year after year so easily. Now it's a genuine competition. The Super League could take note given St Helens just won their fourth in a row. Yawn!
19. Bit rich that the Cowboys fans are complaining with regards to a refereeing error when it was only a shocking Bunker call that saw them through to the preliminary in the first place. Then there's that Tigers decision ... See you in the comments!
20. I am absolutely loathed to praise any side other than my own but Penrith are a genuine super club right now. They won the Jersey Flegg competition yesterday in golden point. They then won the NSW Cup in a brilliant contest with the Dogs. They have the SG Ball in their pocket and a NRL grand final next weekend. They set the bar.