MACKAY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Tevita Pangai Junior of the Panthers watches on during the NRL Semifinal match between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels at BB Print Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Mackay, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

All NRL fans, especially those who like to bet online can agree that a Penrith Panthers vs Melbourne Storm clash is what was expected in the grand final of the 2021 NRL season.

Yet, after the Panthers suffered a gruelling loss against the South Sidney Rabbitohs, fans will have to do with watching the two best teams in the NRL premiership this season battle it out for a spot in the grand final.

When we talk about a Panthers vs Storm game, we’re talking the best of the best, both teams winning 21 of their 24 regular season games. If added to that, you put in the fact that the Panthers will be looking to avenge last season’s finale loss that they endured against the Storm, this game has all the fixings to be an all-out battle.

But what does each team have to do to edge their competition and stamp their ticket into the grand final game? Let’s break it down.

For Penrith, it’s about team pride over exhaustion

The Penrith Panthers, who are just coming off a fatiguing matchup against the Parramatta Eels in the qualifier finals are in dire needs to refill the energy tanks all-round and try to come out swinging in the best way possible for Saturday’s semi-final matchup against the Melbourne Storm.

The one main concern for the Panthers side is the fact that while in the duration of the season they showed off incredible feats on offence, in the last few games, especially the ones against South Sydney and Parramatta, their offence has been taken down to the wire and stripped to an ounce of what they’re usually known for, dominance.

While coach Ivan Cleary took the loss against the Rabbitohs as a hiccup along the way, fans and NRL experts beg to differ and with how much of a struggle the win against the Eels felt like, red flags and alarms are starting to appear in the horizon for the Panthers.

PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - MAY 17: Panthers coach Ivan Cleary speaks to the media after the round 10 NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the New Zealand Warriors at Panthers Stadium on May 17, 2019 in Penrith, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The level of punishment that the team has endured, especially in these last parts of the season has started to collect its dividends with some key players like Viliame Kikau, Brian To’o and Mitch Kenny all sidelined by ankle injuries that could see them not make it to their game against the Storm this weekend.

The Panthers need for players like Jarome Lauai and Nathan Cleary to step up and basically lead the team into a battle that will see them face a Storm team that will be all about physicality, brashness and taking the game to the highest levels of intensity.

If the Panthers are able to find it in themselves to bring their game energy levels to what their fans are accustomed to, then the Storm will have a real problem in their hands.

The Storm are coming in rested and on a mission

If on the one side you have a team that’s coming into the game with their energy levels at a worrying low, and on the other side you have a team that’s had two full weeks of rest in preparation for this semi-final game, it’s not that hard to see where the favouritism lies. That’s exactly the case with the Melbourne Storm, a team that will go into their semifinals clash against the Penrith Panthers riding on a 14-day rest and preparation period after taking down the Sea Eagles in the qualifier round in early mid-September.

But it’s not just that which makes Melbourne an overwhelming candidate here, it’s also the dominance they asserted throughout the regular season, only losing three games while riding on the fact that they’re the reigning and defending NRL champions.

This season alone the Storm were able to score 40 or more points in 12 of their 21 wins, including and as mentioned before the squashing of the Manly Sea Eagles by 40-12.

Players like Ryan Papenhuyzen, Cameron Munster, Isaac Lumelume, and Justin Olam were all pivotal parts of the team’s win against Manly and they will surely be once again main protagonists in their matchup against Penrith.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 11: Ryan Papenhuyzen of the Storm thanks the crowd after winning the round one NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at AAMI Park, on March 11, 2021, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Given that for many NRL experts Manly was the only team that could pose a true threat to the Storm, it’s becoming more and more apparent that not only this game, but the championship itself is there for Melbourne to win it at comfort.

Final prediction

As previously mentioned, given all of the factors that Melbourne will be bringing into the matchup but especially the fact they will be riding on a 14-day rest and preparation regime for this game, it’s almost impossible to not see the Storm once again taking down the Panthers like in last season’s championship match.