After one of the wildest Round 25 finishes we've had in a long time the 2021 NRL finals draw is now set. What are some of the best match-ups you think we could see?
— NRL (@NRL) September 6, 2021
Fans all around Australia are now hyper analysing the NRL finals draw, postulating every possible scenario in which their team could make it to the last dance.
While it feels like this years top eight is a little top four heavy, there are still plenty of interesting storylines we could see come out of this year's draw, with new chapters to rivalries added.
There's no crystal ball or predictions in this one, with the Storm and Sea Eagles scheduled to play their qualifying finals against each other this weekend. There's also a potential rematch in line for the grand final.
The two clubs recent history also supports the gravity of their growing rivalry.
While Manly has been less dominant in the 2010s, the two were staples in the later part of the 2000s, facing off in back to back grand finals in 2007 and 2008.
Melbourne got the better of Manly in 2007, beating the Sea Eagles 34-8, however, Manly came roaring back the year later and handed Melbourne one of the worst grand final losses in recent memory - a 40-0 shutout.
Manly fans will also never forget Melbourne's salary cap breach that led to the removal of the Storms 2007 premiership win and cast a dark shadow over that loss for the Sea Eagles.
Their rivalry is so synonymous, it even has it's own wikipedia page.
Being a truly gladiatorial sport, any great NRL rivalry is also often defined by a 'battle'. In this case, the 'Battle of Brookvale".
This 'battle' was featured in a Round 25 bout between the two which saw a number of on field incidents in the first half of the game lead to fights breaking out all over the ground.
Eventually blood between the two sides boiled over when both Adam Blair (Melbourne Storm) and Glenn Stewart (Manly Sea Eagles) were simultaneously sin-binned and upon returning to their sheds engaged in a five-minute brawl involving all players on the ground.
Since this 'battle' both sides have enjoyed plenty of successes and disappointments, maybe some more successful than others, but it seems as though this year's finals could be giving us the next chapter in this storied rivalry.
Facing off this weekend in their opening finals matches, the newly minted minor premiership-winning Storm are out to make it five wins in a row against the red-hot Sea Eagles.
With Melbourne five-eighth Cameron Munster doubtful for this weeks qualifying final, all eyes are likely set on the fullback match-up between Storm's Ryan Papenhuyzen and Dally M hopeful, Manly's Tom Trbojevic.
A win this weekend for either team would propel them instantly into the preliminary final, and a loss would put the other on track for a likely clash against the Penrith Panthers.
If all goes to plan for either team's fans, or anyone that enjoys a bitter rivalry like this one, whatever happens this weekend won't matter, because they'll see each other again in the grand final.
This rivalry is regarded as the oldest living one in rugby league, as both sides were founded in 1908 and are the only ones still competing as stand-alone entities in the NRL.
Mark Courtney put it simply in his 2007 book, Book of Feuds, "there is no greater rivalry in the NRL than that between the Rabbitohs and the Roosters. As the only remaining foundation clubs, they have played more matches between them - at 205 - than any other two clubs".
While the two teams have clashed many times over the past century, it wasn't until 2014 that Souths edged out the Roosters in their first finals match.
A preliminary finals thriller, with the Rabbitohs coming out on top 32-22, this match led to Souths first grand final appearance in 43 years.
Other noteworthy encounters between the two include the Roosters preliminary finals win over Souths in 2018, and the Rabbitohs 60-8 thrashing of the chooks in the final round of the 2020 regular season.
The rivalry between the two has also been mobilised by the frequent transfer of players between both clubs.
Based on the proximity of the two teams, not only are they often competing for junior talent, but the poaching of players from one side to the other often dominates the off-season.
Ron Coote was one of the first players to make the transition between the clubs, jumping ship from South Sydney to the Eastern Suburbs in 1971.Embed from Getty Images
This leads us into the 2021 season, where the two have already butted heads twice, both figuratively and literally.
During the first game between the two in Round 3, which saw the Rabbitohs win 26-16, Roosters forward Daniel Suluka-Fifita 'rabbit punched' South Sydney's Jai Arrow.
Further fuel was added to the fire when in Round 24 Souths fullback and former Rooster Latrell Mitchell fractured Joseph Manu's cheekbone with one of the most dangerous hits we've seen all season.
While the collision course for a round three between the two rival clubs is certainly a little off course due to the Roosters 40-16 victory over the Raiders, securing them fifth place on the ladder, a victory this weekend from Souths against the Panthers and a few lucky wins from the Roosters could see the clubs face off in another Preliminary Final.
Melbourne Storm vs Penrith Panthers
While this rivalry is much less storied than the previous two, the weight of a potential match between the Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers should be just as desired.
There's only two likely paths both teams could travel in order to meet during these finals; one wins their qualifier and the other losses their qualifier but wins their semi, setting up for a preliminary final clash, or they both win their qualifier and prelims and we get a repeat of last years grand final.
That's where the storyline for this conflict becomes more interesting.
Spiritually, these teams are very similar. They've both been 'bred not bought'.
Opting to focus on development over recruitment, the Melbourne Storm have provided a blueprint over the past 15 years on how to fill out a roster with young talent, direct all your resources into developing that talent, and ensuring they don't leave.
Having faced off twice already this year, with both teams winning a game each, the two were also neck and neck most of the season for the minor premiership.
While Melbourne inched out to win that award, the Panthers and their fans' contention with the Storm is mainly due to their grand final loss in 2020.
A tale of two halves, this nail-biting pendulum of a game, ending 26-20, looks to be the first chapter in the clubs' dawning rivalry.
While Panthers fans will be looking to see a passing of the torch, with their team edging into their own dynasty as we begin the 2020's, Melbourne, their new spine, and coach Craig Bellamy will look for every opportunity to sustain their greatness.
What was it the joker said, "what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?"
Penned the 'Western Sydney Derby', the grudge these two teams hold is less about the clashes they've had in the NRL and more about the tensions between the two nurseries, with juniors from both regions growing up seemingly in each other's backyards.
While the two have certainly had their fair share of matches against each other, with well over 100 on their belts, the most recent noteworthy battles were in 2000, where Parramatta dominated Penrith, 28-10, in the semi-finals, and just last year when the Eels came back in the second half of a tight game to ironically hand the Panthers their only loss of the regular season.
In 2019 former Penrith Panther now Parramatta Eel Reagan Campbell-Gillard spoke candidly on this rivalry. Campbell-Gillard, who grew up in Mt Druitt and played his junior football in surrounding areas Rooty Hill and Windsor, insisted that the only way to describe how the two view each other is "hate".
"If you look at all the advertising and commercial side it's battle of the west. It's plain and simple, right across the headline there … to see who's the best in the west," Campbell-Gillard said.
"As a junior, you come through the system to hate them. I also don't like that word but it is. It doesn't matter what form you're in, it's a game you get up for."
Any bout between the two clubs in this year's finals would likely be lopsided going in, with the Panthers dominating in the only match-up between the two during the regular season 40-6.
However, if the teams do happen to cross paths, likely in the semi-finals, expect faithfuls from each club to have much more invested in that game than a chance at a Preliminary Finals birth.