Should you be snooping around the betting agencies and looking for some value heading in to the 2021 NRL grand final, might I be so bold as to point you in the direction of the South Sydney Rabbitohs?
Their opponents have lost just five of their last 46 games, look likely to enter the match as solid favourites and many will feel are destined to claim the premiership that narrowly escaped them in 2020.
On that night and after a season of turmoil, insecurity and unprecedented hub life, the Melbourne Storm shattered the dreams of Penrith Panthers fans with another Craig Bellamy-inspired performance that secured a premiership trophy many felt certain to be heading to the foot of the mountains.
However, it was not to be and to their credit, the mountain men have returned in 2021 just as strong, seeking redemption and revenge.
Sadly, the NRL scriptwriters botched things up somewhat when they permitted South Sydney to edge out Penrith in Week 1 of the finals and therefore allow the Bunnies to effectively take over the number two seeding.
With the Storm looming as almost certain grand finalists, the Panthers were forced to cross paths with them a week earlier than many had expected and hoped. Off the back of a little luck, a brave defensive effort and a busted Melbourne team that never really recaptured its mid-season form during the finals, Penrith prevailed and booked a return date with South Sydney this Sunday.
With the rugby league world mostly engaging with the redemption story that Penrith were building throughout the 2021 season, the Storm loomed as the spanner in the works. With that impediment now removed, surely the heavens have opened for the team whose recent play almost demands a trophy to acknowledge it.
Whilst that might be a fait accompli to some, the small issue of a master coach in the opposite dressing room might well yet hurl a new spanner back into the plans and apparent destiny of the Penrith team and its coach Ivan Cleary.
The match sets up perfectly. Having played just a handful of weeks ago and the Bunnies defensive discipline able to blunt a Penrith attack that had scored an average of over 28 points per game across the home and away season, the two teams enter the contest with realistic chances of victory.
The bookies appear to be firmly leaning in the Penrith direction, with odds of around $1.70 offered on their chances of victory, whilst the Bunnies will start as outsiders at around $2.25.
South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett will be chomping on his cereal each morning, ecstatic at such estimations and prepared to produce another coaching masterclass that will go down in rugby league history with the many others he has produced in his long and storied career.
Such a situation is exactly what the greatest ever NRL coach thrives on, indeed, what he lives for.
Bennett has thrown State of Origin match programmes in the face of reporters who dared question the effectiveness of his players leading into matches. He has taken on international coaching appointments and embarrassed the seemingly dominant Australians and the 2020 State of Origin series potentially summed up his astonishing ability to gel a team in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds and produce the unthinkable.
With supposed rugby league experts labelling the 2020 Maroons squad as the worst in Queensland’s history, Bennett did the unthinkable for the umpteenth time and pulled the right reins throughout the series.
The 2-1 series win placed an exclamation point on a coaching career that did not require any punctuation at all and when Paul Green fell in a screaming heap as the new coach some 8 months later, the genius behind Bennett’s achievement was even more magnified.
The 2021 grand final sets up yet another scenario begging for the great man to produce another masterclass to never forget. Penrith are not in sparkling form; struggling to score finals points as the referees ease off the six again calls and ten metre rulings that brought such blow out scores during the season.
Souths look fitter and under finals football rules where looser referee interpretations appear to favour the team prepared to engage in the grind and win in spite of the talent opposite them, something tells me everything is set up well for yet another Bennett moment about which we will talk for decades.
If I were a Penrith fan, I’d be mighty afraid. There is nothing more predictable than Wayne Bennett producing the unexpected.