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Soward: Panthers' defence gives them slight edge

I don't think many people saw Penrith putting in that performance and beating Melbourne to book a grand final clash with South Sydney.

But if you look at how the season's gone, the best defence came to the fore on the weekend. It showed other teams that it doesn't always have to be about attack, while a young Manly team learnt lessons.

1. Penrith Panthers (4)

A big jump. Penrith have continued to keep themselves in the game defensively even when it's looked like they might bend and fold.

That defence holds them steady and keeps them in with a shot. They'll go into this match favourites, but I can't pick a winner yet.

Last year's grand final loss to the Storm will help the Panthers a lot; they'll know what to expect and how the week will unfold.

They're not going to be overawed by the time they get there. Like I've said, their defence is better this year than it was in 2020, so Penrith are more prepared for the occasion.

The opening 10 minutes will decide the winner for me.

2. South Sydney Rabbitohs (2)

It was a hard choice to put South Sydney as the No.2 seed. Defensively, the back-end of the game against Manly worried me even though they had the match in their keeping.

The Rabbitohs were up for the Panthers game in week one of the finals before being expected to win the Sea Eagles clash.

Can they reproduce what they did a couple of weeks ago? We'll have to wait and see because Penrith had opportunities in that game and it's a first grand final for a lot of Souths players.

But they haven't got a first-time grand final coach and their captain is a premiership winner, so I think that will settle them down.

They've got a calming voice with great experience everywhere in Benji Marshall. Latrell Mitchell will be behind the scenes. The senior players will hold their own.

However, you probably can't describe what the feeling is like running onto the field for the grand final and really understanding, 'OK, we're here now - can we concentrate on the job at hand?'

The Rabbitohs have been great in defence for the past month but haven't matched the Panthers across the whole season. 

Best plays: Preliminary finals

3. Melbourne Storm (1)

Losing key players to injuries certainly played its part against Penrith. They had been prone to slow starts during the year and that's not Melbourne-like. Missed a chance to record their own bit of history.

Winning a championship is hard and they would know having been in that position a lot over the past 10-15 years. Thye just weren't at their best.

4. Manly Sea Eagles (3)

I wasn't surprised by Manly losing that game to the Rabbitohs, but I definitely was by the way they did. However, they've got some young guys who have now had their first exposure to a finals series.

I think the Sea Eagles have to go back to the drawing board and work on their defence along with ways other people can win the game rather than relying so heavily on Tom Trbojevic.


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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