NRL Finals week one preview: Stars return for Canberra and Parramatta, Cleary vs Keary and Townsend returns from suspension

The regular season is in the books and the 2020 NRL Finals series is just around the corner and with that we preview each of the four games this weekend.

Friday 2nd October

Penrith Panthers (1st) vs Sydney Roosters (4th) – Qualifying Final 1 (KO.10.50am)

Well what a way to kick off this years Finals series as 1st placed Penrith take on the back to back NRL Champions Sydney at a sold-out Panthers Stadium. The winner here gets to move straight on to the preliminary finals whereas the loser gets another bite of the cherry in the semi finals and overall making their journey to the league’s showpiece event a tad longer.

The Panthers may just come into this one with plenty of confidence after dismantling the Bulldogs while the Roosters are on the back of a devastating 60-8 loss to rivals South Sydney and will need to up the ante if they want topple the most in form side in the competition. However, its adversity such as the this where we have seen Trent Robinson’s side thrive in the past and with both teams showcasing plenty of elite talent, it might be best to strap yourself in for this one!

Key match up

As player battles go, it does not get much better than the mouth-watering clash between two of the sport’s best halves as Penrith’s Nathan Cleary and Sydney’s Luke Keary go head to head. Both players have put in magical displays this year to help steer their sides to plenty of wins and again they will no doubt be key to their sides attack in this one. The 28-year-old Keary knows all about the pressures that come with the Finals and is a three-time Champion in his own right while Cleary can show he is one for that post season spotlight.

Team news: The trio of Stephen Crichton, Dylan Edwards and Viliame Kikau all return to the Panthers’ starting side after a week’s rest. Kurt Capewell and Tyrone May make their way onto the bench. Brian To’o is on track to feature despite an ankle issue last week.

No Jake Friend (head knock) for the Roosters so Freddy Lussick is named to take his place at hooker. The quartet of Isaac Liu, Lindsay Collins, Joey Manu and Brett Morris all come back into the matchday side while Angus Crichton moves to the interchange. Nat Butcher, Matt Ikuvalu, Mitch Aubusson and Poasa Faamausili all drop out.

Saturday 3rd October

Canberra Raiders (5th) vs Cronulla Sharks (8th) – Elimination Final 1 (KO.8.40am)

The Raiders gave most of their top stars a weeks rest last week but were still able to come away with a win against a Cronulla side they are now set to face again in the first elimination final of the weekend. The Sharks record against sides in the top eight this year makes for a tough read as they have failed to register a win against any of the other seven teams in the Finals. However, rugby league can be a funny game and if Cronulla ask questions early of Canberra and firm up their shaky defence then the 2016 Champions can easily give the 2019 runners up a game here.

Key match up

A showdown between Canberra’s Nick Cotric and Cronulla’s Sione Katoa maybe a battle to keep an eye on here. Both players are two of the most exciting young wingers in the league and are easily one of their team’s biggest attacking weapon after leading their retrospective clubs in tries throughout the season.

Team news: The Raiders are back to full strength with Jack Wighton, George Williams, John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead, Josh Papalii, Jarrod Croker, Jordan Rapana and Charnze Nicoll Kolkstad all returning to the starting side.

Chad Townsend is back from suspension to slot in at scrum half for the Sharks while Sione Katoa, Blayke Brailey and Josh Dugan all make welcome returns.

Melbourne Storm (2nd) vs Parramatta Eels (3rd) – Qualifying Final 2 (KO.10.50am)

Another mouth-watering clash in the first week of the playoffs sees Melbourne take on a Parramatta. The Eels saw a stuttered end to their regular season campaign with many starting to question whether they can make a decent run throughout the series. However, Brad Arthur’s side were able to end the season strongly and thanks to the Roosters loss and an Eels comeback against the Tigers, they were able to sneak into 3rd place. However, Parramatta will surely need more intensity while trying to discover that early season form here if they want to topple a dominant Melbourne side.

Key match up

Plenty of player match ups here with the never-aging Cameron Smith going toe to toe with Reed Mahoney at hooker and even the halfback battle between Jahrome Hughes and Mitch Moses is an intriguing one. However, the one that could stand out in this game is an all star fullback clash between Melbourne’s young speedster Ryan Papenhuyzen and Parramatta’s ever consistent captain Clinton Gutherson. The 22-year-old Papenhuyzen has followed on from a great breakthrough season last year to firmly establish himself amongst a golden age of elite fullbacks in the NRL. Although his name might not be up there with the likes of James Tedesco and Roger Tuivasa Sheck, his potential ceiling is certainly high, and he can easily be one of the stars of this entire series. In terms of Gutherson, he has led from the front once again with seven tries and 17 try assists this year as the Eels sneaked their way to third on the final day of the regular season.

Team news: Melbourne welcome back their own stars as Cameron Munster, Cameron Smith, Josh Addo-Carr, Suliasi Vunivalu, Kenneath Bromwich, Jesse Bromwich and Jahrome Hughes are all named to start after a week’s rest.

The Eels are given boost as stand-off Dylan Brown has been selected to start after seemingly making an early recovery form ankle surgery. Reagan Campbell-Gillard is back in at prop while Shaun Lane and Michael Jennings also make their returns in the second row and at centre retrospectively.

Sunday 4th October

South Sydney Rabbitohs (6th) vs Newcastle Knights (7th) – Elimination Final 2 (KO.6.05am)

If there was a team coming into the Finals with high morale and huge boost of confidence it would certainly have to be the Rabbitohs after a resounding and record-breaking win over the Roosters last week. The duo of Cody Walker and Alex Johnston were at their electric best and both players will be called upon again here as they look to make another statement of intent. The Knights meanwhile have been an inconsistent side all year showing flashes of brilliance but with this being their first Finals appearance in seven years the likes of Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga will need to get this team fully clicking. The winner here will go on to face either Melbourne or Parramatta in next weeks semi final while the loser sees their season come to an end.

Key match up

Another halfback battle headlines this one as South Sydney’s Adam Reynolds and Newcastle’s Mitchell Pearce present an expert battle. The Souths number seven was the league’s top points scorer this year as his expert goalkicking was on full show throughout the year while his connection with Cody Walker was a sight to see towards the end of the year. Meanwhile, Pearce has been a consistent presence all year for the Knights with his great ability to unlock an opponent’s defensive seeing him tally 16 try assists this season.

Team news: A couple of changes for the Rabbitohs sees Cameron Murray and Jaydn Su’A make their way back into the starting 13.

A slight change for Newcastle sees Lachlan Fitzgibbon take his place in the back row while Sione Mata’utia moves to the interchange.

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