We are now down to four teams as the NRL Grand Final draws ever closer. The third week of the playoffs brings us the Preliminary Finals and we preview both matches, looking at key match ups and team news along the way.
Friday 16th October
Melbourne Storm vs Canberra Raiders (9.50am)
An advantage for Melbourne sees them come into this one on the back of weeks rest after beating Parramatta in week one of the finals while Canberra are fresh of a heavy battle both physically and mentally against the Roosters. However, no matter how much pressure seems to be thrown at them, the Raiders seem to soak it all up and thrive in the toughest of circumstances. Once again talismans such as Jack Wighton and Josh Papalii are going to be massively integral if the Raiders want to come away with a win here and reach consecutive Grand Finals. The Storm meanwhile have put together a great win of runs in Queensland having not lost in 19 straight matches there. Both theses sides faced each other in the Finals last year with Canberra narrowly holding on to a 12-10 win at AAMI Park.
Key match up
Well an all-star battle brings with it all-star match ups and there are plenty to look at when you look at these two sides. A number six battle between Cameron Munster and Jack Wighton ticks all the boxes but one worth keeping an eye on maybe the number seven match-up between Melbourne’s Jahrome Hughes and Canberra’s George Williams. They have certainly been influential figures during their side’s respective campaigns while possessing a rather similar skillset. Both players will no doubt look to utilise their strong running capabilities while using their exceptional passing and kicking ability to create plenty of chances.
Team news: Melbourne’s Dale Finucane remains doubtful after being sidelined with injury since round 14. Despite a knee injury, Cameron Munster is expected to play and slot in at stand-off.
No major injury issues for Canberra as they name the same 17 that took down the Roosters last week with Sia Soliola and Tom Starling named to start ahead of Hudson Young and Siliva Havili who take to the bench. Jordan Rapana (sternum) has been selected to start at centre.
Saturday 17th October
Penrith Panthers vs South Sydney Rabbitohs (9.50am)
The second preliminary final gives us a battle between two of the most in form sides in the competition. The Rabbitohs have been on a blistering run as of late with the likes of Adam Reynolds, Cody Walker and Damien Cook proving to be in electric form as the Bunnies have put up a total of 144 points while brushing past the likes of Sydney, Newcastle and now Parramatta. During the middle of the season, not many may have expected Wayne Bennett’s men to be at this point, but they have only got better as the year has progressed even without Latrell Mitchell.
Their toughest test awaits though as they face a Penrith side who are looking for their 17th straight win. If anybody can slow down the Rabbitohs’ attack then the Panthers’ powerful defence can with Viliame Kikau, James Fisher-Harris, Isaah Yeo and Liam Martin all proving to be exceptional this year. If you combine that with their own attacking starpower in Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Stephen Crichton and Josh Mansour then we may just see plenty of fireworks in this one.
Key match up
Again, plenty of match ups to choose from but again it could be another halves battle that takes centre stage here as Penrith’s Jarome Luai and South Sydney’s Cody Walker go head to head. The two stand-offs have both been electric this year and probably playing the best rugby of their careers to date. Both have been hugely influential figures from an attacking standpoint with their creativity and flair creating plenty of scoring opportunities which saw them lead their side in try assists throughout the regular season.
Team news: No Viliame Kikau for the Panthers so Kurt Capewell is set to start in the second row while Spencer Leniu joins the interchange.
No changes for the Rabbitohs with Campbell Graham (cork) and Jaydn Su’A (knee) both selected to start.