Melbourne Storm vs Canberra Raiders
Storm: 1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Brenko Lee 4. Justin Olam 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Christian Welch 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 14. Brandon Smith 15. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui 16. Tom Eisenhuth 17. Nicholas Hynes 18. Dale Finucane 19. Paul Momirovski 20. Ryley Jacks 21. Chris Lewis
Melbourne will be fresh from the week off but when you consider most of their top stars were also rested from their round 20 clash, that would mean the majority of the team have played just one game in almost four weeks. Although many have tipped the Storm to qualify for yet another grand final, the concern for me is their defence, where they have leaked an average of 22.5 points per game from their past five games. I know the new rules have resulted in more points being scored, but the Raiders pose a bigger threat in attack then the teams who have breached in Storm’s defence in recent weeks. This game could follow the trend from this finals series as to which team can outscore the other, and with Munster nursing a knee injury along with the Storm’s limited game time, I think they might struggle to keep pace despite their impressive record in Queensland.
Raiders: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Semi Valemi 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Jordan Rapana 5. Nick Cotric 6. Jack Wighton 7. George Williams 8. Josh Papalii’i 9. Tom Starling 10. Iosia Soliola 11. John Bateman 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Siliva Havili 15. Dunamis Lui 16. Hudson Young 17. Corey Harawira-Naera 18. Sam Williams 19. Matthew Timoko 20. Ryan Sutton 21. Michael Oldfield
The Raiders may have had to earn their spot in this preliminary final after a grueling win over the Roosters last week, but I don’t think they will be as battered and bruised coming up against a fresh Storm side as some have suggested. Most of their star players were also rested in round 20 and they are a team that is quietly confident, in-form and riding a wave of momentum. I also think they are a team on an upward trajectory and are due for a complete performance. The game will be won in the middle-third. If their Papalii-inspired pack can continue their rampaging form and lay a foundation for in-form halves Wighton and Williams, I think there is more than enough points in this Raiders side to cause an upset.
Raiders by 4
Penrith Panthers vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Panthers: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Brent Naden 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To’o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Kurt Capewell 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Tyrone May 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Moses Leota 17. Zane Tetevano 18. Mitch Kenny 19. Dean Whare 20. Matt Burton 21. Jack Hetherington
The Panthers are cruising on the back of a 16-game winning streak and the only concern is whether the week off will cause a halt to their momentum or have them fresh and primed for a shot at premiership glory. The premiership is theirs to lose in my opinion. They are a team that is young, enthusiastic and so close-knit you can see how much playing for each other means to them. But they are coming up against the very well coached Rabbitohs side in blistering form from an attacking perspective. The key for the Panthers is to control the tempo of the game and that responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of Nathan Cleary, which I expect him to handle comfortably. Kikau is a huge loss but they know how to win without him.
Rabbitohs: 1. Corey Allan 2. Alex Johnston 3. Campbell Graham 4. Dane Gagai 5. Jaxson Paulo 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Tevita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. Jaydn Su’A 12. Bayley Sironen 13. Cameron Murray 14. Mark Nicholls 15. Liam Knight 16. Jed Cartwright 17. Keaon Koloamatangi 18. Steven Marsters 19. Hame Sele 20. Troy Dargan 21. Patrick Mago
The Rabbitohs have scored 144 points in their past three games, 90 of which have been in the second half of those games. So when their opposition defence gets tired and they have them on the back foot, they are ruthless and start carving them up. The problem Souths have in this game is they are coming up against a side that is high octane and energized for a full 80 minutes and there is the question of whether their own defence can withstand an in-form Panthers attack. If the Rabbitohs are to win, it will be a high scoring game and they will have to play at a fast pace with quick play-the-balls where Cook and Walker can do some serious damage, even against a quality side like the minor premiers. I’m not writing off the Rabbitohs in this one, especially with the master coach Wayne Bennett at the helm. But despite their ability to rack up points, they tend to get off to slow starts and can clock off at some stages during games, and that’s enough for the Panthers to pounce.
Panthers by 6