2020 nrl grand final preview, nrl grand final

Full NRL Grand Final preview from NRL pro punter Steve Green… including predicted score and suggested bet!

The Panthers could not have done much more to warrant favouritism for this match. But such is the class of the Storm, that they have been installed two-point favourites for the NRL Grand Final.

I think some of this is because of how each team has handled the finals campaign. There is a belief that the Storm have been playing much better than the Panthers in recent weeks. But I’m not so sure!

Below are a few reasons why I think the Panthers are value in the NRL Grand Final:

Finals form is not as clear cut as people think

The Storm beat the Eels and Raiders to get to the Grand Final. Although I rate both teams, there are a few reasons to question just how terrific the Storm played to get to the Grand Final. Against the Eels the Storm were struggling to break away until the Eels lost both their wingers to injury. Against the Raiders, the away team started horrendously, giving up an 18-0 lead after 10 minutes. After that, despite the Raiders having their worst game of the season (making 13 errors to the Storm’s 4), the Storm did not have to do too much to win. So, I don’t think the Storm come into this match with the kind of battle-hardened form you want leading into an NRL Grand Final against a team that hasn’t lost a match for about 5 months.

As for the Panthers, while they were sloppy against the Roosters in week 1, Cleary showed he is capable of turning a game by himself and that performance would have provided him with a lot of confidence heading into his first Grand Final. While the Panthers failed to put away Souths, the absence of Kikau was something I knew would hurt the Panthers attack, and I think his return will improve their performance significantly.

So, I’m not sure the last few weeks warrant the Storm become favourite for this one…particularly when you look at where the match will be played.

The Panthers will enjoy a home ground advantage

Both Storm’s finals games were at Suncorp. So this is the first time the Storm will have to head down to Sydney for a while. The Storm are likely to have the least number of fans that have ever been present at an NRL Grand Final due to Victoria remaining in lockdown. This means the Panthers will enjoy a parochial home crowd that feed into their confidence and ensure they get their fair share of marginal ruck penalties and six again calls.

I feel like the home ground advantage in this match has been totally overlooked. If this game was being played at Suncorp, I would have expected a line of Storm -2.5 or thereabouts. So I find it strange that the Panthers are being given such a head start here.

Kikau is back, and therefore so is Crichton!

Crichton had an unhappy game by his lofty standards. While he had limited chances, he blew the few that he did have. While Capewell played very well on the Panthers left edge, the presence of Kikau was sorely missed by the Panthers. Kikau draws in so much defensive attention that it opens things up for Crichton. I am expecting this left side attack to be given plenty of chances to take on the Storm. Last week, the Panthers three tries came from 2 kicks and one break down the centre. So their lethal left side could be the difference in this match.

Munster is still not 100%

While he played fine last weekend, I do think Munster’s knee is not 100%. He ran the ball less than usual. And although he was able to coast through last week against a Raiders team that never put any pressure on him, he might be found wanting in a game against a Panthers team that play physical footy and have injured a whole heap of their opponents in 2020. He certainly will not be a liability, but Hughes will need Munster to play much better this weekend if they are to get over the top of Cleary and Luai, who are form halves pairing in the competition in my view.

Lil’ Pape v D Edwards

With his electric pace and wearing the famous Storm number 1 jersey, I understand why all the fuss is being about Papenhuyzen leading into this game… however I think the contribution of Edwards has been overlooked. Edwards is a phenomenal talent, making more metres and tackle breaks per game in 2020 than Lil Papi. Edwards has great support play and is safe under the high ball. And he can clean up grubbers as good as anyone in the competition.

While Lil Pape is paying less than $10 with some bookies for the Clive Churchill, Edwards was over 40 yesterday. If the Panthers win this match, Edwards will very likely be among their top 5 players. I like backing fullbacks to be man of the match, because they are often next in line if neither half has a stand out game. There is a chance the Panthers halves both play well, but neither stands out and if Edwards has some big moments (such as try saving tackle or a match winning try like he had last weekend, then he will be in with a big chance!).

The stats that matter

Nathan Cleary’s kicking stats

No player has a better kicking game that Cleary. With four field goals for the season, he has twice as many as the next player (Keary with two). Cleary also has four 40/20’s to his name for 2020. That’s twice as any as the next group of players, with two each. With just shy of 10,000 kick metres for the season, he has kicked 1,200 more metres than the next player (A Reynolds with 8,727). Cleary also has 26 forced drop outs against his name, which is six more than the next player (A Reynolds with 20).

The only key kicking stat that he does not dominate, is goal kicking %. With a very respectable 80%, he is a little behind guys like Croker, Moses, Reynolds and Smith (84%).

Still, this is the most dominant individual kicking display I can recall. If the Storm can pressure Cleary and put him off his kicking game, they will go a long way to winning this one. However, if Cleary takes control of this game with the boot, then the Storm will struggle to stop the Panthers machine.

Halves creating points

Cleary and Luai have combined for 46 try assists between them this year. In contrast, Munster and Hughes have 24 between them. While the perception may be that Munster and Hughes score more tries themselves, that is not the case. Cleary and Luai scored a combined 14 tries, compared to the Melbourne halves pairing of 11 tries. The Panthers halves are so full of confidence, that shutting them down will prove near impossible.

But scoring points cannot just be left to the Panthers halves. The Panthers rank fourth in the NRL in terms of points scored (behind the Storm, Souths and Roosters). They need Api at 9 and Edwards at 1 to step up in attack and create chances. However, the Panthers’ fourth placed ranking for points scored should be put in context. The Panthers (with 26.6 points per game) are right up among the points scored by the likes of the Storm (27.3 per game)

The Storm’s best threats

In addition to the brilliance of Munster, Hughes and the Storm wingers, I think their biggest advantage will lie in a forward bash ’em up game that bullies the Panthers into submission.

Forward tackle breaks

The Storm’s big men break more tackles than any other group of forwards in the NRL. Big Nelson leads the way with 57 for the season. Tino made an impressive 44 this year and Brandon Smith has made 35. For the Panthers, Kikau has made 57 for the season, Yeo 39 and Liam Martin 29. While these numbers match up pretty well, it is important to note just how much spark the Storm get when Big Tino and B Smith come off the bench. The Panthers will need Tetevano, Leota and Capewell to really lift when they come on the field. Which I think they will, as all are in great form.

Cameron Smith try assists

With 17 try assists for 2020, Smith has seven more than the next forward (Damien Cook with 10). Api Koisosau has only four for the season. Smith’s ability to isolate defenders and send over his big men with perfect crash ball passes, is near impossible. Brandon Smith or Christian Welch are so good at getting a quick play the ball. And guys like the Bromwich brothers or Big Nelson are impossible to contain close to the line. If the Panthers are not ready for this tactic, then the Storm will use this simple play to bulldoze their way past the Panthers in the middle.

Summary

If this is Cam Smith’s last NRL game – which I think it’s very likely judging by the fact he was carried off the field by his teammates last weekend – then you can expect a Storm performances that leaves nothing in the tank! But this is an NRL Grand Final, so even without a retiring club legend, the Panthers have everything to play for. In some regards, this is just another Grand Final for the all-conquering Storm. They have enjoyed so much success that there is a risk that they might not be as hungry as the Panthers…who have not featured in an NRL Grand Final since 2003!

With all their troops on deck, in their home town and playing off the back of so many consecutive wins, I think the Panthers deserved to be two-point favourites here.

NRL Grand Final: Predicted Score

Panthers 20
Storm 18

NRL Grand Final: Suggested Bets

Some money has come for the Panthers and I had thought this might happen. The Storm are a force to be reckoned with, but I think this game is still slightly in the Panther’s favour because of the home crowd.

Bet 2 Units on Panthers to win: currently $2.26 at TopSport

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