2021 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 148/200 (74%) (Last week: 1/2)
2020 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: (74%)
2019 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: (64%)
2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: (58%)
Line Betting: (46%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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- When you consider how short-priced the Panthers were as favourites when these sides met three weeks ago, it’s a bit of a surprise to see this year’s decider relatively evenly priced, even allowing for the fact that the Rabbitohs ran out winners 16-10 in that match. Since that particular evening (in which the Panthers actually out-gunned the Bunnies for line breaks, 5-4), Penrith have done nothing but totally shut down their past two opponents, conceding just 2 tries in as many matches (both from kicks) with an absurd LBCVOA of -50.00% over that fortnight (for comparison, the Rabbitohs’ was -10.33%). Yes, the Rabbitohs won the last meeting between these sides, but most would agree that the Rabbitohs turned in one of their best performances of the season to pull that off (it was just the 5th time all season they’ve held a team to 1 try or fewer – something the Panthers have achieved a whopping 9 times), and yet they still required the Panthers’ bungling of multiple try-scoring opportunities to get over the line. If Souths at their best only just edge Penrith playing at something approaching their worst (the Panthers squandered plenty of chances, but they reserved their most inept attacking display for the following week against Parramatta), then surely the most likely result is a Penrith victory here – either because the Rabbitohs are just a little bit worse than they were in Finals Week One, or because the Panthers are just a little bit better. And to be fair, we fancy everybody knows it, too. Which is why the arguments being trotted out for why Souths will win are wide and varied, and include just about any reason you can think of other than actually being better at football than Penrith. Such reasons may include:
- Penrith are too tired after playing 3 tough games in a row: To be fair, we don’t doubt that the past few matches must have taken some kind of toll on the Panthers. But that being said, when you consider the fact that these guys play some 24+ matches over a season with just the single bye, you can’t help feeling like the physical toll of playing three consecutive matches gets a little bit overblown at this time of year. And regardless, the overwhelming majority of the Panthers have played so little football in the past three months, you could make the argument that several may only now be approaching peak match fitness. Of the 17 who’ll be playing in the GF on Sunday night, only Matt Burton, Jarome Luai, Viliame Kikau and Liam Martin have not had at least one week off since Round 20, with 8 of Penrith’s Grand Final having had at least 2.
- The Panthers are carrying too many injuries: For a start, we ought to point out that Round 25 was the first time Penrith had run out with a full-strength line-up since Round 1, so however injured they may be, their squad remains stronger than what they played with through the regular season (a regular season in which they won all but 3 games). Yes, they’ve lost Tevita Pangai Jr, but they also regain Moses Leota. And the remaining injuries are injuries they’ve been carrying for a while. Dylan Edwards missed these sides’ first finals clash with his current foot injury, but turned in a man-of-the-match effort against Melbourne. Brian To’o may be carrying a noticeable limp, but he limped his way to a team-high 209m against Melbourne (56 post-contact) on his gammy leg. It seems odd to assume then, that these injuries are suddenly insurmountable, when in several cases the Panthers’ best performers have been the ones carrying the niggles.
- Wayne Bennett will have something up his sleeve: While you’ll get no argument from us that Bennett is a far more successful coach than his Penrith counterpart (that much should be immediately obvious), the idea that Bennett will surely make up for his side’s shortcomings by out-coaching Cleary just doesn’t add up. If Bennett knows the secret to beating Penrith, why didn’t he use it when his side was losing 5 straight to Penrith since 2019? And if coaching were to be the difference, that would imply that Craig Bellamy – the most accomplished coach of the past decade – is some kind of dunderhead who apparently couldn’t figure it out himself (if he could, it would follow that Melbourne should be here instead). That conceptually seems equal parts wrong and disrespectful.
- All of this being said, please don’t misunderstand us – we’re not saying for a second that Souths can’t win. Rather, we’re just saying that the popular narratives being spoon-fed to the masses via the mainstream media are dubious at best, and irrational at worst. Souths absolutely can win – heck, they literally did it within the past month – but if they do, it won’t be because of the reasons being trumpeted. Rather, it will be through the incredible development of their forwards through the back half of the year, on both sides of the ball. In their win over Penrith, the Rabbitohs were able to do a Penrith on Penrith, dominating the Panthers’ middles on their way to narrowly winning the yardage battle by 21m. That may not sound like much, but consider the fact that Penrith have won the yardage exchange in 21 of 27 matches this year – this is where Penrith have won their matches (of Penrith’s 4 losses, 3 came in matches where they trailed for field position). In the 16 games in which Penrith have won the yardage by 200m or more, they average a dominant 5.6 tries per game – a number that is virtually insurmountable when backed up by Penrith’s league-best defense. But when Penrith don’t hit that 200m+ mark, that average drops to just 2.6. So if you’ve been thinking that Penrith haven’t looked as hot through the back half of the year, you’re right – but you should take a good look at their yardage. In the handful of games that their middles dominated, Penrith’s offense clicked just fine, regardless of how many stars they had out. But if Penrith run into a brick wall – like the one the Rabbitohs put up three weeks ago – all of a sudden their offense looks a lot less dangerous. This certainly makes the loss of Pangai seem to take on extra significance, but let us point out one thing: when Penrith beat the Bunnies back in Round 23, Pangai managed just 67m at an embarrassing 5.6m per carry. The guys who did the heavy lifting that night – Moses Leota and Scott Sorenson, who combined for 243m at 8.4 metres-per-tote weren’t playing when Souths won three weeks ago. Without these key middles, the Panthers were left starting Matt Eisenhuth (who hasn’t even made the 21-man squad since) and using Liam Martin for a significant chunk as a middle forward. Which isn’t to say that Penrith are suddenly unbeatable, but it would be fair to think that Souths will need to be better again just to achieve a similar result.
- And should they manage to be successful in slowing down Penrith’s offense, will that be enough to secure the premiership? Maybe, but probably not. We went into some detail last week about how just how elite Penrith’s defense is (it’s objectively about twice as good as Souths’ in relative terms), but it presents a uniquely bad match-up for the Rabbitohs’ offense. Souths attack (which is extremely good, and deservedly the 2nd best in the league) is built around two key strengths: Damien Cook getting out from dummy half; and an incomparably smooth left edge offense. With Penrith’s swarming middle D relentlessly dominating the ruck (they rank 2nd in RMCVOA), Cook rarely receives a quick play-the-ball, which consequently removes his threat to run from dummy half. As the Bunnies ran roughshod over Manly last week, for example, Cook ran 7 times for 78m, throwing in a sexy try assist to boot. However, he has 7 runs combined in his 3 matches against Penrith this year, the direct result of the Panthers’ dominance of the ruck. And as good as Souths’ left edge is offensively, the Panthers’ right edge is the best defensive group in the competition (and we should point out that this right edge was incomplete when these sides last met, with Stephen Crichton filling in for Edwards at fullback). With Penrith dominating the middle and being capable of shutting down even the most proficient attacking left edges, it should come as no surprise that Penrith have held Souths to 3 tries or less in their past 6 meetings straight. In fact, it may well be that the Bunnies’ right edge is their most likely to produce points (and indeed, it was down this edge that they scored the match-winner three weeks ago).
- In short, we could see this going one of two ways. The first is that Penrith are able to get over the top through their forwards, laying a platform for their offense to kick into gear. Should Penrith win the yardage battle by 200m+, we fully expect them to run away with it and win by 13+ (again). The second, though, is that Souths come out breathing fire and match their more fancied counterparts set-for-set. In that case, this all of a sudden becomes a real contest, and probably one that resembles the Panthers’ last few games. Perhaps Penrith have built confidence from their most recent successes, and that proves the difference deep into the match. Or perhaps they get spooked, and the old heads of South Sydney, like Adam Reynolds and Benji Marshall, have the class to guide Souths to victory. On balance, we’re of the view that you have to give the edge to Penrith because they require less to win – the Panthers have the upside to comfortably score 20+ if they can get rolling down the field, but have shown over the past fortnight that they can also tackle their way home with as few as 8 points (the Bunnies, meanwhile, haven’t won a game all year when scoring less than 16). For what it’s worth, we’re leaning towards the Rabbitohs’ middles aiming up and turning this into a slugfest, with Penrith eventually defending their way to a third title. Penrith by 6.