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Australia NRL preliminary finals have the tension of a grand final with none of the potential for a consolation prize

07:55  24 september  2021
07:55  24 september  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

Brisbane the focus as NRL finals hit town

  Brisbane the focus as NRL finals hit town Brisbane rugby league fans get the chance to justify the city's ambition to host the biggest NRL matches when the finals return from regional Queensland.After two weekends of matches across regional venues, Suncorp Stadium will host this weekend's two preliminary finals before a historic grand final at the venue the following week.

Going into their qualifying final with the Storm a fortnight ago, Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler joked Melbourne might just be "impossible" to beat. It was seen at the time as a tongue-in-cheek ploy to instill a false sense of security into the opposition ahead of a potential Manly ambush that would throw chaos into The Panthers possess the NRL 's strongest defence and that is their biggest claim in this year's premiership debate. Their loss against South Sydney was more a result of the attack failing to fire them over the line rather than the defence not holding up. It was the same against Parramatta, where they

In preliminary finals , Bennett is 7-4. When rugby league ’s final word is written, the all-time team will be coached by none other than the incomparable Wayne Bennett. It would be an absolute travesty if Justin Hodges was rubbed out of the grand final in what will be his final match. The decorated centre has done all there is to in the game and is arguably the best centre three-quarter to play since Mal Meninga with two premierships, multiple Origin victories and the honour of representing Australia.

Managing expectations and energy is a constant challenge in the finals.

This week Cooper Cronk was on the Matty Johns podcast discussing what teams could expect in the weeks leading up to the NRL grand final.

Grand final week, with all the pomp and circumstance that comes with it, they said, was its own beast.

At least one grand finalist will have someone in the running for the Dally M Medal on Monday night. Then there are all the media obligations, including countless hours filming promos standing in front of neon signs with fire and machines blaring while giving sultry looks to camera.

One team, usually the less experienced of the two, can mishandle things and lose the game before they even get on the park, Cronk said.

Panthers snare grand final berth in a classic

  Panthers snare grand final berth in a classic The Panthers have edged the Storm in a gripping encounter to book their place in a grand final against the Rabbitohs.Next Sunday will see the Panthers shoot for their first premiership since downing the Roosters in the 2003 grand final, after a typically resolute defensive performance held the Storm to their lowest score of the season.

They have reached the preliminary finals in four straight years, the last three under Bennett's coaching. The Rabbitohs meet Manly in Brisbane on Friday night for a place in next month's grand final . "The Storm and Roosters have been called tremendous teams," Bennett said on Thursday. "We've been here [the preliminary finals ] for three years, we just haven't been able to get past this point," he said. "That's the challenge tomorrow, but they've been a wonderful team to work with and to their credit they've got themselves back there this year." Bennett said he had every reason to believe

NRL Tipping: Preliminary finals - see what the experts are saying. On the NRL .com tipping leaderboard, Ladies Who League founder Mary Konstantopoulos is assured of a one-point lead heading into the grand final after the top four on the leaderboard selected the same teams.

It's a weird time.

And that's partly why Johns and Cronk both agreed preliminary final week was the most nerve-wracking and final pure football week of the season.

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Who's shaping up well for NRL preliminary finals?

For Melbourne and South Sydney, coming off a week's rest, this is the first time this year they're playing a sudden-death game.

The difference is Melbourne's win over Manly was pretty routine, but Souths played the game of their lives in the first week of the finals.

Without Latrell Mitchell, they took down the presumptive premiers and last year's runners-up.

It was a gargantuan feat and clearly a game into which every member of that team, including the coaching staff, had poured an unbelievable amount of effort.

NRL grand final will be a 'once-in-a-lifetime' event for Brisbane's Lang Park

  NRL grand final will be a 'once-in-a-lifetime' event for Brisbane's Lang Park This year's NRL season has put an unprecedented workload on staff at Lang Park, who plan to make the historic Queensland grand final unforgettable.But with capacity for just 52,000 people at the historic Queensland NRL grand final on October 3, it'll fail in comparison to record crowds seen in the past: 107,999 in 1999 at Sydney Olympic Park being the benchmark.

Kiwis legend Benji Marshall is giving nothing away over his NRL future, before South Sydney Rabbitohs' preliminary final against Manly Sea Eagles. At 36, Marshall is yet to make a call on whether he'll play on into 2022, which would be his 20th season as a professional. Marshall signed for the Rabbitohs on a one-year deal at the start of 2021 and is off-contract at the end of this season. "To be fair, I'm going to focus on winning this week. It's what you play for, to make a Grand Final and win the competition."

76 min: It’s another poor final ball kick selection from Townsend, as he chips into goal, but Slater anticipates it early, and drops to collect easily. They look to finish the game on attack again the Storm, but Smith puts a quintessentially Smith kick into touch to eat up another few minutes, and keep the temperature tepid. League legend Mal Meninga effectively begs the authorities not to rub Slater out from the final (assuming Storm win this game), but by the letter of the law, it’s an illegal act, and a professional foul. Murky, murky waters, and what a headache for the NRL big dogs to navigate.

Coming off that release of energy, into a week off, then maintaining the rage for a clash with the Sea Eagles is a major challenge.

But a master coach is just what is needed in these scenarios. Thankfully for them, they have Wayne Bennett.

The Rabbitohs have gone 0-3 in the preliminary finals in the past three seasons, but this is the first time they've taken the direct path, which should give them a better shot.

On the other side of the draw, Melbourne and Penrith are playing the grand final rematch a week earlier than anyone expected.

While not performing at their lofty best play in the first two weeks of the finals, Penrith should be battle-hardened for this clash, and there's no way they would ever come into a must-win game against Melbourne underdone anyway.

For the Storm, though, the Panthers represent a huge step up after their cakewalk over Manly in the qualifying final and a bye in the second week.

'Filthy' great admits he was sucked in by Storm

  'Filthy' great admits he was sucked in by Storm PAUL GALLEN: There was one big factor that swung Saturday's match in favour of the Penrith Panthers.I'm filthy I backed away from it a few weeks ago, but I said at the start of the season that when it came to the biggest games of the year that Melbourne would miss Cameron Smith.

Roosters book grand final date with Raiders. Tries to Cordner and Tedesco secure a hard-fought victory at the SCG. It was a scrappy and unambitious half from both sides with errors and penalties interrupting the flow. The Roosters look far more dangerous with ball in hand but Melbourne will feel they’re far from out of it trailing by such a slender margin. Boyd Cordner of the Roosters is tackled during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the Sydney Roosters and the Melbourne Storm at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The Rabbitohs are playing in their fourth straight preliminary final , but the seven-time premiership coach believes they are unfairly overlooked as one of the NRL heavyweights. Penrith's stocks have risen during the past two seasons, on the back of a grand final appearance last year and a berth in this weekend's preliminary finals . But Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett said his side deserved to be regarded as one of the NRL benchmark teams, given the consistency the club has achieved since 2018.

You'd expect Craig Bellamy would have his side (possibly at full strength for the first time this year) ready to go, but an early shot from the mountain men could rock them.

Either way, both teams have to put every ounce of their being into this game, and then one of them with have to somehow do it all again next week.

Manly is probably the least polished of the four teams left — seemingly rising and falling with the fortunes of freakish fullback Tom Trbojevic — but they're also the only side that appears to be ramping up properly into the grand final.

Dominated by a well drilled Melbourne side in week one of the finals, rediscovering their form and taking revenge on another set of perennial professionals in the Roosters last week, then facing off against a genuine contender tonight before hopefully meeting another in the last game of the year.

And while they do rise and fall with Turbo, he's good enough to actually carry that load just as Jarryd Hayne was for the Eels in 2009, even if the Eels did ultimately fall at the final hurdle.

It's not the grand final, but everything's on the line

Friday's Souths-Manly clash and Saturday afternoon's Storm-Panthers game come with all the pressure of do-or-die deciders, but with none of the promise of the proverbial silver medal.

Despite Billy Beane's sentiment in Moneyball that "if you lose the last game of the season, nobody gives a shit", reaching the grand final is seen as an achievement. People do remember the team that was beaten.

But, rightly or wrongly, the teams that fall at the penultimate hurdle are rolled into the other four teams that were just making up the numbers in the top eight.

It's why Bennett was right when he said on Thursday that his Rabbitohs were overlooked as a top side despite reaching four successive preliminary finals.

Perhaps we need to tweak that Beane quote, because it really does seem no-one gives a s**t if you lose the second last game of the year.

[sports newsletter]

Bunnies weapon set to 'pull their pants down' .
Two men who've drawn little attention this week could be set to decide the NRL grand final, Phil Gould believes.But rugby league icon Phil Gould believes two men who've drawn little attention could be set to determine the outcome of the Brisbane decider.

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