Only the Panthers, Storm, Raiders and Rabbitohs are left standing seven months after the season began, and they’ll put it all on the line this weekend for a spot in the 2020 NRL Grand Final.
The attacking brilliance of South Sydney, the tenacity and heart of Canberra, the ruthless consistency of Melbourne and the classy aggression of Panthers will be on full display in the prelims.
The first two weeks of the finals have delivered outstanding footy and sporting drama at its peak, and week three will no doubt have plenty more as the stakes rise even higher.
Can Wayne Bennett earn a shot at an eighth premiership? Will Melbourne send Cameron Smith out with a third premiership? Will the Raiders exact revenge for a heartbreaking loss in 2019? Do Penrith have enough in the tank to complete an 18-game winning streak?
The worst cliché in sport is ‘we have nothing to lose’. What rubbish!
Go through all the remaining contenders and there is an abundance of fascinating machinations that are yet to play out.
Penrith Panthers premiership odds
Will the week off help or hinder such a young side?
In 2016 we saw how the break helped freshen up the old legs in the Cronulla side and help them to charge towards a premiership.
The Penrith Panthers had played 19 straight weeks of footy, and the smart money always says having the week off is better, but will the week off upset their rhythm and hurt their preparation?
Do the likes of Jarome Luai, Stephen Crichton, Dylan Edwards, Moses Leota and Brent Naden have too much time to overplay the game in their heads?
It will be must-watch television as we learn this week just how good a coach Ivan Cleary is.
In 2014 he had a young team in the same position and they produced their flattest performance of the year to lose a preliminary final 18-12 to Canterbury.
That team was a fairy tale side full of youngsters also, so how Cleary prepares his side will be a huge factor in them making or missing the decider.
A word of advice should they make the Grand Final: back Nathan Cleary to win the Clive Churchill Medal.
Don’t overthink it, don’t try to be the smartest person in the room – he is the $5 favourite for a reason.
A Penrith player would have to put in a stupidly good performance to take it away from him, as the medal has a reputation for being a narrative-based award.
Melbourne Storm premiership odds
Who knew playing a preliminary final away from home would be such an advantage?
By know we all know about the Melbourne Storm‘s fantastic record at Suncorp Stadium, but they do face their bogey team in the Raiders.
Canberra did them in round three this year and famously won the qualifying final in the dying moments last season.
Another hurdle Melbourne will have to overcome is the lingering knee injury of their star five-eighth, Cameron Munster, who looked to have hurt it badly in the qualifying final against Parramatta but is expected to play against the Raiders.
The rehab around the clock will make it a tough preparation for not just Munster but the entire team, who will have to use Ryley Jacks in all of their ball-work sessions.
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Another big issue for the Storm is the availability of star forward Dale Finucane, who has had his dramas with a calf issue and is rated a long shot at best to play this week.
He has been a key cog in five different journeys to the big dance, so the Storm have to go deep into their forward rotation to cover that loss.
They are a short price to win the premiership, and justifiably so, and it will be an enormous disappointment if they cannot get the job done against the Raiders.
The $8 for Cameron Smith to win the Clive Churchill Medal is a fantastic price for the same reason as Nathan Cleary, as someone will have to set records on the night to take the medal away from him if the Storm are to win it all.
Canberra Raiders premiership odds
Is there a team neutral fans love more than the Canberra Raiders?
Some teams are unlikeable, but they’d have to be the antithesis of that.
How you could not love a team with some scrappy but classy Pommies, an outstanding five-eighth, the best prop in the game, a deep forward pack and a fullback who plays with more heart and desire than anyone in the NRL?
Their win against the Roosters would have been much more comfortable had it been against any of at least 12 other clubs, but they never seriously looked like losing and maintained the rage for the full 80 minutes.
The performances of Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine blew the Roosters apart in the middle, and they will have to at least match that effort if the Raiders are upset Melbourne this weekend.
Canberra are the Storm’s bogey side and have fared extremely well against them in recent years, so they could a psychological edge.
They have no major injury worries heading into the game, although the game-day interstate travel will put a strain on their preparation.
The Raiders have a good following in South-East Queensland thanks to the likes of Mal Meninga, Gary Belcher, Gary Coyne, Sam Backo and Peter Jackson in the ’80s golden era, so there should be a good roll up to cheer them on.
Josh Papalii at $26 looks to be outstanding value for the Clive Churchill Medal betting if you like Canberra to win this weekend.
Jack Wighton is the shortest-priced Raider at $13, but he is battling history as no player has won the award back-to-back.
South Sydney Rabbitohs premiership odds
Wayne Bennett has learned a thing or two across 34 seasons as a head coach at the highest level, and he might be in the midst of one of his best coaching efforts in the last decade.
He took it extremely easy on his South Sydney Rabbitohs squad during the COVID break, and that led to some flat performances against good teams in the weeks after the restart.
In our game previews between rounds five and nine, we stated many times it was a ‘get healthy’ period as they battled some injuries and general match fitness.
They had a soft stretch and won four of the five games they would have expected to win, and their season has rolled on from there.
Souths are 9-2 in their last 11 games and have run up the score at will against anyone in their path.
Momentum is sometimes a bit of a fallacy when it comes to sport, and especially the NRL Finals, but are the Rabbitohs proving to be the exception to the rule?
The form of Adam Reynolds, Cody Walker, Damien Cook and Corey Allan is beyond absurd as they continue to have parties against opposition defences, but can they do the same against the Panthers?
Penrith conceded just 11.9 points on average in the regular season but leaked 28 against the Roosters.
If the Panthers don’t regress back to the mean, it will open up an enormous chance for the Bunnies to turn it into a shootout.
They might be the sixth seed, but they have as good a case as anyone in this premiership race.
Reynolds and Walker are both at $17 to win the Clive Churchill Medal, but Allan at $81 is crazy money.
Even Cameron Murray at $41 is unreal, so there is plenty of value to be had if you think Souths can win it all.
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