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NRL Finals Week 1 Review: Panthers and Storm progress to prelims

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The end results were conventional, but the journey to the end of week one in the 2020 NRL finals was anything but.

If you had backed the outsider in every game to reach 10 points the quickest, you would have made a fortune.

For the first time in what feels like forever, there were no massive upsets in the opening round of the postseason.

That leaves us with a 2019 NRL Grand Final rematch and an intriguing contest between Parramatta and South Sydney to look forward to.

Panthers 2928 Roosters

This was one of the best finals games in many years – an absolute classic.

The young Penrith Panthers showed great poise after falling behind by 10 early and made a huge statement by scoring the next 28 straight against the two-time defending premiers.

It’s hard to win a game once, but the courage of the Roosters to fight back meant the Panthers had to dig even deeper and win it twice, and Nathan Cleary’s late field goal meant they did just enough.

When the competition resumed, it felt as if everyone was trying to find a way to get Matt Burton into the Panthers side at the expense of Jarome Luai.

Thank goodness they stuck with Luai, who is one of the most improved players in the NRL this year and announced himself as a potential superstar with a stunning first half of Friday night.

His deception with the ball that lead to Cleary’s third try just before half time was simply mesmerising, and he has rushed into $15 at Sportsbet.com.au to win the Clive Churchill Medal on the back of this game.

We picked the wrong Morris to cross the stripe first for what felt like the fifth time this year, but if anyone seriously had Cleary to score two or more tries, you are Nostradamus!

Raiders 3220 Sharks

How many of you were annoyed when Sione Katoa streaked away for an absolutely meaningless try to reduce the final margin to 12 points?

However, if you took our advice and put some cash at $8.50 on a Jack Wighton double, you’d have been jumping for joy regardless.

When the Canberra Raiders looked in a bit of bother at half time, it was Wighton who stood up and dragged them out of a hole before they put the hammer down on the Sharkies.

Cronulla did a lot right in the first half to make a game of it, starving Canberra of the footy and establishing an eight-point lead just before half time.

The crucial mistake that swung the game was Wade Graham’s interception to George Williams, which left the half-time margin at just four and took the wind went out of the Sharks’ sails.

The win sees the Green Machine move into $11 to win the title, and even though they have to travel to Sydney to play the Roosters in a semi-final, they should be full of confidence.

In round 10 they were paying more than $5 to win when they were struggling to field a side, so they get a golden chance against a Roosters outfit who look to be at a standing eight count.

Storm 3624 Eels

The first half of this game was absolute footy magic – end to end, physical, with skills at an insane level – but ultimately it told the story of the Parramatta Eels better than any award-winning author could.

When the passes were sticking and they were going the length of the field in transition to set up a 12-0 lead, the Eels looked red hot.

But once the Melbourne Storm settled and got a chance to find their rhythm, Parramatta couldn’t display enough patience and weren’t happy to do the one percenters for long periods.

Most teams would be over the moon after scoring 24 points in a final, but that total doesn’t mean much when you concede 36.

Coming up against South Sydney in the semis, Parra will have to show a huge improvement defensively if they are to have any chance.

Only five weeks ago they lost 38-0 to the Bunnies, while the scoreline on Saturday night underlines the questions surrounding the Eels defence.

While Melbourne won’t be happy with their performance overall, the fact they have a preliminary final at Suncorp Stadium against either the Roosters or Raiders will please them greatly.

Parra’s fast start killed a lot of punters’ hopes, spoiling the 13+ Storm win many had predicted.

Last week we pointed out the last two times the Storm finished second they made the Grand Final, so remember that tip for week three.

Rabbitohs 4620 Knights

At 14-0, Newcastle looked as if they were going to spring a huge upset at ANZ Stadium.

Then Mitchell Pearce decided to sledge Cody Walker, and the South Sydney Rabbitohs proceeded to outscore the Knights 46-8 from that moment.

Once they held onto the ball, the fluency with which Souths created points down their left edge will give Enari Tuala nightmares for years to come.

It was one of the strangest first halves all season, looking at one point like a touch footy game or a training run; but once Souths hit their straps, they never looked like losing.

The South Sydney spine was streets ahead of Newcastle on the day, and it proved just how important it is to have continuity in those key positions.

Newcastle have struggled to keep the same spine on the field all season for a number of reasons, which is part of the reason we pointed to the 13+ margin for Souths paying $2.25.

So impressive was the Bunnies’ attacking performance, they will start as clear favourites against Parramatta.

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