The competitive nature of this season is leaving many clubs in the lower half of the top-eight questioning where their campaigns took a wrong turn.
Parramatta is one such team, their season teetering on the brink shortly after it kicked off. It’s often the close games that dictate final ladder positions and Parramatta experienced a tough start to the year, losing their first three encounters with the Storm, Sharks and Sea Eagles only by a margin of four points each. After a strong midseason streak that returned them to the top-eight, it is clear even now how severe the impact of that early-time cluster of losses was.
Parramatta’s season was further troubled by suspensions, with key players Ryan Matterson, Dylan Brown, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, and Maika Sivo having spent a significant portion of the year on the bench. Add to that the recent injury of Mitchell Moses, and it rounds off a disastrous season for the Eels.
With the end of their campaign in sight, how can the Eels bring their A-game for the final match of the season? Personally, I foresee a struggle. On Thursday night, it’s likely the Panthers will overpower them.
Concerns were raised about Penrith’s form after a shaky performance against the Titans last week, but once they find their rhythm, they prove to be a difficult team to contain.
In his 100th NRL game this week, back-rower Liam Martin continues to impress. His partnership on field with his playmakers and his ability to score tries from Nathan Cleary‘s kicks have been nothing short of extraordinary.
Zac Hosking, another formidable back-rower, has been one of the season’s most compelling narratives. Being consistent and delivering each week, his tale provides a beacon of hope for those players who feel their chance at glory might be slipping away.
One of the most anticipated battles of the season should be the spot of the middle men, with James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota from Panthers going up against Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo from Parramatta.
The return of Brian To’o to the wing for Penrith is noteworthy and I find it hard to envision Penrith being defeated at home. With the strongest back five in the competition, this should result in a significant victory for the Panthers.
Dylan Edwards could have been a leading player in any other NRL generation, but his chances of playing representative football have been hard to come by, given he is competing against juggernauts such as James Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic, Latrell Mitchell, and many others for the coveted position. Despite this, his consistently high performances and his significant role in making the Penrith team incredibly tough to beat, makes me optimistic he’ll play representative footy one day.
If we glance over to Newcastle, the atmosphere after the Knights‘ win over the Rabbitohs was reminiscent of the club’s golden era. The club’s current form, reflected in their seven consecutive wins, has made the former team members and myself immensely proud.
One can credit a large part of the Knights‘ successful season to their unabashed display of heart and hunger in the field. Kalyn Ponga’s decision to skip State of Origin for his club has reaped dividends. Phenomenal performances from Ponga have been the driving force behind their success.
The upcoming weekend will prove crucial for many teams and individuals alike. From the Roosters’ perspective, it’s necessary to mould their future around Sam Walker, as they hope to make a late entry to the finals. Similarly imperative is the return of Ryan Papenhuyzen for the Storm against the Titans, after a year’s hiatus.