The stage is set for a thrilling preliminary final between the high flying Penrith Panthers and the red hot South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Penrith booked their spot with a thrilling one-point win over the Roosters in the first week of the finals.
Whilst the Rabbitohs continued on their winning ways dispatching Parramatta last weekend, despite trailing early.
There has been much to be excited about this year at the foot of the mountains.
The current stars such as Cleary, Luai, Kikau, and others have no doubt evoked memories of the dominant Panther sides of the early 90s when the likes of Alexander, Geyer, and Fittler propelled the Panthers to glory.
Penrith last tasted premiership success in 2003 in an upset against the Roosters.
The Panthers should be well-rested, fresh, and ready to go after their week off.
However, the loss of Kikau is significant. Whilst Capewell is a good player, he doesn’t possess the game-breaking ability of Kikau.
Finals time and its Wayne’s time! The Bart Cummings of the NRL has his troops firing at the right time of the year.
After a sluggish first half last week, the Rabbitohs roared home in the second half to completely demolish the Eels.
Whilst the Rabbitohs are very unpredictable in attack, they also have some excellent structures and set pieces.
Last week, Cook really clicked into gear and was dangerous every time he touched the ball. Their unheralded pack continues to get the job done.
For Penrith, they will look to capitalize on their fast play the balls provided by Fisher-Harris, Yeo, and co.
Look for some early shifts to try and unsettle the Rabbitohs defence.
The markers and A defenders for the Bunnies will need to on their toes as Koroisau can really damage the opposition around the ruck.
South’s will be hoping to get out of the blocks quickly. If they do, look for Reynolds to turn the screws with his kicking game.
Look for Walker to again bob up on both sides of the ruck or late in the half, slicing back through the middle looking to link with Cook.
The Bunnies will feel comfortable having to chase points if needed. Especially given their attack.
However, a strong start may create issues for the young Panthers, many of whom are inexperienced in NRL finals.
In saying that, many players in the squad have had decorated junior and lower grade careers.
Such a difficult game to pick. Penrith has been unbelievably dominant this season and are deserved favourites.
However, the Rabbitohs are such a dangerous side and restricting points will be a massive assignment for the young Panthers.
Tipping the Rabbitohs to sneak home, with no real confidence.
After missing out last week, for those that are punting – either team under 8.5 looks a great play, as does the Bunnies at the start.
I know it sounds harsh, but there is a huge contradiction present in the Rugby League community where so-called fans still seem to have this racist mentality, yet follow our great game full of multiculturalism, talent and pride amongst its athletes.
The NRL as an organisation does so much to promote an inclusive culture of pride and cultural acceptance, free from racism and domestic violence within the sport, and I like to think they do a pretty good job.
However, for some reason in 2020, where we have seen so much change in the world and sport alone when it comes to racism, it is still a problem.
Particularly in Australia, we have not been shy of controversy within sport, which we have a supposed “pride and nationalism” in. Let’s take these examples:
– 1996. Hazem El-Masri makes his debut as Australia’s first Muslim Rugby League player. Throughout the 2000s, he was subject to a lot of racism through (unrelated, mind you) events such as the Bali Bombings, Salary Cap scandal, Cronulla Riots and yet he remained graceful and tact through these times where he was unfairly chastised in both the fandom of NRL as well as negative press by the media.
– 2010, the year which Timana Tahu withdrew from the State of Origin after reportedly hearing Andrew Johns call Greg Inglis a “Bl*** C***”. Not only had Tahu walked out in protest and spoke publicly of the issue, but Johns was also pressured to resign as the NSW coach.
– 2013, the year when Adam Goodes became more vocal in his addressing of issues of racism in Aussie sport and was met with the “Booing Saga” which followed him in the crowd at his subsequent AFL matches. The year a 13-year old yelled out an insult to him from the crowd and caused a media uproar. Who was forced to retire in 2015 due to having time away from the game to deal with these issues which unfairly pummelled him and overshadowed his career.
– 2019. Latrell Mitchell cops an on-slew of abuse on social media from trolls which almost pushes him out of the game. He bravely stands up and helps push the #RacismStopsWithMe movement after Mitchell became sick of the casual racism which fans continue to think is okay.
Now, these are only four examples in Australian sport of some of our greatest stars having to withstand the toxicity which remains in our crowds and sporting fans.
But quite simply, if you’re going to be racist, you don’t deserve to watch Rugby League. You are not a fan.
– 12% of our NRL players in first grade are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island background.
– 24% of our Australian Kangaroos side have Indigenous backgrounds.
– Did you know, over 45% of the NRL is made up of players with Polynesian heritage? That’s almost 1 in 2 top graders.
– 116 countries are the birthplaces of our first-grade athletes, whose parents come from 144 countries around the globe.
The NRL Indigenous Round is one way the NRL has dedicated space to recognise the contributions of our Indigenous brothers and sisters to our game, both on and off the field.
It’s also a time the NRL can highlight some key social issues Indigenous people face and how we as a community can work to change them.
Recently with the Black Lives Matter movement reaching our shores from the USA, we have seen players such as Blake Ferguson, Adam Reynolds, Josh Mansour and Cody Walker take lead in bringing this passion to our football fields to recognise the role multiculturalism has in our great game.
These players are just one example of individual-lead actions taken to create a more inclusive environment for all, and it wasn’t even some PR stunt organised by the NRL, but choices made by the players themselves to help stamp out hate in the community.
I am hoping that if you’re still reading this, you understand why I wanted you to hear me out on why I don’t think racists are entitled to watch the beautiful game of rugby league when their behaviour does not stand with the values and ethos set by the NRL and its players.
It is hypocritical to be calling your idols racist remarks or casually slandering other players because of their difference to you.
This was not meant to individually target anyone, but I just hope that talking about racism and multiculturalism right now while we celebrate the Indigenous round can help highlight why this time is so special to recognise the achievements and contributions which our Indigenous brothers and sisters have made.
Let’s just celebrate the game for what it is, a melting pot of talent and culture that can keep us crowds and fans in awe of the abilities these athletes replicate week in and week out for their fans, and their fellow teammates.
NRL players should be able to stand tall for their beliefs, cultures and values freely without any unwarranted abuse or attacks, and hopefully one day soon, we will get there!
The All Blacks v the Kangaroos. Rugby league v rugby union. Can you imagine it? Would you watch it? Are there other alternatives? Tiffany Salmond gives her thoughts on the potential match-up and more.
When I first heard the news of an All Blacks V Kangaroos cross-code show down, I wasn’t too sure how to feel about it.
The hype surrounding the match was due to the concept of two of the best teams in professional sport going at it in a headlining match for the ages – but that didn’t excite me.
To most people’s shock-horror, despite being a New Zealander; I’m not an All Blacks fan or a Union fan for that matter.
So the only redeeming quality of this spectacle was the high possibility of watching Rugbys’ beloved All Blacks getting torn to shreds by the Kangaroos impeccable backline.
This game meant bragging rights.
I’ve lost count of the heated debates I’ve had surrounding the age-old League VS Union argument so this announcement meant I’d have a few people eating their words… So I was all in!
Backing my code instead of my country may lead some to believe I’m a traitor but when it comes to our great game, I have dedicated my time to uplifting New Zealand Rugby League as it often doesn’t get a lot of support in this country.
My passion for NZ rugby league led me to consider what it would have meant for our game if the Kangaroos decided to play the Kiwis instead of giving the opportunity to an already flourishing team and organisation.
If anyone needed a lifeline right now, it was NZRL.
Even before Covid-19, the game could have done with more support but due to it being such a great product and with the support of dedicated people with a die-hard love for league, it survives.
Australia is one of the few countries where rugby league thrives and isn’t the under-dog in terms of popularity and public perception.
They arguably have the highest proportion of talent as well as owning the largest domestic competition in the world – the NRL.
Taking all of this into consideration, it’s fair to say Australia has a huge responsibility to help grow the game but sadly, as we can see with their decision to play the All Blacks for a cash-grab over another Rugby League team, it doesn’t appear to be a priority.
And here’s a thought; if the All Blacks are really wanting to go against the best in world rugby league, maybe they should be looking at booking a date with Tonga instead?
Now this isn’t the first time they’ve prioritised their own interest over the betterment of the game.
Last year, the Great Britain Lions played a test against every other country in the Oceania Cup – except for Australia.
The Kangaroos snubbed a test with the Great Britain Lions because they didn’t want it to interfere with their NRL duties.
On top of rejecting the Lions who were playing for the first time since 2007, the boys in green and gold refused to participate in the Oceania Cup until after the NRL Grand Final as they didn’t want to distract their players during the Origin period.
Before an international schedule can be finalised, it has to be run past major domestic leagues (NRL and Super League) and players unions before it can be confirmed.
With the NRL being the organisation which has the majority of international players on contracts, they have the monopoly and can pick and choose what suits them as they hold the power.
If rugby league is going to grow on the international stage, Australia needs to be on board to facilitate it.
The first step would be to lend a helping hand to their little brother New Zealand and play the Kiwis in the only international sports match the world will have the chance to witness in 2020.
Let’s put our game on show, because what better opportunity do we have than now when the whole world is watching?