The best two teams of the year have emerged as fitting combatants in the 2020 NRL Grand Final with minor premier Penrith lining up against the Melbourne Storm. This could potentially be the swansong of one of the game’s greatest ever players, Cameron Smith after 430 games for the Storm spanning 19 seasons. Both teams have earned their places in the biggest game of the year and both have undeniable chances to take the title. Penrith’s string of 17 straight wins is a truly remarkable effort but it will be nothing more than an impressive statistic to drag out in future years if they lose Sunday night’s GF. Penrith finished five points clear of the field, highlighting their dominance in 2020 and giving them a shot at the club’s first premiership since 2003. Melbourne dropped four games during the season but they have a lot of finals experience in their side and a grand final winning coach in Craig Bellamy, the ultimate professional who will have a game-plan geared at breaking down the Panthers. Melbourne have played in three recent grand finals in 2016-17-18 winning two of them so Bellamy has the formula for success. The Sydney Roosters (552) scored the most points in 2020 but Penrith (238) and Melbourne (276) were the two best defensive sides all year backing up the old saying “defence wins matches”. There only meeting during the season went to Penrith 21-14 in round 6 after big Villame Kikau scored a late try so there is not a lot between these two quality football sides.
Unfortunately, Sydney’s unpredictable weather is threatening to put a dampener on the game with rain forecast over the weekend. There were reports Penrith have been training with soapy Steeden footballs to help prepare for the expected slippery conditions on Sunday. A wet track could favour Melbourne although these two sides are so full of quality players this game could come down to a touch of brilliance, an error of judgement or a stroke of luck. Nerves will be an issue for a number of Penrith players but they haven’t cracked yet and their go-to man Nathan Cleary has been the iceman in the big games and big moments.
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Penrith Panthers v Melbourne Storm
ANZ Stadium, Sydney | 7:30 PM (AEST)
Penrith Panthers – The Panthers have produced one of the best seasons’s in history losing just one game all year and winning 17 games straight to make It to their first grand final since 2003. They needed to be the real deal last weekend to hold off South Sydney 20-16 and they will need to take it up another notch against Melbourne who blew Canberra off their park in their qualifying final. Penrith has not flinched all season and their defence has been the best in the competition. Halfback Nathan Cleary has been the star with his leadership. His running and deft kicking game have been outstanding heading into the finals and his ability to come up with the big players, either by running the ball, chipping, kicking to wing supports or putting a big player through a hole is a joy to watch. Penrith has unearthed another star in centre Stephen Crichton who will be a real weapon against the Storm. He hit the scene this season with 15 tries in a breakout year that suggest he will be a superstar of our game in years to come. Crichton is a try-scoring machine and he crossed in eight consecutive games during Penrith’s record winning streak The Panthers have few of any weaknesses but this is a grand final and as the pressure builds, errors come into play. Defending the errors will be the key. Villame Kikau’s return from suspension is massive for the Panthers. The Fijian giant is a real weapon especially close to the line where Cleary can isolate him on a smaller defender. Coach Ivan Cleary, voted coach of the year through the week, sat Brent Naden on the bench for the entire game against Souths but has elected to start him in the grand final given the possibility of a wet track There is not a position on the field where Penrith can’t hold their own against Melbourne. They have played for each other all year and got the job done. They will not die wondering on Sunday that is for sure.
Melbourne Storm – Melbourne don’t need the motivation of Cameron Smith’s farewell game, if it is, to drive them to a premiership win, but if it is his swansong, and he has told his teammates privately, they will certainly find something special when the going gets tough, and you know it will. Smith will play his 430 NRL game in 19 seasons and after being chaired from the field last weekend you get the feeling the curtain is hanging over his head. This game though is about way more than Smith. Coach Craig Bellamy has been to three GF’s in the past four years and won two of them. He is master tactician, highly skilled at getting players to do tasks as part of his game plan. Breaking down Melbourne’s structures is not easy and as they showed last weekend against Canberra when they get momentum they can score points freely. Smith generates a lot of the go forward with his game out of dummy half. He may be older but the service he provides looks as good if not better at times. When Smith, No.6 Cameron Munster, fullback Ryan Papnehuyzen and halfback Jahrome Hughes get working things are bound to happen. Winger Josh “The Fox” Addo-Carr is a real dangerman also with his blistering speed. Rated the game’s fastest runner, The Fox scored 15 tries this season, many of them from inside his own half and Penrith will need to be very wary of him especially in broken play when he takes off like Lamborghini. I really the look of Melbourne’s bench which is not to say Penrith’s bench isn’t strong. But with the likes of wild child Brandon Smith, young giant Tino Fassuamaleaui, Dale Finucane and Nicho Hynes coach Bellamy has all bases covered should something go wrong at any stage. With props Jessie Bromwich and Christian Welch, Melbourne has the biggest lock in the world in Nelson Asofa-Solomona, who makes Jason Taumalolo look small by comparison. If at any stage Asofa-Solomona and Villame Kikau collide you will feel the tremor in the ANZ Stadium stands. This looks a great grand final showdown that hopefully with produce one of the great finishes.