And there it is, Souths will take on Penrith in the 2021 NRL Grand Final this Sunday after a pair of very different NRL Semi Finals.
Souths made short work of Manly on Friday night, blitzing them early before cruising to a comfortable victory as Wayne Bennett reaches another Grand Final.
It was a very different story on Saturday afternoon however as the Storm could not withstand the Queensland sunshine, or the relentless Panthers defence.
We’ve found five big takeaways from the two games this weekend as we examine the build up to Sunday’s decider.
1 – Souths Will Need Another Fast Start
It might not have been the prettiest of tries but Souths scoring first on Friday night set the tone for the whole game.
The Bunnies controlled the game from the outset and built a 22-0 lead as Manly was forced to chase the game.
Boasting the competition’s second best attack and having scored 99 more points than the Panthers during the season, Souths best path to victory will be taking an early lead and turning the game into a track meeting.
They won’t want a repeat of the arm wrestle from the first week of the finals, that much is certain.
2 – Manly Ran Out Of Petrol
2021 produced several ridiculous highs for Manly and plenty of low points as well, but they just weren’t ready to answer the bell come kickoff Friday night.
If you believe in omens, Manly getting stuck in traffic on the way to Milton, forcing the game to be delayed, was a pretty big indicator that it wouldn’t be their night.
Reuben Garrick and Tom Trbojevic did their best to try and spark a comeback but the tries to Campbell Graham and Jaxson Paulo made sure that there would be no miracle turnaround.
3 – Defence Wins Championships
Want to know why Penrith are entering the NRL Grand Final as favourites?
Defence, plain and simple.
Not from one player, but the whole team.
Every time the Storm had been held under 20 points this year, they lost.
It’s just that doing that was so damn difficult, only a few teams were able to.
Penrith did it twice, as did Parramatta.
Their path to victory in the Grand Final is simple, keep Souths under 20 points as well and play the game on their terms.
Should they be able to do that and turn it into a low scoring, grind of a contest, don’t be surprised if the Clive Churchill Medal goes to someone as a reward for their defensive efforts.
Api Koroisau tallied 51 tackles on Saturday and Kurt Capwell logged 50.
If they can do that again and score a try, there’s a good case to be made.
4 – Melbourne Peaked in July
There can be no question that Melbourne were unstoppable during the 2021 NRL season as they chased another premiership.
Having recorded several insanely one sided results such as belting Souths 50-0, the Roosters 46-0 and the Tigers 66-0, most assumed they would waltz to a Premiership despite several injuries.
The bubble began to shake in a 22-10 loss to the Eels a month ago and it burst on Saturday evening at Suncorp Stadium.
Even when trailing 10-0 with 20 to play, you kind of assumed the Storm would find a way to break Penrith’s hearts (again).
When Papenhuyzen crossed, the comeback was on but Penrith just would not allow themselves to be breached again.
In the end though, it was just asking too much of a Storm side that had clearly peaked in the middle of the season.
Of course if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic about the Storm in 2022, you know Bellamy will be going off about the fade out from day one of preseason.
5 – A Chance for Revenge
For the fourth time this year, the Panthers and Souths will face off, but this will quite obviously be the biggest clash.
Penrith claimed both regular season meetings, including a 56-12 embarrassment in late May, but Souths beat them at their own game in the first round of the NRL Finals.
Whichever way you spin it there is a measure of revenge on the line this Sunday, while the apparent hostility between both coaches will only add further spice to the meeting.
This is what they had to say after their last meeting.
There is a chance the press conferences this week will be as entertaining as the actual game.