Watch Penrith and South Sydney go head-to-head in this year’s NRL Grand Final live on Sky Sports Mix and Main Event from 8.30am on Sunday (kick-off 9.30am)
By Sky Sports Rugby League
Last Updated: 01/10/21 3:59pm
The biggest prize in Australian rugby league is up for grabs on Sunday as Penrith Panthers and South Sydney Rabbitohs face off in the NRL Grand Final.
It will be a Grand Final with a difference as the Covid-19 pandemic has forced its relocation from its traditional Sydney home to Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, with attendance being capped at 75 per cent capacity.
That will not diminish the occasion for either team, however, with the Panthers aiming to go one better than last year’s final defeat to Melbourne Storm and the Rabbitohs eyeing a 22nd premiership.
October 3, 2021, 8:30am
The match is live on Sky Sports Mix and Main Event from 8.30am, and here we take a look at some talking points and team news ahead of the NRL’s showpiece game…
Experience and youth come to fore for Rabbitohs
South Sydney have plenty of experience to rely on in their quest to lift the Provan-Summons Trophy for the first time since 2014.
At the helm is Wayne Bennett, with the former England head coach aiming for his eighth Australian title after previously guiding Brisbane Broncos and St George Illawarra Dragons to the prize.
Then coming off the interchange bench is Benji Marshall, the 36-year-old who won the NRL title with Wests Tigers way back in 2005 and has proven to be a super-sub for the Rabbitohs in 2021 at this late stage of his career.
- Regular season: Finished third
- Qualifying final: Penrith Panthers (W 16-10)
- Preliminary final: Manly Sea Eagles (W 36-16)
“I’ve had five shoulder reconstructions at a young age, I’ve missed 70 games through injury throughout my career so to bounce back from that for me is one of the things I’m most proud of,” Marshall said.
“I’ve probably had to change my game as I’ve gotten older to play a lot smarter and not so flashy.”
At the other end of the scale for the Bunnies is Blake Taaffe, with the full-back set to become the most inexperienced Grand Finalist in history with just seven previous NRL appearances to his name.
The 22-year-old has seized his opportunity since getting an opportunity when Latrell Mitchell was hit with a season-ending suspension and is aiming to emulate his grandfather Kevin Longbottom, who was a premiership winner in the No 1 shirt with Souths in 1967.
“It hasn’t really sunk in and I’m still pinching myself,” Taaffe said. “The goal this year was to make my debut and everything after that has been a massive achievement for myself and my family.”
Cleary: Tough situations have helped Panthers
Rewind 12 months and Penrith were heading into the NRL Grand Final on the back of an incredible 17-game unbeaten run which took them through to the decider against the Storm.
That run came to an end as Melbourne triumphed 26-20 at ANZ Stadium, but the Panthers put that loss firmly to the back of their minds in this year’s preliminary final as they battled past the same opponents 10-6.
Ivan Cleary’s men must now overturn an earlier defeat to the Rabbitohs, having gone down 16-10 to Souths in the qualifying final on September 11.
- Regular season: Finished second
- Qualifying final: South Sydney Rabbitohs (L 16-10)
- Semi-final: Parramatta Eels (W 8-6)
- Preliminary final: Melbourne Storm (W 10-6)
But head coach Cleary believes the challenges the team have faced this year will stand them in good stead as they aim for their first NRL title since 2003 and third overall.
“This year the whole journey has been totally different for us,” Cleary said. “It was pretty plain sailing last year.
“We hadn’t lost for four months before the Grand Final and had hardly any injuries, whereas this year we have had a bit of everything.
“We feel like it helps us and it has certainly helped us the last couple of weeks in tough situations and I think historically any team that has done any good has had good defence.
“We have worked very hard on it and I am sure it is going to help us on Sunday.”
Penrith are without mid-season signing Tevita Pangai Jnr due to an MCL injury, but Dylan Edwards, Brian To’o, James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota are expected to feature after being named in the provisional starting XIII.
Souths head coach Bennett has named an unchanged 17 from the team which beat Manly Sea Eagles in the preliminary final, although there is some concern over whether skipper Adam Reynolds will be able to kick due to a minor injury.
Penrith Panthers: Dylan Edwards; Stephen Crichton, Paul Momirovski, Matt Burton, Brian To’o; Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary; Moses Leota, Apisai Koroisau, James Fisher-Harris, Viliame Kikau, Kurt Capewell, Isaah Yeo.
Interchange: Tyrone May, Scott Sorensen, Spencer Leniu, Liam Martin.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Blake Taaffe; Alex Johnston, Dane Gagai, Campbell Graham, Jaxson Paulo; Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds; Mark Nicholls, Damien Cook, Tevita Tatola, Keaon Koloamatangi, Jaydn Su’A, Cameron Murray.
Interchange: Benji Marshall, Jacob Host, Tom Burgess, Jai Arrow.