I thought Souths were gone without Latrell. Now I’ve got them winning the decider

Here we go! A great grand final at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday night between South Sydney and Penrith. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each side.

Why Souths can win

When Latrell Mitchell was suspended for the rest of the season, I assumed South Sydney would go out in straight sets.

What. An. Idiot. Wrong again.

I underestimated Wayne Bennett. I underestimated the toughness and will of the players. But, most of all, I underestimated the South Sydney spirit.

For me, their big advantage in this match is they are a lot fresher.

They rested players in the last round, then went to war with Penrith in the first week of the finals, had a week off, then beat Manly in what I’d describe as a club game.

They’re much fresher than Penrith.

Their only injury concern is the groin of captain and halfback Adam Reynolds, which by all accounts will be fine. They need him to kick goals.

It’s also his last match for the club: subconsciously, that will be in his teammates’ minds.

As for Bennett, it’s no fluke they have reached the decider on his watch.

The decider … Rival halfbacks Nathan Cleary and Adam Reynolds will do battle for the NRL premiership trophy on Saturday.Credit:Getty, Getty

Like Bart Cummings preparing Melbourne Cup winners, he just knows how to prepare teams to peak for the big occasion. He knows how to teach individuals the how and the why, peaking at the right time.

Souths were a team that put 60 per cent of its effort into attack, 40 per cent into defence, but they’ve flipped it since Latrell’s suspension.

Their aggressive, fast-moving defence has got them into this grand final, led by Cameron Murray, Keaon Koloamatangi and Jaydn Su’A and the big joker in the pack, Jai Arrow, coming off the bench. He’s been sensational.

Most importantly, halves Cody Walker and Reynolds know each other’s game so well.

If Souths are to win, two players stand out for the Clive Churchill Medal: Walker and Murray.

Why Penrith can win

The Panthers are coming into the grand final with a huge injury cloud hanging over them.

Tevita Pangai jnr has been ruled out while winger Brian To’o, props James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota, fullback Dylan Edwards and halfback Nathan Cleary are all carrying injuries.

Coach Ivan Cleary didn’t rest players in the last round, then they had their dogfight with Souths in week one of the finals, then another against Parramatta, then last week’s game against the Storm was the toughest finals match I’ve seen in a very long time. They took baseball bats to each other.

Souths also get an extra day to recover because they played last Friday night and Penrith played on the Saturday. It doesn’t sound like much but, at this time of year, it’s huge.

Psychologically, last year would’ve hurt the Panthers. They were the best team all year and fell at the final hurdle – but they would’ve learned a lot.

Being in camp in Queensland will help them, being out of the spotlight.

What also helps them is that much of this squad has played together since they were 14 and 15 years old. They would’ve dreamed and spoken about this moment.

Souths contained Penrith in the first week of the finals, and earning the week off should see them do it again.Credit:Getty

The key man for the Panthers is Isaah Yeo. His work around the middle of the field is so important to them.

Their one try against the Storm that came from ball movement was instigated by him. He releases Cleary on that right side and Jarome Luai on the left.

Other key aspects for Penrith are Cleary’s kicking game and the trickery on either side of the ruck from hooker Api Koroisau, who against Melbourne had his best game of the year.

He’s either working over the opposition’s big men or creating attack with his no-look passes.

Should Penrith win, the standouts for Clive Churchill Medallist are Cleary and Yeo.

Day-time thinking

The success of the Penrith-Storm preliminary final has rekindled the talk of a day-time grand final.

I know we recall the past through rose-coloured glasses, but the afternoon kick-off was great.

The 2001 decider between the Knights and Parramatta was the first night grand final. We didn’t get back to Newcastle until 1.30am.

Playing of a night makes a significant difference to how the game is played.

If it’s dewy, I would totally change the way I attacked the opposition.

I’d play more conservative, concentrate on my kicking game, be conscious of not throwing close balls in the defensive line, and it was really hard to move the ball laterally.

Sometimes, you can’t catch the ball when it’s away from your body when it’s wet. Things slow down half a second and that gives the defensive line more time to move up on you.

I love the idea of a day-time grand final but I tell you what I like more: a day-time State of Origin match.

I cannot describe how great an Origin would be during the day. For me, make it game two, which is the most important one of the series.

A Sunday afternoon stand alone with a 3pm or 4pm kickoff. You would see the game of your life.

The verdict

I like Souths in a really close grand final. I keep looking at how much fresher they are than Penrith.

And Bennett’s got them peaking at the right time.

JOEY’S TIP: Souths by 4.
FIRST TRYSCORER: Alex Johnston.
CLIVE CHURCHILL MEDAL: Cam Murray.

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