Meaningless NRL Review: 2020 Preliminary Finals

I have a cracking name for that Adam Reynolds kick at the end of Saturday night’s game…

The Fauxty-20

That’s not putting a foot out of line, that’s putting a toe out of line

Missed it by *THAT* much.

Anyway, here’s a great story for Sunday, that was rightfully recognised by the likes of

Brenko Lee.

Only plays 6 games for the 20-loss Titans team last season, doesn’t get offered a contract for 2020, then he has a two week stint at the Melbourne Rebels, which goes so poorly he contemplates giving away professional football at the age of 25.

Then he goes and signs for the Storm’s feeder club Easts Tigers in Brisbane, only to get offered a train-and-trial deal with the Storm in Melbourne over summer, then in January, he gets a Top 30 NRL contract with the Storm….

And now, after dodging suspension, he’s playing in an NRL Grand Final.

And he’s a very real chance of playing Origin for Queensland.

Craig Bellamy 2020, ladies and gentlemen.

Melbourne Storm 30 defeated Canberra 10 at Suncorp Stadium

Two weeks ago on that silly Semi Final preview, I half predicted whoever won that Roosters-Raiders final was a sitting duck for the Storm, given they were odds on to beat the crap out of each other, and as it turned out, the Raiders came out on Friday night, and played like a team who had played their Grand Final a week before.

You can point the finger at Pistol Peter V’Landys and the NRL for firing blanks in their negotiations with the Queensland Government over the Raiders travel plans, but all that did was give Ricky Stuart an excuse for the fact that he didn’t bring on Tom Starling until the game was lost…

Then again, Ricky didn’t bother using it in that one answer, 2-minute press conference, probably because the team had to immediately leave the state, not before he popped back to the sheds and knocked back a few stubbies with Craig Bellamy.

No major recognition of what Johnny Bateman had done for the club in a mere 34 games, just the usual coachspeak, while Johnny was off bawling his eyes out on live television.

But stuff that, because this game wasn’t about the Raiders getting stuck on the tarmac in their twin-engine Cessna, this game was about a super performance from a super team, who effectively had a Grand Final qualifier won inside of 10 minutes.

And they say Preliminary Finals are the hardest games to win.

Of course, most of the crowd didn’t see that burst of 3 tries in 5 minutes, because Ticketek managed the rare nationwide server failure and left several thousand people to cram like sardines waiting to get in.

One person coughs in that crowd, and it’s an outbreak resembling the Death Star explosion

So in short, the game was pretty much over the moment Suliasi Vunivalu took the piss out of Jarrod Croker and Nick Cotric on the right edge, capping off the 5 minutes of mayhem to make it 16-0.

It was over when Justin Olam flew in to score when the Raiders couldn’t deal with the bouncing grubber, making it 24-0 after 24 minutes.

It was also over when the Raiders bombed 3 consecutive scoring chances in the 2nd Half (Poor old Johnny Bateman and Jordan Rapana had ‘mares) , and Dale Finucane capped off his 200th game by scoring a try.

Random thought – Dale Finucane debuted for Canterbury in 2012, and he’s on to play his 6th Grand Final in 9 seasons; 2012, 2014, 2016-17-18, and 2020.

The sad part is he’s only won 1 of the previous 5.

And, the game was definitely over when Old Man Cam Smith, with his 37-year-old skeleton rattling away, ran a solid 60m from the marker to keep up with the Raiders break down the right edge, and took down Cotric in a try-saver on the goal-line, and to cap it off, forced a knock on.

Cameron Smith didn’t get chaired off Lang Park because it might be his last game at The Graveyard, he got chaired off because of how damn good that tackle was.

Bravo Smithy.

You know, for all the praise about the Raiders getting to a Prelim with their adversity of having to travel on gameday, and dealing with key injuries all year, which got the collective recognition it deserved, let’s consider this:

The Melbourne Storm were forced to leave Victoria on the 22nd of June.

Behind the New Zealand Warriors, they’ve been away from home longer than any other team.

By the time the NRL Grand Final is played next week, the Storm will have officially been interstate FOR 4 MONTHS.

And yet, unlike about 14 other teams, who were actually allowed to sleep in their own beds, they’re into another Grand Final.

If there’s any room on Craig Bellamy’s cap for a couple more feathers, this season would be one.

Although, by the looks of it, Smithy probably needs them more.

Penrith 20 defeated South Sydney 18 at ANZ Stadium

And thus, the 2020 Panthers march into their first Grand Final in 17 years, having equalled the 2002 Bulldogs on 17 consecutive wins, the equal-best winning streak in the NRL era, and they didn’t even need to cheat the salary cap to get there.

In fact, they’re actually paying a combined $600,000 to 3 clubs – Waqa Blake and Regan Campbell-Gillard at Parra ($500,000), and Catalans Dragons for James Maloney ($100,000).

Bah, compared to that Dogs team, the Panthers are amateurs at gamesmanship.

Where’s the brown paper bags, the two sets of books, the questionable third-party deals?


Anyway, while that Bulldogs team will forever wear a big fat asterisk, this Panthers team will go into a Grand Final as a young team riding one of the biggest waves of momentum ever seen, against the standout team of the last 15 years.

They did plenty wrong on Saturday night – Viliame Kikau’s absence was felt with Kurt Capewell’s granite hands, Jarome Luai not passing for what would’ve been a try, Mansour’s forward pass, Cleary’s rainbow for Brian To’o, but what they lacked in attack, they made up for by shutting down the likes of Damien Cook and Cody Walker, and that was the difference.

At the same time that he apparently leaks the Dally M results, Buzz Rothfield can’t help but note the similarities between these Panthers and the 2003 Panthers.

Set the club record for wins, Minor Premiers, a father as coach in his second year (John Lang, Ivan Cleary), with his son in the team (Martin Lang, Nathan Cleary), the No.7 who got denied the Dally M (Craig Gower & Nathan Cleary), and a veteran forward going to Wests Tigers next year (Scott Sattler and James Tamou).

So that said, I think we can expect to see Tamou mow down Josh Addo-Carr and take him out of play about an hour into Sunday evening.

As for Souths, the Wayne Bennett era at Redfern ends with the Rabbits completing the hat-trick of Preliminary Final defeats, each one even more agonising than the last.

8 points in 2018, 6 points in 2019, and now 4 points in 2020.

The funny thing is, compared to ’18 and ’19, even getting to a Prelim this year was a case of overachieving, considering they only finished 6th and struggled to build form during the season.

The obvious problem was the season-ending injuries to surefire starters like Latrell Mitchell, Ethan Lowe (Who was officially medically retired in the hour after the game), Tommy Amone, James Roberts and Braidon Burns, plus Campbell Graham was withdrawn on Friday morning, further hammering the Rabbits’ already weakened forward pack.

And yet, even with their remaining star players struggling and seemingly running on fumes, they got within 5 points of reaching a Grand Final and knocking off a team who hadn’t lost for 4 months.

I stand corrected – Reaching a Prelim wasn’t overachieving, it was another goddang Bennett coaching miracle.

In summation, looking at just how close Adam Reynolds came to that pearler of a 40/20, I can only think of a timeless quote from Fatty Vautin in August of 2019 that should sum up Souths’ night.

“Couple of inches short, story of my life.”

From the NRL on Nine Twitter

Penrith – I feel whelmed by them.

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