JT’s Random NRL Picks: 2021 Preliminary Finals

So ahead of the penultimate weekend of the season, I looked back at the first two nights of the Dally M Awards and the count for the Dally M Medal, and for those of you who lost track of it, they spoiled the eventual Top 5, with Nathan Cleary leading on 24 votes at the end of Round 19, which is impressive considering he’d only played 12 games up to that point of the season, but just one vote behind him, Tom Trbojevic had played only 10 games for Manly up until Round 19, after missing the first 5 games due to his hamstring issues, and being rested at various points of the season.

Considering Cody Walker in 3rd is 7 votes back on Cleary, you’d have to assume that either the son of Ivan or Tommy Turbo will be taking out the award, which will be history right there, because outside of Jack Wighton last year, who had the obvious excuse of a pandemic shortened season, every Dally M Medal winner has played at least 20 home & away games.

Cleary played 16 games for Penrith, and Tommy Turbo played only 15 games, and the precise reason that Tommy Turbo is a near shoe in to have that medal around his neck on Monday night is because Cleary missed Rounds 20 & 21 due to his shoulder injury, while on the other hand:

“Between rounds 20 and 25, Trbojevic played five games and won four of them, scoring 10 tries, dishing off 11 try assists, running for 225 metres per game and racking up an astonishing 53 tackle breaks.”

And if he doesn’t win it, well, to quote Geoff Toovey:

Total Score = 150/198

Picks are Underlined

South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Manly Sea Eagles at Suncorp Stadium, Friday 7:50pm AEST

For the first time since 2013, Souths and Manly will clash in a Preliminary Final, and not too dissimilar to this year, Souths went into that Prelim with the week off as Manly had to come in via the Semi Finals, and despite Souths leading 14-0 after 15 minutes, the old Silvertails pulled the rug out from underneath Rusty and shattered the Rabbits 30-20, thanks in part to David ‘Wolfman’ Williams pulling off an all-time finals try:

Since then, Souths have won both finals between the teams – the 2014 Qualifying Final and the 2019 Semi Final.

Rugbaleeg historians can state that the simmering hatred between Souths and Manly started with the Grand Finals in 1968 and 1970, the second decider being best remembered for a bloodied John Sattler leading Souths to victory with a broken jaw inflicted by a John Bucknall king hit, followed by Ken Arthurson’s player raids on Redfern a few years later that changed the fortunes of both clubs forever, as Manly finally ended their premiership drought in 1972, and after winning their 4th premiership in 5 years in 1971, Souths wouldn’t even appear in a Grand Final until 2014 as they were financially obliterated by pretty much everyone, and it took Russell Crowe to change that fact.

However, I’d argue one of the earlier historical starting points for this Rabbits-Silvertails feud was 1951, when Manly played in their first Grand Final since entering First Grade in 1947, only to run in to an all-time great Souths team captained by Clive Churchill, with the Rabbits winning 42-14 as John Graves scored 4 tries, which would be the first of the 5 Grand Finals that the Sea Eagles lost before that ’72 Premiership, 3 of them to the Bunnies.

So looking ahead to the history that’ll be made this week, Souths have a superb chance to appear in only their second Grand Final since 1971, although they will have to overcome the sheer weight of history, because not only have they lost a hat-trick of Preliminary Finals since 2018, but Manly coach Des Hasler is a perfect 7/7 in Preliminary Finals as a player & coach.

1995, 1996 in his playing days with Manly, 2007, 2008 & 2011 as coach of Manly, and 2012 & 2014 when he coached the Bulldogs.

Apparently that’s a fact that even Des didn’t know about, and another fact that you probably didn’t know about is that Wayne Bennett’s maiden Grand Final as a First Grade coach was 1987 with the Canberra Raiders against Manly.

Who was playing for Manly that day?

Des Hasler.

Now that your mind has been blown, I’ll blow it again by telling you that this’ll be the first time that Manly have played Souths with Tom Trbojevic in the lineup since Round 4 of 2019, and you might not be surprised to find out that Turbo tore his hamstring that day…. he’s only done it twice since.

So with the Rabbits at near full strength and well rested, and with Manly losing Brad ‘Hank Scorpio’ Parker to injury this evening, I’ll pick the Rabbits to defy history and ensure that Wayne Bennett’s last game in charge of the club is a Grand Final at his native Lang Park, and I can just picture the scenes post-game, especially if they run in at least 5 tries, which is a big possibility with how good their left edge is:

Melbourne Storm vs Penrith Panthers at Suncorp Stadium, Saturday 4pm AEST

I do get a laugh at the fact that the NRL were flexible enough to realise they’d scheduled the Storm right in the middle of the AFL Grand Final, an error they corrected within a few days by moving it forward to a 4 o’clock kickoff so that Melburnians wouldn’t miss anything, but that 4pm start creates another problem for the almighty Greek God V’Landys, because the game is now kicking off right at the same time that the Golden Rose will jump at Rosehill.

I assume someone will be sacrificed on a bonfire for this great injustice against Tabcorp and Racing New South Wales.

So anyway it’s the 2020 Grand Final rematch come a week early, because the Panthers had a meltdown against Souths in Townsville two weeks ago, and last week it looked like they’d found a way to forwards by going 200mph backwards, because they’ve gone from losing and scoring 10 points, to winning and scoring 8 points.

Although apparently the Panthers have now found the price they have to pay to win by scoring 8 points…. $25,000 and a suspended physio.

Heck, that’s actually a bargain Darryl Kerrigan can get behind.

Other storylines leading up the biggest grudge match since Shawn Michaels took on Hitman Hart include:

The Storm accusing the Panthers of trying to influence Gerard Sutton through the Murdoch print media, a tactic that Jack Gibson would approve of, which is a troll-worthy move from the Panthers after Ivan Cleary’s comments following the South Sydney loss..

And apparently the most interesting thing that’s happened to the Storm since they destroyed Manly on that Friday night a million years ago was that apparently Justin Olam not being nominated for the Centre of the Year was an NRL administrative error, at least from the Storm’s point of view.

Thank goodness it wasn’t the Storm who made an adminstrative error, because we all remember the last time that happened:

Anyway, it’s the Storm at Suncorp, the Eels are no more and can’t harm them, so until someone actually beats them in a Final, I’ll have to keep picking Craig Bellamy’s troops on their relentless crusade towards finally winning Back to Back Premierships, and if you ask me, come dinner time on Saturday, the Penrith Panthers will have been….


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