The Panthers are aiming for their first title since 2003 and come into the season finale on the back of a red-hot 17-game winning run – only the Sydney Roosters (W19) in 1975 have enjoyed a longer winning run in premiership history. This will be the Storm’s fourth NRL Grand Final in the last five seasons (W1, L2) led by their captain and the competition’s all-time games (429) and points (2,772) record holder in Cameron Smith.
The Panthers have made 1,881 run metres per game this year in the NRL, the most of any side and 166 per game more than the Storm (1,715 per game). This is by far the biggest disparity between the two sides from the five attacking categories shown above, with the next biggest differential coming via the Panthers’ 31.5 tackle breaks per game vs. Storm’s (29.3). Aside from those two statistics, the sides are well matched. Indeed, they have made the same number of line breaks (5.0 per game) and are evenly matched for tries scored (Storm 4.6, Panthers 4.5) and points scored (Storm 27.3, Panthers 26.6) per game.
Much has been made of how cohesive the Panthers have looked on the field and in the way they have played. This has its foundations in the way they have been able to hold onto the ball when it counts and complete their sets. They top the NRL this season for average set completion (82%), minutes spent in the opposition 20-metre zone per game (16) and repeat sets generated (57).
Indeed, no other side has accrued 50+ repeat sets or enjoyed an average set completion above 80%.
Where The Game Will Be Won
Nathan Cleary has emerged as the premier general play kicker in the NRL this year and his pinpoint kicking game has been the catalyst for many a try scored at the foot of the mountains. Alongside the deft boot of breakout star Jarome Luai, Cleary forms part of one of the most potent kicking partnerships in the competition.
Indeed, no player has assisted more tries via kicks in the 2020 NRL campaign than Cleary, who’s tally of 10 is level with Canberra Raiders’ George Williams. Not to be outdone, Penrith Panthers five-eighth Jarome Luai sits just behind Cleary with nine try assists via kicks this season.
If they’re not producing points directly with their kicks, the Penrith Panthers halves duo are making sure they keep the pressure on their opponents. Nathan Cleary has forced 27 line dropouts via kicks this NRL season, seven more than any other player in the competition despite missing the first two weeks back when the competition resumed in July. He’s had the ball on a string, striking only five kicks dead throughout the entire campaign, making sure his side hasn’t been punished with unnecessary seven-tackle defensive sets.
Jarome Luai has been a handy foil in this area as well, converting 14 kicks to opposition line dropouts for the campaign and finding the dead ball line only once throughout the season.
The Penrith Panthers will take aim at the Melbourne wingers with their trademark short kicking game and it could spell big trouble for the Storm flyers. Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasia Vunivalu – renowned try scorers in their own right – have struggled under the pressure of the short kick in the 2020 NRL campaign.
Addo-Carr has defused just 53% of short kicks sent his way this season while Vunivalu is not much better at a rate of 59%. Both Storm wingers feature in the bottom 10 for worst success rate in defusing short kicks among players to have made at least 20 attempts this season.
Defusing Short Kicks in NRL 2020 (Lowest Defusal %)
Player Team Games Defusals Success Dallin Watene-Zelezniak Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 18 39 44% Brian To'o Penrith Panthers 15 20 45% Tevita Funa Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 12 35 46% Dane Gagai South Sydney Rabbitohs 19 22 50% Josh Addo-Carr Melbourne Storm 20 36 53% Corey Oates Brisbane Broncos 14 20 55% Jorge Taufua Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 14 36 56% Ken Maumalo New Zealand Warriors 8 21 57% Semi Valemei Canberra Raiders 10 33 58% Suliasi Vunivalu Melbourne Storm 16 22 59%
A Nathan Cleary short kick into no-mans’ land to find a leaping Viliame Kikau has been a staple of the Penrith Panthers’ offensive arsenal this season and all signs point to more highlights of this nature in this weekend’s NRL Grand Final.
Storm’s Bench Will Be Key
The impact of the Melbourne Storm interchange has been immense this season. Their bench players have scored 10 tries for the club in the campaign, the only squad to reach double figures in this category. They have also enjoyed similar success when it comes to line breaks (10) and tackle-breaks (111) in this regard.
The Storm’s two biggest weapons to bring on have been the imposing duo of Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Nelson Asofa-Solomona. Standing at 196cm and 200cm respectively, only the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks’ sensation Toby Rudolf (7) has had more games of 130+ run metres this season than Fa’asuamaleaui (6) and Asofa-Solomona (5).
Indeed, no player has made more tackle breaks as an interchange player in the 2020 NRL season than Nelson Asofa-Solomona (36), four more than any other individual in this category. Fa’asuamaleaui (4) is one of only three players to have made more than three clean breaks in his interchange appearances this season.
NRL 2020 – 130+ Run Metres Made (As Interchange)
Player Team Games 130+ Metre Games Toby Rudolf Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 13 7 Tino Fa’asuamaleaui Melbourne Storm 14 6 Nelson Asofa-Solomona Melbourne Storm 11 5 Moses Leota Penrith Panthers 20 5 Zane Tetevano Penrith Panthers 16 5 Keaon Koloamatangi South Sydney Rabbitohs 14 5
History On The Storm’s Side
The Storm’s record in the post-season is one of the most impressive in world sport. The Melbourne outfit have won more finals matches (32) than any other team in the NRL era (1998-2020), having become the first side to accumulate a half-century of appearances in the playoffs when they bested the Parramatta Eels on the opening weekend of this year’s finals campaign. Their win percentage (63%) in such fixtures is only bettered by the Wests Tigers (67%), who have made considerably fewer appearances. As such, the Melbournians’ for-against differential (+189) at this stage of the season is superior to any another team and makes them one of only three with a record in the triple figures.
Finals Record In The NRL Era (1998-2020)
Team P W L Win % For Against Differential Storm 51 32 19 63% 1020 831 189 Roosters 45 27 18 60% 965 808 157 Broncos 43 20 23 47% 857 942 -85 Bulldogs 33 17 16 52% 637 657 -20 Cowboys 27 15 12 56% 569 538 31 Eels 28 14 14 50% 621 506 115 Dragons 25 12 13 48% 528 468 60 Sea Eagles 27 12 15 44% 545 540 5 Sharks 26 11 15 42% 515 561 -46 Panthers 19 10 9 52% 374 394 -20 Rabbitohs 19 9 10 47% 407 411 -4 Raiders 23 9 14 39% 405 515 -110 Warriors 18 8 10 44% 323 454 -131 Knights 19 7 12 37% 352 486 -134 Wests Tigers 9 6 3 67% 228 130 98 Titans 5 1 4 20% 96 159 -63 Bears 2 0 2 0% 14 48 -34 St George 1 0 1 0% 12 20 -8
And there you have it, after a ground-breaking season, will the Penrith Panthers cap it off with their third premiership in club history or will the Melbourne Storm solidify their finals dynasty? All eyes will turn to ANZ Stadium on Sunday night.
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