In a season defined by blowouts, Week 1 of the 2021 NRL Finals reminded us of just how good this game is when September rolls around as three games went down to the wire in a thrilling weekend of footy. 

Storm Brewing

There was a couple of days there where the Melbourne Storm looked vulnerable. Ryan Papaenhuyzen didn’t look like himself and motivation appeared to be an issue overall after winning 19 games on the bounce. However, when it matters most, the Storm returns to their best.

You could tell it was going to be one of those days for the Storm to start Week 1 of the NRL Finals. Excellent defensively, they handled Tom Trbojevic with relative ease and didn’t give the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles a chance to play themselves into the game.

Melbourne shut down the edges in defence and surged through the middle in attack. It all ended with a 40-12 win and the Storm shortening to $2.10 favourites to with the 2021 NRL Premiership.

Super Saturday

This is finals football.

Two games. Two close contests. Two teams advance.

The Gold Coast Titans went oh so close to causing an upset over the Sydney Roosters on Satuday afternoon. While the Roosters looked like the better team for the majority of the game, they couldn’t shake a Titans side that continued to fight through to the end. It hasn’t been something that has been said about the Titans all that often in 2021, but they hung around for the full 80 minutes and finished up one pass short of victory.

Unfortunately for Patrick Herbert, his debut season on the Gold Coast will be remembered for not passing the ball to David Fifita on the final play of the game. Following a break down the left edge the ball swung right. Fifita was late to arrive on the play and Herbert didn’t see him until it was too late. Had Herbert fed the beast so close to the line, we’d be talking about an upset and a Titans team planning for Week 2 of the Finals.

Instead, the Roosters held on and their impressive season extends for another week. Trent Robinson will be poring over tape this week as the Roosters look for ways of their own to beat the Sea Eagles when the two meet on Friday night. Despite their heavy defeat to the Storm, the Sea Eagles are -10.5 and $1.32 favourites to advance to the Preliminary Finals.

Shortly after, the South Sydney Rabbitohs produced their best game of the season to beat the Penrith Panthers 16-10.

They only scored 16 points, but it’s on the defensive side of the ball that Souths impressed. Penrith were frustrated out of the match and beaten at their own game. Patience, a strong middle and sticking to the process is where the Rabbitohs won this one. So often they have relied on their superb attack to beat the bad teams and keep in contention with the good ones. Now, without Latrell Mitchell, they’ve shown premiership-winning qualities and will now have a week off to prepare for yet another Prelim.

South Sydney’s premiers price has been up and down like a yo-yo in recent weeks. As it stands, they’re on the third line of betting to lift the Provan-Summons Trophy at $6 and have proven they can survive without Latrell.

Eels Slip Past Knights

It’s not a performance that promotes a lot of confidence moving forward. They may not have beaten any other team that played this weekend. However, the Parramatta Eels got the job done to beat the Newcastle Knights 28-20 to book a Week 2 matchup against the Panthers.

Parramatta showed glimpses of the side that beat the Storm in Round 23. Their best actions came following a Mitchell Moses or Junior Paulo carry before they explored down the edges with the ball. Newcastle’s edge defence was there to be beaten, and it was beaten often enough to win. Although, it was a far from a perfect performance from Brad Arthur’s men. Too often they looked wide too early and the defence reacted accordingly and it was rather fitting for the match to end with an Eels penalty try.

The Eels will need to take a more direct approach if they’re to beat the Panthers as +11.5 and $1.25 underdogs next week.