Wyong Roos v Penrith Panthers
Leichhardt Oval, Sunday 24 September
Broadcast LIVE on Fox League and SKY Sport NZ
After 25 rounds and three weeks of finals, it’s finally here. The 2017 Intrust Super Premiership NSW Grand Final will be contested between the Wyong Roos and Penrith Panthers.
As with any decider, form largely goes out the window for this clash – but not the recognition that both these sides have been among the competition’s best for much of 2017. Wyong, with a dangerous halves pairing, livewire rookie fullback and hooker and coach who have been on this stage before, clash with a Penrith side which has shuffled its spine a number of times throughout the season – and managed to field class in key positions every time.
Both of these sides have featured in deciders at this level in recent seasons – and both coaches remain to go head-to-head on Sunday night. Penrith’s Garth Brennan, who led the Panthers to premiership glory in 2014, takes part in a decider once again, while the Roos’ Rip Taylor brings a wealth of big-game experience from his 38 years in coaching; his last grand final was Wyong’s loss to Newcastle in 2015.
Another man remaining from that team is captain Mitch Williams, who knows that a maiden Roos premiership will be built off the back of the side’s defence.
“This is the goal at the start of the year so very excited to be there,” Williams tells NSWRL.com.au. “I believe we’ve got the points when we’ve got our attack right but defence is always the issue.”
With the game to be broadcast live on Fox League and SKY Sport NZ, all eyes will be on Leichhardt Oval for a grand final between two teams befitting the season’s biggest day.
These sides’ two clashes so far in 2017 are among the many intriguing points surrounding the game; while the record sits at one win apiece, the manner in which those results have come about leave the possibility of anything happening on Sunday afternoon.
Wyong had already firmed as premiership favourites when they travelled to Pepper Stadium in Round 4, but the Panthers quickly turned the tables on the visitors with a Dylan Edwards masterclass leading them to a dominant 32-10 victory. It was the only loss the Roos sustained until Round 20.
That Round 20 defeat to Mounties was sharply followed up with one of the games of the season between the Roos and Panthers at Morry Breen Reserve. Penrith had Wyong on the ropes when they took a 22-12 lead after 70 minutes, but a Matt Ikuvalu double in the final four minutes of play secured the unlikeliest of victories.
“We’ve beaten them once this year and they’ve beaten us once this year so it should be a great clash,” Williams says. “I think the first time they were just beating us all over the park and the second time we scored a late try to get the victory, so we know we’re going to have to play for the full 80.”
Key Match-up: Mitch Williams (Wyong Roos) v Mitch Rein (Penrith Panthers)
Any of the game’s spine players could easily be pitted against their opposite number as the most mouth-watering match-up of the decider, but the battle of the two no.9s features two of the most experienced players on the park. Mitch Williams and Mitch Rein can both claim to be among the two top hookers in the competition and are vital to the successes of their respective sides.
Williams, 30, and Rein, 27, have had different career paths; Williams has starred in the lower grades for years, while Rein’s 139 NRL games have made him one of the most high-profile players in the competition this year. Regardless, neither side has lost any class and the direction of their sides largely depends on the experienced dummy-halves.
Where it will be won
Williams already outlined defence as the platform on which the Roos intend to build their premiership victory, but it must be said they had a mixed performance in this regard last week. In the Roos’ four-point preliminary final win over the Warriors, they missed 42 tackles, which was luckily matched by their opposition. They did earn plenty of admirers in their efforts to hold out a desperate Warriors side when asked to defend for much of the final 10 minutes, but the Warriors had already been reduced to 12 men. Finally, as mentioned in Stats Amazing this week, Rip Taylor’s men came up with 17 errors – that’s the most of any side this year alongside Blacktown in Round 18.
The Panthers had more go-forward than the Roos did last weekend and will hope to be similarly dominant in the middle, but one area which halfback Darren Nicholls will look to improve is his goal kicking. Nicholls failed to add the extras once in Penrith’s win over Canterbury-Bankstown, meaning the Bulldogs had a chance of stealing victory late despite scoring two fewer tries. Ultimately, as with every grand final, an all-round team performance will be needed for either side to come out on top.