PREVIEWS | Junior Reps Grand Finals
Harold Matthews Grand Final 2016
Parramatta Eels v Newcastle Knights
Pepper Stadium, Saturday 7 May
12pm – LIVE stream on NSWRL.com.au
They’ve been the team to beat all year and rightfully find themselves in the 2016 decider – but will high expectations, coupled with the added pressure of aiding a disastrous week for the club, get the better of the Parramatta Eels? While the Newcastle Knights are themselves an impressive outfit, that question may be key to the result at Pepper Stadium tomorrow afternoon.
Out of both the Harold Matthews and SG Ball competitions, the Eels are the only team that won every game, finishing the regular season with a huge 290 points differential tally. They won five of their nine regular season games by at least 42 points and carried their form into the finals series, beating Manly convincingly in Week 1 before edging out Penrith in a 13-12 thriller last week.
The loss of William Kei – who finishes on top of the tryscorers list with 19 for the season – is likely to hurt the Eels; in an admittedly wet encounter at Leichhardt Oval, they scored the least points in a game this year without him last week. With Kyle Schneider leading the team from dummy-half, however, the Eels have done well to make the Grand Final and now have the chance to avenge the heartbreaking loss to Cronulla in last year’s decider. If they are successful, it will bring up an incredible 20 titles for the Eels in the competition’s 46-year history.
On the other side are the Knights, who finished the regular season in third but progressed to the decider via an upset over the Sharks and an impressive showing against the Bulldogs. Parramatta, Cronulla and Newcastle were a step above the rest of the competition in 2016 and while the Knights were the only team to lose in the regular season, they can also boast a victory over a top three side – something the Eels haven’t yet had the opportunity to do. Both teams are strong defensively, with Brock Gardner steering the Newcastle ship from lock, while five-eighth Jock Madden is the second-highest pointscorer of 2016. Newcastle’s scoring potential will also helped with a strong game by fullback Matthew Smith and they can head into the clash with a slight underdogs tag tomorrow afternoon.
It shapes as a thrilling encounter to kick off proceedings at Pepper Stadium – catch all the action via our live stream with Triple M’s Anthony Maroon and guest commentator Peter Jolly.
SG Ball Grand Final 2016
Illawarra Steelers v Penrith Panthers
Pepper Stadium, Saturday 7 May
2pm – LIVE stream on NSWRL.com.au
It’s almost 20 years to the day since the Steelers last tasted success of any kind; they took out both Junior Reps titles in 1996 and have had to settle for a shared NRL victory in 2010 in the two decades since. Having unseated the Panthers twice this season, however – including one of the games of the year just three weeks ago – Illawarra is the favoured tip to enjoy more success in 2016.
Under the tutelage of Shane Millard, Shaun Timmins and Dan Hunt, the Steelers fell just four points differential short of the minor premiership this year finishing on equal points to both first-placed Newcastle and third-placed Penrith. They first clashed with their Grand Final combatants back in Round 4, running out 30-12 victors at St Marys Leagues Stadium, but many thought cracks were appearing with a 34-point loss to Parramatta. The team’s Steely resolve quickly turned things around, however, and an impressive defensive effort saw them hold on to a 26-22 lead over Penrith in the opening week of the finals. While Hayden Lomax has been doing a great job with the captain’s armband, brother Zac Lomax, Dylan Morris and Cooper Purcell form a potent three-pronged attack; the trio have contributed 29 tries between them.
For the Panthers, this may be a mental battle as much as a physical one – they are a good football side, but both their losses this year have come to the Steelers. While the boys from the foot of the mountains will certainly be underdogs and lack the obvious attacking flare of their Steel City counterparts, their defence is something to be admired. The Panthers finished the regular season as the best defensive team and restricted the Sharks – the best attacking team – to just six points to eliminate them two weeks ago. Having beat minor premiers Newcastle twice this year, captain Sean O’Sullivan will know his team has the potential to take out the title tomorrow afternoon.
With another intriguing battle on our hands, don’t miss a second of it with our exclusively live stream. Triple M’s Anthony Maroon heads up the coverage while Peter Jolly and Jamie Feeney will bring you all the action from Pepper Stadium.