Broncos vs Panthers
The Broncos are missing a couple of spine players they would dearly love to have available. Aus/Qld representative fullback Darius Boyd and the experience and leadership he brings in big matches will be missed, but the bigger loss is still probably hooker Andrew McCullough who was ruled out for the season last month. Ben Hunt has played well for the most part filling in, but the Broncos have looked vulnerable every time they've faced quality opposition since McCullough's injury.
Nearly every time the Roosters scored last week they managed to hit back to keep themselves in the game, but they never led and their defence in that game was not as energetic as you would expect in a finals game at times. It was only a few weeks ago that the Broncos let the Eels put 50 on them at Suncorp in one of the most embarrassing defensive displays in the club's proud history, so that is a real area of concern for Wayne Bennett.
Another area of concern for Bennett is his appalling record against his former student at Brisbane, Panthers coach Anthony Griffin. Bennett has won 18.2% of all games against Griffin coached sides. The Broncos won convincingly earlier this year when Penrith were in a massive slump, but Griffin won his only finals clash against Bennett in 2011 when both were coaching different clubs.
The Panthers turned around a nightmare few weeks of losses and controversy with a highly impressive 12 point win over Manly. The win was built entirely around defence, and it was easily the Panthers best defensive performance of the year. Every player was prepared to make an extra effort, and it showed - with the potent Manly backline that had torn through them like rice paper the previous week completely shut down just seven days later. Manly scored one try in the second half by virtue of a missed tackle by Tyrone May, but aside from that every Manly point scoring opportunity came from a kick, which is usually always a reflection on defensive quality.
There were a few whispers this week that Matt Moylan will play for Penrith, which would come at the expense of Tyrone May. He has not been named by Griffin but that doesn't mean anything. The saga involving a supposed falling out with Griffin was messy and I'd be surprised if he plays - but he only will if he's absolutely raring to go, otherwise Griffin would and most likely will stick with young May who's been very impressive and is a good fit with the half Nathan Cleary.
I can't believe where this line has been set. The Broncos probably have the more potent attack, but they have Benji Marshall at halfback who is well past his best, and they're missing their two other most experienced spine players. There have been a few strange very non-Brisbane elements to Brisbane this year, and I think the loss of McCullough will be remembered as the turning point in their year.
Finals games are about defence, and while Penrith's has left a lot to be desired at times throughout the year, they were so impressive last week and so committed to each other that I have no doubt they will show up here. That's often been Penrith's problem in recent times. They have quality all through the side but frustratingly don't put it all together often enough. The Broncos have plenty of attacking threats and will by no means be easy beats, but their defence has been a glaring weakness, and in no way warrants them being heavy favourites.
Penrith are a huge chance to win here. They have the better goal kicker which could easily be the difference in a game like this, and they showed more desire last week. They're also in better health and have no players playing makeshift or secondary roles, while the Broncos have several. This big line is a gift.
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|Penrith +7.5||Bet365||1.93||10||13-6 WON (+9.3 units)|