WHILE things are heating up as Queensland gets ready for this Sunday’s Intrust Super Cup grand final between the Northern Pride and Easts Tigers – the NSW Cup are also preparing for their big day.
The Penrith Panthers will face off against the Newcastle Knights to see who will play our Intrust Super Cup champions on NRL grand final day.
For Queensland league fans – there are a few other points of interest in both teams.
Can Matt Minto back up his premiership with the Mackay Cutters last year with another one this year with the Knights?
Knights coach Rick Stone is also one of our competition’s more well-regarded coaches – having enjoyed great success with the Burleigh Bears.
In the Panthers side – Luke Capewell, Tom Humble and Ryan Simpkins are just some of the players to have spent time in our competition.
NSW Cup grand final preview:
by Jamie Anderson - NSWRL Media
Penrith Panthers (1) Vs Newcastle Knights (2)
Allianz Stadium, Sunday, September 28
Referee: Liam Nicholls
Summary: And then there were two. After 26 rounds and almost a months’ worth of finals action we are ultimately left with the competitions two best sides fighting it out for the 2014 VB NSW Cup Premiership.
The Penrith Panthers have been the yardstick all season long and will be looking to cap off their record breaking season by hoisting the trophy aloft come full time on Sunday, but the Knights should prove to be a more than worthy adversary, as they head into the Grand Final off the back of a nine match winning streak.
After their last loss to the Cutters way back in round 17, it still wasn’t certain that the Knights would even make the top eight much let alone the grand final, however they went on to win their last seven regular season matches and by doing so they secured a top two finish.
There were no such concerns for the Panthers who had the Minor Premiership sewn up over a month out from the finals series, and after losing their opening two games of the season they have gone on to win 22 of their last 24 matches.
In fact had the Panthers not relinquished a large lead to the Jets at Allianz Stadium late in the season, they would be entering this match undefeated since a round eight loss to the Sharks at Remondis Stadium.
Coach Garth Brennan is certainly spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting his side. The team that accounted for the Magpies on Sunday at Leichhardt Oval had no less than 10 players who have tasted first grade over their careers and with many others that are destined to do so in the near future.
The likes of Waqa Blake and Eto Nabuli could arguably have already debuted had they found themselves at a different club while young front rower Reagan Campbell-Gillard is also a name for the future.
The Panthers depth and strength at present was quantified even further on Sunday when they were able to include the likes of Kevin Kingston, David Simmons and Isaah Yeo to an already strong Penrith side.
Their opponents in the Knights shouldn’t be overawed however as they will also field a pretty handy line up. Newcastle have a host of players with first grade experience, including veterans like Timana Tahu, Michael Dobson, Matt Hilder and Clint Newton, as well as some younger tyros such as Chanel Mata’utia and Pat Vaivai.
And besides their players who have tasted first grade, others such as Nathan Ross, Pat Mata’utia and Chad Redman have all had stellar seasons and are a large reason why the Novocastrians find themselves just 80 minutes away from a possible premiership.
As you can see below these two sides split their regular season clashes however it is probably fair to say that the Knights appeared to have gotten Penrith at a good time way back in round one.
There are plenty of points in both of these teams and this has been on show during the finals series with the Panthers posting 73 points combined against the Cutters and Magpies while the Knights have managed to score 58 points against the same opposition.
Defensively though the Panthers appear the superior outfit on paper conceding just 18 points per game during the regular season and have also only allowed three tries during their two finals series wins.
With that said, the Knights defence has stood up when it has needed to and they have only conceded four tries during their two finals wins and can also draw upon inspiration from their round 25 win over the Jets where they defended a man down for most of the match yet were still able to hold on for a win that ultimately saw them clinch second spot.
It looms as an intriguing battle not only on the park but also in the coaches box where Garth Brennan will go toe to toe with a man that he spent time working with at the Knights. Brennan was a former assistant to Stone back when Rick was the Knights first grade coach, and should have an intimate knowledge of the way he goes about preparing a side but also some of his personnel.
And if Brennan wants to know anything else about the Knights boys he need only ask the Naiqama brothers, or even Will Smith or Sam Anderson, players who have all made their way to Penrith via the Knights.
No matter which way you look at it, this Grand Final promises to be one of the best in recent memory. Both sides are fielding the best possible side that they can and have both been the form teams, certainly leading into the finals, if not all year certainly in Penrith’s case.
And of course as of this year there is also the added incentive of a chance to square off against the winners of the Intrust Super Cup the following week at ANZ Stadium in the inaugural State Championship.
So get out to Allianz Stadium for what is going to be a great celebration of rugby league in all three grades.
For team lists and broadcast details – head to the New Souths Wales Rugby League website.