A GUIDE TO THE NRL GRAND FINAL BETWEEN PENRITH AND BRISBANE
Sunday, October 1
Penrith Panthers v Brisbane Broncos at Accor Stadium, Sydney, 7.30pm (AEDT)
Played 60 times - Panthers won 24, Broncos won 35, 1 drawn
Most recent match: Panthers beat Broncos 15-4 at Suncorp Stadium in round 11.
Premierships: Panthers 4, Broncos 6,
Grand Final history: Nil
*Penrith (H&A first, 18 wins, 6 losses). Arguably enter this year's decider in better form than they have the past three. Have completely dominated their finals series with a 32-6 win over the Warriors and 38-4 demolition of Melbourne, and won nine of 10 games to finish the regular season. Cracking the Panthers' defence will be the Broncos' biggest challenge, with Penrith having conceded no more than 12 points in their past eight finals games.
*Brisbane (H&A second, 18 wins, 6 losses). The only team to have matched Penrith's form in recent weeks. Also enter the decider off two big wins over Melbourne (26-0) and the Warriors (42-12). The Broncos also won seven of their last eight to finish the regular season, with the only loss coming when they left out several of their stars in the final round against Melbourne. Have a 1-1 record against the two-time defending premiers this year.
THE KEY PLAYERS
* Nathan Cleary (Penrith): Cleary's record is already remarkable, but on Sunday night he has the chance to win a third premiership as a halfback before his 26th birthday. It's a feat not even achieved by some of the game's premier playmakers, including the likes of Andrew Johns, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk or Ricky Stuart. The Panthers' attack is nigh impossible to stop when Cleary and the other key cogs in Jarome Luai, Dylan Edwards and Isaah Yeo are on song, as they were against Melbourne on Friday night.
* Reece Walsh (Brisbane): Can the NRL's most electric player carry his form into the grand final? Had a role in three of the Broncos' seven tries on Saturday night against the Warriors, and has now set up 22 for the year to go with the nine he has scored. Walsh's status as the NRL's most error-prone player was highlighted during the State of Origin period, but the Broncos won't mind if their star fullback puts one or two balls down in attack if he keeps providing chances at the rate he currently is.
* Ivan Cleary (Penrith): Can become the first coach since Jack Gibson with Parramatta in the early 1980s to claim a three-peat. Since a chance meeting brought him back to the foot of the mountains in 2019, Cleary has converted Penrith's burgeoning junior talent pool into an NRL juggernaut, with the current Panthers firmly in the conversation for the best team of this era.
* Kevin Walters (Brisbane): Hard to believe this is the same coach who had two of his own players talk him down in podcasts last year. Taking over after a wooden-spoon season in 2020, Walters enjoyed minimal gains in 2021 before landing his big catch in Adam Reynolds for 2022. A late-season fade cost the Broncos a finals spot last season, but Walters has timed their run perfectly this year for a shot at ending the club's 17-year title drought.
Australian Associated Press