NRL Preliminary Finals: What we liked and disliked from each game

Parramatta and Penrith set up a fascinating grand final clash and the most significant ‘Battle of the West’ showdown in history after both prevailed in their prelims. 

The Eels got the better of a valiant Cowboys outfit when they produced an unlikely comeback.

Meanwhile, Penrith also overcame adversity by piling on 32 unanswered points to outline exactly why they are viewed as the premiership favourites ahead of next Sunday’s showpiece event.  

Here is what we liked and disliked from this weekend’s preliminary finals. 

North Queensland Cowboys 20 – 24 Parramatta Eels

What we liked: Lane Train steams through to grand final

On a night that required someone to stand up for the Eels, Shaun Lane did exactly that and then some.

The second-rower, who is having the best year of his NRL career, was instrumental in Parramatta’s late comeback win over the Cowboys on Friday night and was arguably the best player on the field. 

Lane set up the match-winning try for Maika Sivo in the 64th minute, before coming up with two huge plays on his own try-line, pulling off a huge tackle and knocking down a Chad Townsend kick with just minutes remaining on the clock.

The 27-year-old finished with 14 runs for 131 metres, six tackle breaks, four offloads and 30 tackles in a night to remember. 

Parramatta are through to a grand final for the first time in 13 years, and they’ve got the Lane Train to thank for a lot of it. 

What we disliked: Refereeing dramas

You never want to talk about the officiating in a big game, but it’s hard to ignore the impact it had on the result.

Parramatta’s first try came from a blatant forward pass from Mitchell Moses, in a moment that will no doubt be spoken about for days to come considering the close nature of the Cowboys’ loss. 

There was also a bizarre Jason Taumalolo sin-bin, which saw the North Queensland lock sat down for 10 minutes despite the Eels not being awarded a penalty. 

A hair-pull penalty on Waqa Blake in the second-half and a dubious dangerous throw penalty against Junior Paulo almost cost the Eels, but the visitors managed to pull off a remarkable comeback and book themselves a spot in the decider. 

Penrith Panthers 32 – 12 South Sydney Rabbitohs

What we liked: Panthers weather the storm to book another grand final spot

In the first 30 minutes, Penrith appeared to be out of sorts. Their attack was clunky and their defence through the middle was questionable, as the Bunnies made plenty of metres and shot out to a double-digit lead.

The week off seemed to have been a fatal hinderance in their quest to go back-to-back. However, like all the great teams do, Penrith rallied.

Off the back of a quick play-the-ball, Api Koroisau skipped out of marker and touched down from close-range. It proved to be a vital four-pointer which gave his side the jolt of energy they needed to lift their intensity.

From there, Brian To’o intercepted a pass and raced 80 metres to score what turned out to be the match-turning try. The way he brushed off Cody Walker’s attempted tackle was ruthless and signified a change of attitude and a swing of momentum heading into the sheds. 

In the second half, there was only ever really one team in it as the Panthers rolled over the top of a tired South Sydney outfit. 

Dylan Edwards was a stand-out at the back with his running game as good as ever, while Nathan Cleary controlled proceedings with the boot to keep their hopes of claiming back-to-back premierships alive.

What we disliked: The Bunnies fall short in the big moments

A fifth consecutive preliminary final appearance ended in heartbreak for Souths, after they were blown away by Penrith in a brutal second half.

The hard work of beating the Roosters and Sharks in the weeks prior eventually catching up to the Bunnies as they ran out of legs. They simply couldn’t come up with the big plays when they needed them. 

Keaon Koloamatangi put a good shot on Viliame Kikau but failed to slow the play-the-ball down, with Api Koroisau taking advantage out of marker.

The Bunnies then went for the big play on the stroke of half-time, but Campbell Graham’s drop led to To’o brushing off Walker and handing all of the momentum to Penrith after they’d been outplayed for much of the first stanza.

It was these two big plays that swung the game in the space of four minutes which Souths were unable to recover from.

Notable mention: Taane Milne’s swinging arm was a dumb play and piled the pressure on his teammates as they chased the game.

Being reduced to 12 men and allowing Penrith to push the lead beyond two converted tries essentially ended whatever slim hopes the Bunnies had of pulling off a comeback.

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