The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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The Jersey Flegg season kicked off with 13 teams competing for the last time, as this tournament will be replaced next year by the Toyota Cup. Only two teams remain, being Western Sydney rivals the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels. Both these clubs have a wealth of junior talent at their disposal and matches between the two clubs are always very hard fought and intense battles. The Panthers will be looking to gain back to back titles, whereas the Eels will look to win their first title since 1990.
Penrith and Parramatta have met twice so far this season and both games have gone down to the wire. The first clash between the sides at CUA Stadium was one of the clashes of the year in any grade. In a brutal affair, the Mountain Men overcame a determined Eels outfit 18-16. The return match was played in heavy rain at Parramatta Stadium, with Jarrod Sammut scoring all the points in an 8-4 victory for Penrith.
The two sides have had contrasting roads to the Grand Final. Penrith thrashed Souths Juniors 54-4 to gain a week off and then beat Canberra 46-6 on Sunday in the Preliminary Final. The Eels however have come through a couple of closer matches in the final series. In their Qualifying Final the Parramatta side was too strong for the Knights 36-10. They then faced tougher opposition in Balmain where they won 20-8 in a real arm wrestle. The Eels then came up against the 2nd placed Bulldogs, a team who defeated them on both occasions during the year. However, the Eels won a tough encounter 17-16, thanks to a late Trent Hodkinson field goal.
In the Grand Final, Penrith will look no further than captain Sammut to lead his side to victory. Sammut, who will play two internationals for Malta in October, provides plenty of flair, skill and experience to the talented Panthers side. Junior Kiwi and arguably the competitions best player this season Masada Iosefa will provide a constant threat out of dummy half. Greg Waddell the 16 year old sensation, is another to watch, Waddell possesses excellent speed and footwork. Off the bench, look for Sam McKendry to make a huge impact mid way through the first half with damaging hit ups and big hits in defence.
Like Penrith, if Parramatta are to win alot of responsibility will rest on the shoulders of their captain Hodkinson. Recently selected in the Junior Kangaroos, the young halfback is a creative and crafty individual who leads his side around the park exceptionally. Fellow Junior Kangaroo, Tim Mannah is the leader of the Parramatta pack and is renowned for his powerful hit ups, one of which lead to a try in the opening two minutes of the Preliminary Final. Centres Paul Ivan and Johnathan Wright will both cause problems for their opponents outwide due to their tall and rangy frames.
The Penrith side has been the most consistent and best team all year, with plenty of talent all over the park. They managed to win the Minor Premiership with ease, 7 points clear of 2nd.
Parramatta, have performed very well of late and have built up some momentum leading into the clash, which will serve them well. However, I am going to tip Penrith by 10 points, with the class of Sammut and Iosefa getting them over the line.