Finals Week 3: Panthers v Rabbitohs preview
Minor premiers face dark horses for a place in the decider.
Coming into the preliminary final well rested after a weekend off, the Penrith Panthers have enjoyed a remarkable season with 19 wins and a draw from 21 matches.
Heading into the clash 15 days after their last match against the Roosters, coach Ivan Cleary will be quietly confident in his squad following three wins from their past four meetings with South Sydney and wins in their past four visits to ANZ Stadium.
Losing strike weapon Viliame Kikau to suspension after an unsuccessful bid to have a dangerous throw charge overturned at the judiciary, Kurt Capewell comes into the starting side with Spencer Leniu elevated to the bench.
Reaching the preliminary final for the first time since 2014, winger Josh Mansour and reserve outside back Dean Whare are the only remaining players from the team that went down to the Bulldogs six years ago.
Qualifying for their sixth preliminary final over the last nine years, the South Sydney Rabbitohs will be hoping to continue their late season surge by downing the minor premiers.
Earning their place in the final four after rallying from a halftime deficit to overpower the Eels 38-24 last Saturday, coach Wayne Bennett will be banking on his side continuing a dominant record over the Panthers at ANZ Stadium following seven wins from their past eight meetings at the venue.
Retaining the same 17 players that defeated the Eels and Knights over the past fortnight, 12 members of the squad remain from the team that went down to the Raiders in last year's preliminary final.
Who to watch: Five years after playing a prominent role in the Panthers premiership-winning Under 20s team, Brent Naden will be hoping to make 2020 the year he achieves similar success in the top grade. Beginning his professional career at the foot of the mountains before spending several years chasing an opportunity in the lower grades at Canberra and Newcastle, the 24-year-old outside back has been in sensational touch since coming full circle at Penrith with 20 tries in 29 appearances over the past two seasons. Cementing his place at right centre ahead of former New Zealand international Dean Whare, look for Naden to give the minor premiers every chance of coming within 80 minutes of creating history in a season unlike any other.
Tasked with the enormous responsibility of filling in at fullback following Latrell Mitchell's season-ending hamstring injury, Corey Allan has proved his worth as much more than a stopgap option for the Rabbitohs. Managing just two appearances in the top grade during the first 15 rounds, the 22-year-old Queenslander has been outstanding over the past seven weeks with six try-assists and 160 metres on average. Touted as a future star after being selected in the Prime Minster's XIII prior to making his first grade debut, look for Allan to have a big influence on the result as the Rabbitohs strive to become the first team in the modern era to win a premiership from outside the top four.
My tip: On track to become only the second legitimate team in premiership history to record 17 consecutive wins, the Penrith Panthers will be primed for a big performance after having the weekend off. Panthers by 12.