Mind-boggling Rabbitohs excel in first week of finals

Now that we’re playing finals football, everything has just got that bit more intense.

Penrith on Friday night was absolutely mind-blowing.

The young Panthers haven’t had the experience of playing in front of big crowds of late but, although the capacity was limited to about 7,000 at Panthers stadium, it felt like there were over 14,000 in there.

It was just an amazing feeling. It felt how a semi-final should feel.

Those fans were treated to a really well-balanced game that had absolutely everything: really good attack from both sides and crack defence too, with the crowd riding every little wave.

In the finals, the big players need to step up and this weekend was a perfect example of that — and no player exemplified that better than Nathan Cleary.

A Penrith NRL players holds the ball with his right arm as he runs towards the try line against the Roosters.A Penrith NRL players holds the ball with his right arm as he runs towards the try line against the Roosters.
Nathan Cleary was electric for the Panthers.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

His game awareness has gone to another level this year.

He knows exactly what to do and what play to come up with to put the Panthers in the strongest possible position and he’s been doing that on a consistent basis all year.

The field goal to put the Panthers up by seven was a masterstroke. He knew that if he could get that field goal it would give the Panthers a bit of breathing room and they ended up winning the game because of that decision.

Cody Walker driving Souths into contention

A South Sydney NRL players stands on the field and grimaces during a match.A South Sydney NRL players stands on the field and grimaces during a match.
Cody Walker has driven Souths into contention.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

It wasn’t just Cleary who was on song this weekend.

On Saturday, George Williams and Jack Wighton had to step up and lead the way for Canberra in the second half to wrestle that game back from the Sharks.

Then for the Storm you had Ryan Papenhuyzen and Cam Munster — and obviously Cam Smith — who stepped up and came up with some big plays when their backs were up against the wall against the Eels at Lang Park.

Then in the Souths-Newcastle game, who stepped up again? Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds.

Those guys thrive in those moments and they just stepped up. That’s why they get paid the big money.

Walker has been outstanding. He’s a superstar. I rate him so highly because it’s all about him or his teammates, it doesn’t matter who is in front of him.

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On the weekend he made the decision to get into the face of Mitchell Pierce when the Knights were going well, just to make him a little bit upset and put him off his game.

That’s what gets Walker going, he takes individual battles personally and that flicks a switch to say that he wants to be the better player than his opponent on the day.

Panthers-Storm in box seat, but beware the Rabbitohs

Three South Sydney NRL players embrace as they celebrate a try scored against the Newcastle Knights.Three South Sydney NRL players embrace as they celebrate a try scored against the Newcastle Knights.
South Sydney are in scintillating attacking form at the right time.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

I think the Panthers and the Storm will be in the grand final.

I just can’t see a team that’s had to go through three weeks of hard, intense finals matches beating either the Storm or the Panthers.

The Roosters and Eels had a big game this weekend and they’ll have to back up with another big game next weekend.

The teams that will go in against a fresh team might have a really good 30-40 minutes of football, but the fresher team could just run over them at the end if they can complete well and hold on to the ball.

The one team that could buck that trend though is Souths.

It’s unbelievable how well they’re going, scoring 60 points against the reigning premiers one week and then to score 46 points unanswered after the Knights came out of the blocks on fire.

To perform at that level against that level of opposition, two weeks in a row, is just mind-boggling.

Edge defence key if Paramatta is to beat Souths

Parramatta Eels players stand in a line and look disappointedParramatta Eels players stand in a line and look disappointed
The Parramatta Eels will be up against it on Saturday night.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

With the injuries that Paramatta has, I can’t see them beating the Bunnies on Saturday.

It’s very hard to back up after playing Melbourne because they make you work so hard for such long periods.

They can’t give Souths a big lead and try and run it down. If Paramatta are going to win, they’ll have to make it a dogfight.

There’s been a little bit of a disconnect on the left edge of the Paramatta defence, with Michael Jennings and Maika Sivo.

Jennings is a pretty good defender, he gets up, he holds and if he can get a good read he’ll go in and get it, but it looks like Sivo doesn’t trust him enough.

He hesitates a little bit and then ends up turning in on the centre, which gives a clear run for the winger to go down the line.

The trust really has to be there on the weekend.

On the other side, Waqa Blake and Blake Ferguson are very similar.

Two Parramatta Eels NRL players celebrate following a try against the Warriors in Gosford.Two Parramatta Eels NRL players celebrate following a try against the Warriors in Gosford.
Blake Ferguson and Waqa Blake will have to be on top of their defensive structure against the Rabbitohs.(AAP: Brendon Thorne)

It looks like they’ve been playing a lot of up and in defence. Blake will come up from the line and look to the man inside him, and that forces Ferguson into making the same decision to come up and inside too.

That structure is not working for them at the moment and they either have to stick with it and get good at it this week, or they’ll get caught out and it won’t happen for them.

Tameka Upton stars in NRLW

I didn’t expect the 18-4 scoreline from the Roosters-Dragons NRLW opener, but I did expect the Broncos to be as good as they were against the Warriors.

The Broncos were a bit scratchy at first, which Ali Brigginshaw told us on ABC Grandstand was down to the travel, but they were very good in the end.

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It was a really good game of football. The Warriors started off really well, with Ellia Green scoring a nice try on debut.

But then the Broncos found themselves.

I have got a big wrap on the Broncos fullback Tameka Upton. She’s a really good player — good skills, great speed, nice footwork, she’s elusive. She looked really dangerous every time she got her hands on the ball.

Then there was also Tarryn Aiken, she was excellent.

I was impressed with the skills on display in the game, good passing, great kicking, but some of the defence was brutal.

Some of those forwards are just so strong, Annette Brander was almost untackleable.

Millie Boyle and Amber Hall were also fantastic in the pack — I just don’t see anyone beating the Broncos at the moment.

Luke Lewis was speaking to ABC News Digital’s Simon Smale.