• Full circle: Tahu wrapped his NRL career with the Newcastle Knights - the club he started out in. (AAP Images)Source: AAP Images
The Grand Final Weekend is here and the Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers are set to provide one of the all time great NRL games, writes Over The Black Dot's Timana Tahu.
Timana Tahu

Over the Black Dot
23 Oct 2020 - 5:04 PM  UPDATED 23 Oct 2020 - 5:05 PM

2001 Knights vs Parramatta Grand final

The grand final week is here and going back to 2001 when the Knights were playing against a powerhouse Eels side who only lost 3 games had an enormous year. They had the talent, the size, and one of the best coaches I experienced been under Brian Smith.

It was that year when everyone thought the Eels were going to take it out. But the Knights we had our own hype to live up to and to perform not only for ourselves but for the town because we knew how much it meant to them.

The buzz in the town was high, people were painting their cars and houses red and blue even the beer was red and blue. Every training session we had supporters flocking to the training session. The energy didn’t feel like a rock star support it was a one in all-in kind of support the fans rode the wave with the team.

Come game day it was an awesome feeling to wake up to. Running out to a packed Homebush Stadium was nothing I had ever experienced.

The first 20 was a dream we blew the eels out of the water. Looking at their reaction during the tries we scored they looked worn out mentally and the pace of the game was overwhelming,

but for us, everything was coming off with great execution everyone was in sync. We lead 24-0 at half time and we all knew that Parramatta was going to have one last crack. Only for Big kick chase, good bounce, and at the right place at the right time I got the winning try! The rest is history.

Panthers vs Storm

Neither side can get any fitter or stronger and now it all comes down to mental preparation. Don't overthink and play the game in the head over and over, because that can cause fatigue.

Both teams would have got their physical work in early in the week so all the players know mentally that they have ticked all the boxes to prepare for game day. They will all know not to get caught up in media and fan hype and that engaging in other people’s energy could drain them too.

There is so much preparation in a small window but enjoying the moment, enjoying every session with their team mates, is an experience they will never forget.

Looking forward both teams have strengths and weaknesses but we will focus more on the strengths.

Melbourne - They are relentless in Attack and Defence! They have adapted to the new rules. They have always been known for being the best defensive team but, wow, their attack has gone to another level. Watch the Storm attack from the left edge with Munster, Papenhuyzen, Olam, and Addo-Carr.

This is the Storms favourite edge to play to in the attacking zone 20-30 meters out. Another to watch for is early kicks in their own half for Josh Addo-Carr. The Panthers Right centre and winger needs to be alert at all times watching Addo-Carr’s positional play.

Last is goal-line attack: the massive forward pack runs good lines and Cameron Smith has time and patience to pick weaknesses in the middle goal-line D. Watch for Asofa-Solomona and Jesse Bromwich hitting holes close to the line.

Panthers - I have enjoyed watching the Panthers this year. They have been entertaining and looking from the outside I see they are a close bunch. I see that the players have a great balance of the young and the experienced and it looks like a positive environment. Plus the team has similarities to the 2003 team.

Watch the Panthers forward pack hunt as a unit. This is going to be a spectacular battle in the middle but the Panthers have had success during the year with dominating the middle, especially against the Storm in Round 6.

Also, look out for Api Koroisau. He has been the gel for the team and has helped Cleary with his game tremendously. Behind every good halfback, there is a great hooker, and believe Koroisau's dummy-half runs on quick play the balls will have the Storm's middles on edge.

When in doubt hit Viliame Kikau! This athletic machine reminds me of a Tony Puletua: big, strong, agile, can jump, bump, and hit. He will be the Panthers go-to guy and if Melbourne can’t control him Panthers will score points off his damaging runs.

Last is the Nathan Cleary. Watch for his kicking game. He is easily the best this year. He has it on a string pinpointing them on the opposition back-rowers and halves with the Panthers big backs challenging and getting massive results of them. It’s a smart kick because the wingers are so experienced with the high-ball it makes it easier for the opposition wingers to catch it but yet too far to contest when it’s on the halves. He also leads in 40/20s this year. The Storm's left-edge are big but could be slow to react if Cleary is in firing position for a 40/20.

Good luck to both teams. What an awesome achievement for them in this pandemic that we are in. The sacrifices that the NRL, clubs, officials, and families went through to get the game going, I stand and applaud.

But I’m going the Panthers on this one.


Clive Churchill

1. Ryan Papenhuyzen - He has come in leaps and bounds. He's played 41 games and he already looks like a seasoned representative the way he plays. His work effort of the ball is tremendous, his unselfish, and gets himself in supporting roles. Plus his speed, skill, and timing on the edges make him dangerous.

2. Cameron Munster - Melbourne's best player. He plays an unusual unstructured game. Melbourne is a well-drilled team then all of a sudden you see Cameron Munster playing Koori Knockout football. Running laterally, stepping everywhere, random plays but it works and he makes something out of nothing, and the team benefits a lot. He will worry the Panthers every time he looks to run.

3. Cameron Smith - I think everyone thought without Slater and Cronk Melbourne were done and an era of dominance would have come to an end. But Smith's game is relentless, he sticks to plan, he doesn’t panic, and he has the gift to wait patiently for players to switch off and makes them pay for it. His leadership for this team and his performance as a player has been enjoyable to watch.

4. Apisai Koroisau - He has been the buy of the year and he will be the player to watch in quick play the balls. He is fast strong and ducks under tackles and makes good meters for his team. He makes everyone’s job easier in the middle and he can wear out the Storms middle if they give him any opportunities.

5. Nathan Cleary - Having the best year of his career. He has matured and hasn’t had to sit back and play under and experienced half. His confidence, his patience, and his kicking game gone to another level. He is showing his leadership with action and the team has benefited from him.

6. Viliame Kikau - If the players don’t handle this machine he will destroy the Storms Right Edge. They struggled against him in round 6. He's like the Hulk it seems the harder you hit Kikau he grows bigger & faster. He can step, jump, and the contest for bombs, he can offload and draw and pass off a line break. If his confidence his high he will be dangerous.