The 2020 Australian National Rugby League season has been like no other. After three weeks, the season was suspended due to COVID-19. The league worked hard to resume in late May and has had no disruptions since, delivering an outstanding season in spite of it all.
The two remaining teams will clash in the biggest game of the season, the Grand Final, to decide the NRL Premiers for 2020.
A quick shout-out to the Raiders’ Jack Wighton, who is this season’s Dally M Medal recipient after a remarkable 2020 performance. Wighton, who snagged the award for best player over favored Nathan Cleary of the Panthers, is only the third Raiders player to win.
Penrith Panthers vs. Melbourne Storm
4:30 a.m. ET Sunday, Sydney
Panthers + 2.5 (-120) Storm -2.5 (+ 100)
When the NRL resumed after the hiatus, concern was voiced that the disruption and shorter season would create surprises and allow an underdog to make a run for the title. That was not the case. The Panthers and the Storm, who finished first and second, respectively, will fight it out for the title.
The teams match up similarly. The Panthers are second in attack and first in defense. The Storm finished third in attack and second in defense. Furthermore, the teams have been generous to bettors throughout. Both were 13-8-0 ATS. No team covered the spread more this season.
In the last seven games, the Storm have turned their offense up to top gear. They’ve averaged 32 points per game during this stretch while conceding an average of 18. Over the same span, the Panthers have averaged 28 points in attack and 11 points conceded. But they had a weaker strength of schedule in that stretch.
Looking back to last week’s games, the Panthers were not exactly convincing against the determined South Sydney Rabbitohs, winning 20-16. They were below their average in completion rate, run meters and offloads. A big plus was man of the match Isaah Yeo, who had arguably his best game of the season and will need to back up again against the Storm, who have one of the most experienced forward packs in the game. All six starting forwards played for the Storm in the 2018 NRL Grand Final. This will be the first Grand Final for nearly all the Panthers players.
The Storm are in a familiar setting, having made it to the Grand Final four of the last five years. To get there this year, the Storm faced a strong Raiders side last week. The Storm started red hot, scoring 24 points in the first 25 minutes and entering halftime up 24-6. They were extremely efficient with the ball, with an 88% completion rate and only four errors, compared with the Raiders’ 13. Storm players know what it takes to lift the trophy at the end of the season, and they are peaking at the right time. The spread opened at Storm -1.5 and has moved to -2.5. The betting market likes the Storm to cover. I would not be surprised to see this move to -3.5 by kickoff.
It is great to see both sides fit and healthy in what should be an amazing Grand Final, the biggest sporting event in Australia.
Tip: Grand Finals are historically low scoring, with the last five averaging 29.6 points. I expect this trend to continue as both sides will focus on defense. My final score prediction is 20-10 in favor of the Storm.
In the main betting markets, I am keen on Storm -2.5 (+ 100), Under 36.5 (-110).
The prop bets I like are:
Storm by 7-12 points (+ 470)
Race to 20 points: Storm (+ 230)
Halftime/full time: Draw/Storm + 1600