PREVIEW: 2018 Intrust Super Premiership NSW Preliminary Finals


Just one game separates four teams from the Intrust Super Premiership grand final next weekend, but the question is which of the sides - who all finished in the top four - will be there?

1st Preliminary Final

Penrith Panthers V Newtown Jets 
Saturday, 1:10pm (Live Channel 9 & Steele Sports Radio)

The first game of the weekend has a familiar look as the Penrith Panthers continue their premiership defence against the Newtown Jets, coming a day after their NRL affiliate teams the Panthers and Sharks play in the NRL finals.

Minor premiers Penrith enjoyed a week off last week thanks to their impressive 28-18 victory in week one of the finals over the Bulldogs. They've been strong in their premiership defence and arguably the form team of the Intrust Super Premiership this season, with an unbeaten streak going all the way back to Round 11 - a stretch of nearly four months. The Panthers will go into the game high on confidence after their Qualifying Final win a fortnight ago, but their strong defence will be looking to back up their efforts. The men from Sydney's west showed toughness against Canterbury when they had to endure a period of nearly ten minutes without touching the ball, including defending six sets on their own line.

Their task will be to keep the competition's best attacking side quiet and they will take confidence in the fact that they took victory over the Jets when extremely understrength towards the end of the regular season. The mountain men have lost second-rower Corey Harawira-Naera who made a first time ISP appearance in the finals a fortnight ago, but the Panthers will be boosted by the return of wild-child Jack Hetherington who won't let the Panthers down in attack or defence, in particular his physicality.

The Bluebags meanwhile stamped their credentials for the title last week as they easily disposed of a weak Mounties side in a 34-16 victory at Jubilee Oval last weekend. Newtown were desperately unlucky in having to play last weekend after conceding a controversial final try against the Dragons in their Week 1 Qualifying Final. With the best attack in the competition this season, outscoring the Panthers in the premiership rounds by almost 90 points, and 78 points better than the Bulldogs, the second-best attacking side.

They'll be looking replicate their fast start from last weekend where they scored three tries in the first 33 minutes and had put the game beyond doubt by the hour mark. The key for the Jets will be their halves, with Kyle Flanagan taking control and hoping to lead the Bluebags to victory. They have a stable team from last week with just Braden Uele being added to the bench after missing last week's game.

Players To Watch: Caleb Aekins - The Panthers fullback has been like the energizer bunny at the back of the park for his side, both in defence and in attack. Aekins made a strong impression in his lone NRL appearance this season where he ran for in excess of 300m. The fullback has made 22 appearances for the Penrith ISP side this year and has run for a total of 4,114 metres (an average of 187 per game) and has only twice run for under 120 metres.

Blayke Brailey - The brother of Sharks NRL hooker Jayden, Blayke Brailey has shown some immense talent in the ISP competition this season at dummy half. The skills shown by the dummy half have been a large part of the success for the Jets this season with 9 try assists for the season and 10 line break assists. Brailey shows speed and guile at the base of the ruck but defensively the hooker has been strong making over 700 tackles for the season at a tackling efficiency of 88%.

Tip: This was my tip for the grand final so it's kind of disappointing to see one of these sides certain to fall at the last hurdle. The Panthers have both the heart and the head in this one, while the Jets have the talent to push the Panthers, but the benefit of the week off will help Penrith, who have the defence and x-factor to keep going. It won't be an easy one for the Panthers but their defensive strength will see them home. Panthers by 6.

Penrith Panthers
1. Caleb Aekins 2. Ratu Tuisese 3. Tyrone Phillips 4. Brian Too 5. Sam Smith 6. Adam Keighran 7. Liam Coleman 8. Kaide Ellis 9. Wayde Egan 10. Andy Saunders 11. Billy Burns 12. Jack Hetherington 13. Liam Martin 14. Siosifa Talakai 15. Jed Cartwright 16. Nick Lui-toso 17. Paea Pua 18. Reed Izzard

Newtown Jets
1. Will Kennedy 2. Bessie Aufaga-Toomaga 3. Aaron Gray 4. Reubenn Rennie 5. Sione Katoa 6. Jesse Marschke 7. Kyle Flanagan 8. Kurt Dillon 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Ava Seumanufagai 11. Briton Nikora 12. Anthony Moraitis 13. Jaimin Jolliffe 14. Billy Magoulias 16. Braeden Uele 17. Wesley Lolo 20. Addison Demetriou 21. Malakai Houma

2nd Preliminary Final

St George Illawarra Dragons v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 
Sunday 5:00pm (Live Fox Sports and Steele Sports Radio)

The second of the Grand Final spots will be battled out by two sides that have had a long rivalry at the top level, and will take it again on the field as they battle it out for an Intrust Super Premiership grand final spot.

The Dragons needed a 78th minute try against the Jets to book their fast passage to week three of the Intrust Super Premiership finals, although it did come with a touch of controversy after the officials missed a knock in the lead up to the match-winner. The Dragons had to come from ten points behind twice in the match after the Jets were able to open a lead up, but on both occasions the Red V got themselves back into the game, and ultimately got the win.

Having spent the majority of the season in the top four and had the benefit of the most stable side in the competition with the least amount of players used across the competition this season, the defence of the Red ‘V' has been the impressive part of their season to date with over 7,000 tackles made - some 100 tackles more than the next best side. Having said that, coach Mat Head will be concerned about the potential for errors with the Dragons having made the most errors in the competition.

Canterbury find themselves into the preliminary finals after a good 34-24 win over the Wyong Roos last Sunday night at Jubilee Oval. The Bulldogs conceded an early try and had to comeback from that, but they were able to do enough to keep themselves ahead of the Roos for the night. They were good with the ball, recording just five errors which - half as many as the Wyong side. The 'Dogs were impressive in defence as well, with just 35 missed tackles helping their solid defence hold out the potentially lethal Wyong attack.

The Belmore side in 2018 never really looked in contention for top spot, and instead found themselves sitting around the cusp of the top four for the majority of the season, eventually securing their spot in the penultimate round. Canterbury were boosted by the return of Rhyse Martin last week and it was there on show as his NRL and international experienced boosted the 'Dogs side significantly after he spent the second half of 2018 in their first grade side.

Players To Watch: Mitch Allgood - With plenty of experience at the top level, Allgood returned from England to the Dragons this season and although he hasn't cracked the NRL level this season he has been a consistent performer at the ISP level. The former Wakefield Trinity player has been strong in defence for the Red V with a tackling efficiency of nearly 95% for the season. The Dragons will hope Allgood is defensively sound and can make some good metres in the front row.

Matt Frawley - The former No.1 choice halfback for the Bulldogs NRL side, Frawley has found himself copping the ire of Bulldogs fans for some perceived below average performances. The return to the ISP hasn't been the greatest for Frawley, in particular last week which saw him twice find the in-goal with kicks from just 10m from the line. The Canterbury halfback has been inconsistent which has been something that has plagued him through his career and he will need to be on song if the Dogs want a grand final spot.

Tip: This game is the most likely of the two to go to extra time with both sides evenly matched in both attack and defence. The Dragons have been consistent for the season and will be looking to continue their consistency after a week off. Canterbury were quite good against the Panthers despite the ten point loss. The addition of Martin and Frawley were positives and Josh Cleeland will be the spark in attack that can get the Bulldogs home. Bulldogs by 2.

St George Illawarra Dragons
1. Jai Field 2. John Tohi 3. Reuban Garrick 4. Patrick Herbert 5. Steven Marsters 6. Adam Clune 7. Darren Nicholls 8. Pio Sokobalavu 9. Reece Robson 10. Mitchell Allgood 11. Jackson Ford 12. Jacob Host 13. Josaia Lovodua 14. Shaun Sauni-esau 15. Damian Sironen 16. Ashleigh Nisbet 17. Josh Kerr

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
1. Mason Cerruto 2. Josh Bergamin 3. Morgan Harper 4. John Olive 5. Jayden Okunbor 6. Josh Cleeland 7. Matt Frawley 8. Renouf To'omaga 9. Fa'amanu Brown 10. Francis Tualau 11. Ofahiki Ogden 12. Rhyse Martin 13. Greg Eastwood 14. Zac Woolford 15. Lachlan Burr 16. Jack Nelson 17. Bronson Garlick