Michael Chammas: If the two teams play their best footy, Penrith win. But of all the teams in the competition, Parramatta are the best at finding a way to unsettle the rhythm of the Panthers. If the Eels forwards can ambush Nathan Cleary like Queensland did in Origin, the Eels will win. But it’s hard to see them finding a way to do so effectively. Dylan Edwards for the Clive Churchill Medal. Panthers by 2.
Caden Helmers: Parramatta have troubled the reigning premiers like few others but a major question mark remains over their ability to go 80 minutes with Penrith. The Panthers are clinical from the opening whistle and the Eels are often guilty of dozing off for a few minutes – and that’s all a Nathan Cleary-inspired Penrith outfit will need. It will be a tight contest early but Api Koroisau will be a game changer at hooker to give the Panthers some breathing room. The rugby league romantic in me would love to hear the bells ringing inside the Parramatta Leagues Club amid declarations the “witch is dead” once more, but the Panthers will be too strong. Panthers by 8.
Roy Masters: After more than 50 years, the Panthers have realised the heart of a team is homegrown talent. Their young team was stage-struck in the 2020 decider and had some luck in last year’s premiership but are ready to triumph again in 2022. Panthers by 14.
Christian Nicolussi: Penrith will romp this in on the back of Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo. Parramatta did well defensively against North Queensland, but the Cowboys should have gone on with it when they led by eight points early. The premiers are methodical for 80 minutes, Cleary is third-up from a spell, while the blue-and-golds are guilty of clocking off for short stints in games and have a suspect bench. Nathan Brown will try to inspire but is grossly underdone. Panthers by 20.
Adam Pengilly: The Panthers won last year’s grand final with a team resembling a M*A*S*H ward. This year? It’s hard to think of a smoother preparation for Ivan Cleary’s men, who are at the peak of their powers. Nathan Cleary is the type who prefers the scalpel over a sledgehammer, and expect his kicking game to be the deciding factor after a wet week in Sydney. Brad Arthur pitchforking Nathan Brown into his side after three months out is an inspired choice. The Eels will keep this close for a long time, but it won’t be enough. Viliame Kikau to star in his final game for the mountain men. Panthers by 14.
Adrian Proszenko: Penrith have long been the best team in the competition, but this is a good match-up for Parramatta. The Eels have a much better chance of upsetting the premiers than if they had come up against South Sydney — a team who have owned them in recent seasons — in the decider. The key to a Parramatta victory will be a fast start; the forwards need to muscle up and offload because no team can outgrind the Panthers. It’s going to be risky with the forecast if rain, but Brad Arthur’s men need to chance their arm and play football. Penrith’s composure is scary – even when they trailed the Rabbitohs by 12 points, there was no panic. The Eels will need to get them off their game. It’s a tough assignment, but Parramatta are up to it. Eels by 8.
Dan Walsh: Parramatta have the game to trouble Penrith; no team plays an offload-centric style better than the Eels when they’re on song. If they can jag two tries in the first half it’s game-on. The question has always been where they turn when a defence – and the Panthers are one of the great defensive outfits of recent times – can keep a lid on Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard early. Mitchell Moses must outplay Nathan Cleary, especially off the boot, or the Panthers’ all-round class prevails. Api Koroisau coming into the fray after 20-30 minutes also offers game smarts the Eels can’t match. Panthers by 6.
Andrew Webster: This is Penrith’s premiership to lose. That’s been said of this team for most of the season. Despite this, despite the usual hangover from winning a premiership, despite losing Nathan Cleary for five matches, the Panthers have lost just four matches. They rarely panic and if they get into their usual groove it’s going to be impossible for Parramatta to stop the tide coming at them. Viliame Kikau for Clive Churchill at decent odds. Panthers by 10.
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