NRL great PAUL GALLEN will appear on Nine’s 100% FOOTY every week of the NRL season, debating rugby league’s hottest topics alongside Phil Gould and James Bracey. Due to the Queen’s funeral this week, tune in at the special time of Tuesday at 9:40pm (AEST) following a bumper week two of the finals series!
There’s four teams left in this year’s competition, and three of them have won a premiership in the last eight years.
Fans of Penrith (2021), North Queensland (2015) and Souths (2014) have all experienced a drought-breaking win in recent seasons. The fourth team, Parramatta, have famously not won since 1986.
At the start of the season I tipped Parramatta to play the Roosters in the grand final, and I suspect I’m going to be 0 from 2 on that front, because right now I’m leaning towards Penrith to play the Cowboys in the decider .
READ MORE: Fatal selection call that ‘hurt Cronulla badly’
READ MORE: Smith pockets $6 million in first LIV Golf win
READ MORE: Golden numbers behind Cripps’ Brown low win
But make no mistake, the next two weeks are a massive opportunity for Parramatta, and especially their halfback Mitchell Moses.
It’s a chance for Mitchell to cement his position as one of the game’s real stars. He’s already an elite player – he’s played State of Origin – but if you can lead your team to a premiership it takes you to another level.
Getting through the preliminary final is obviously half the battle, once you’ve made the grand final anything can happen on the day. Someone could get sent to the sin bin or even sent off, a key player could pick up an injury, or an HIA, there’s so many variables these days.
It’s a big ask for Parramatta to go to Townsville and beat the Cowboys, who are fresh from a week off, but the Eels will have every chance of success if they play like they did against Canberra.
In North Queensland’s favor is what they’ve done defensively this year, they’ve been the second best defensive side in the competition. In saying that, Parramatta put 40 points on Canberra and the Cowboys conceded 30 against the Sharks in week one of the finals.
For me, if the Cowboys defend like they have for the majority of the season that could be the decisive factor.
Stream the NRL and NRLW premiership 2022 live and free on 9Now
The Sydney Morning Herald has a story that Moses has a premiership-winning clause in his contract that will see his salary jump to over $1 million-a-season if he can guide the Eels to the title. I haven’t seen too many clauses like that.
Obviously the halfback is key to either side, and Mitch would absolutely deserve that kind of money if he can end Parramatta’s 36-year drought. It’s almost harder for a halfback at the Eels than any other club; it’s an impossible task to fill Peter Sterling’s No.7 jumper and the scrutiny that comes with that position is intense.
NRL Highlights: Eels v Raiders – Finals Week 2
I’ve said from day one that this year is probably the last for Parramatta in this particular premiership window, with guys like Reed Mahoney and Isaiah Papali’i leaving the club at the end of 2022.
At this level you’re playing to win premierships, and such a long drought for a club like Parramatta is unfathomable. It’s what you’re ultimately judged on. They’ve played in a couple of grand finals since their 1986 win, but their fans have waited so long and to be the halfback that breaks that drought would cement Mitchell’s legacy forever.
The reports are Moses has an option for 2024 to stay at Parramatta which he’s yet to activate, and he could potentially talk to other clubs on November 1, which is only about six weeks away, but I suspect he’ll stay at the Eels.
He’s on pretty decent money, I’m not sure where he’d get more, unless the Dolphins make a big play for him, but that would mean a move interstate.
Mitch is 28, so he’s in the sweet spot of his career. From about 25 years old to about 30 years old, give or take a year or two, that’s your peak physically.
You’ve got the experience under your belt, you see things better, the game almost takes place in slow motion around you. I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s as easy as it’s ever going to be.
If they do get to the grand final and face Penrith, Parramatta will be confident because they’ve already beaten the Panthers twice this season. I know Penrith had Nathan Cleary sent off in the second match which was obviously a major influence on the outcome, but to know you’ve beaten your opponents earlier in the year is a huge boost at this time of the year.
I can speak from first-hand experience about what it’s like to be at a club where the premiership drought has stretched across decades. One thing I can guarantee you, the players and staff won’t be speaking about it.
It’s a big issue for the media, and also the fans, but internally it’s just not an issue. It’s something you can’t control, so you put it out of your mind. You want to focus on your own game and your own preparation.
Even reaching this stage is a small win for Parramatta, who hadn’t made a preliminary final since 2009, the longest wait of any team in the competition.
Clearly every team sets out to win the competition at the start of the season, but a top-four finish for Parramatta is a successful year, especially in a period where you’ve got Penrith so far ahead of everyone else.
If the Cowboys are successful on Friday night, two players who will rightly get much of the credit are Scott Drinkwater and Tom Dearden. Players like Moses, Nathan Cleary and Latrell Mitchell get plenty of headlines, but Drinkwater and Dearden have been exceptional this year.
The Cowboys don’t have an out-and-out gamebreaker like Latrell, but he’s such a rare talent that not many can do what he can.
Dearden’s running game is so impressive, and along with Drinkwater he has that ability to make something out of nothing.
For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter clicking here!