First tackle: Player safety goes out the window
It would seem that because of what happened with the Panthers and their questionable injury stoppages last week, we had the ridiculous situation on Friday night where Manly's Sean Keppie was clearly knocked senseless, right in front of the referee, and play was allowed to continue. He tried to regain his feet and nearly fell into the play-the-ball. Play continued as he stumbled and fell again.
There was no need for a trainer to call out anything, Keppie's obvious condition would have been reason enough to stop any other game, at any other point in the last few years. But not this week.
Another tackle was played out and Keppie was allowed to take his place in the defensive line under the posts, clearly distressed. A bit of controversy during the week over trainers stopping the game and suddenly player welfare is thrown completely out the window.
For the record, the Rabbitohs were held up over the line and Keppie was taken from the field to fail his HIA. If he had been involved in another heavy collision while still on the field, you would have to wonder what would have eventuated.
Second tackle: Brilliant planning in Panthers' first try
What a piece of genius we saw for Penrith's first try. Nathan Cleary picked the ball up at dummy-half, two metres out from the Storm line in centre field. He stood and dropped a pin-point kick directly to winger Steve Crichton, who caught it on the line about a metre in from touch before putting it down.
The Panthers brains trust had seen Roosters star James Tedesco do something similar early in the year on noticing the Storm's ultra-compressed defence when defending their line. Josh Addo-Carr was the nearest Storm defender to Crichton and he was 15 metres away.
"We stole it off the Roosters," Ivan Cleary said after the game. "I was actually watching that game so I remembered it.
"Sometimes that sort of stuff works, sometimes it doesn't and sometimes you don't even use it. Today, to the boys' credit, they had the courage to do it and executed it well."
To ice the cake Cleary converted the try from the sideline.
Third tackle: Luckless Sea Eagles never in it
Manly didn't have an ounce of luck go their way in the first half, but as the old adage goes, you make your own luck and the Rabbitohs definitely did that.
After having their first try disallowed when a decoy-running Moses Suli sent Adam Reynolds flying, Manly finally looked to have crossed through try machine Tom Trbojevic.
At the end of a sweeping Sea Eagles backline play, Trbojevic dummied to unmarked winger Jason Saab and crossed the line with his body height too high, for too long. A herd of Rabbits took advantage and hit him from all angles, ripping the ball loose before Trbojevic had a chance to ground it.
Despite the first half setbacks and trailing 22-0, the Sea Eagles started the second half on fire, finally scoring their first try through Reuben Garrick. They then completely released the pressure valve with a series of catch-up football handling mistakes. Their three second-half tries were matched by three from the Rabbitohs including an unusual effort by Jaxson Paulo.
With just over 20 minutes to go, Paulo rose above the pack to take a bomb seven metres out from Manly's line. He landed with his back to the chalk and instead of turning, he covered the distance running backwards. It summed up the night really, the Rabbitohs could do little wrong on a night where the Sea Eagles just couldn't take a trick.
Fourth tackle: Pouncing Panthers earn another shot
It was a combination of incredible scrambling defence and errors under pressure that saw the Panthers prevail over the Storm in the warm Brisbane conditions on Saturday night. Against the odds and the opinion of most pundits, the Panthers avenged last year's Grand Final defeat to take their place in the 2021 decider against South Sydney.
There were at least two clear opportunities for Storm tries that were chopped down just centimetres from the line. For the rest of the night, the Storm struggled to find any way through the pink Panthers wall.
"A couple of years ago when we sat down and we really wanted to make this team a genuine top-four team or premiership threat, historically you can't do it without really strong defence," Cleary said.
"It's been the foundation of what we do. We spend a lot of time on it, we really value it and it has certainly helped us the last few weeks."
Fifth and last: Head clashes cost the Storm early
The Storm lost two forwards relatively early in the preliminary final against the Panthers. Two minutes in, with Panthers on the attack, the Storm trainer was able to stop play to assess Christian Welch after a head knock. Despite the stoppage, Welch was allowed to take his place in the defensive line, to continue playing.
Not long after the doctor reviewed the footage, Welch was taken from the field for an HIA which he failed. It was eerily similar to his State of Origin experience earlier in the year where he left the game painfully early.
Just fifteen minutes into the clash, Brandon Smith struggled to regain his feet after a heavy collision. It initially appeared as though he had injured his shoulder, but he was taken from the field where he also failed his HIA. Despite having a more than able replacement hooker in Harry Grant, the loss of Smith took a lot of sting out of the Storm's attack. Grant was thrown into the grind of the game way earlier than planned and Smith's late game enthusiasm was sorely missed.
Handover: Always add a couple of hours to that trip
Anyone who has ever driven between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast along the Bruce Highway at just about any time of the evening, on any day of the week, can sympathise with what the Sea Eagles went through on Friday night.
The traffic can be horrendous in either direction, crawling to a standstill as on ramps merge and throw more vehicles into the fray. Manly had decided to stay on the Sunshine Coast in the lead up to their preliminary final clash with South Sydney. They jumped on the team coach with ample time to make the journey to Suncorp Stadium, or so they thought.
With the coach crawling, frantic phone calls were made and two things happened. The start of the game was delayed by 15 minutes and a police escort was sent to bring the Sea Eagles in. It was the start of a bad night for Manly as they struggled to compete with the Rabbitohs.