Real or Not? If anyone can stop the Panthers, it is the Broncos

This week we work out whether the Broncos can spring a grand final upset, consider whether Brad Fittler should have been given another chance with the Blues and take the steam out of the Dally M Medal debate.

Read on as we tackle some of the big talking points in this week's NRL Real or Not.

If anyone is going to stop the Panthers, it will be the Broncos

REAL: It might seem obvious that the second best team in the competition is most likely to beat the best team in the competition, but the Broncos have a look to them that has fans extremely bullish about their chances. They head into Sunday's grand final with a team that compares favourably with the Panthers in every position across the field.

If the Panthers have one of the league's best forward packs, the Broncos aren't too far behind and have arguably two of the league's best in Payne Haas and Patrick Carrigan. If the Panthers have a super star young halfback, the Broncos have a champion veteran half. Both teams have crafty running five-eighths and both have backlines bristling with strike weapons, crowned by two of the best fullbacks in the league.

There seriously isn't much between these two teams as they line up. Obviously, the one glaring advantage the Panthers have is grand final experience. The only two Broncos to have played in a NRL grand final are Adam Reynolds and Kurt Capewell. They do have considerable State of Origin experience, which may go part of the way to help steady the big game nerves. They will need to be near perfect to win, because they know the Panthers will be.

"They've just been a good side for a long time," Broncos coach Kevin Walters said of the Panthers.

"They play the long game. They are a ruthless side, they don't give you a whole lot."

Apart from being near-perfect, and very familiar with the pressures of grand final day, the Panthers will certainly not underestimate the Broncos, nor how key the forward battle will be in determining the outcome.

"That's certainly something last week they did really well, they were on the front foot a lot of the time," Penrith co-captain Isaah Yeo said.

"That's what allows Reece to be out the back and hitting it at 100 miles an hour."

"That's probably one of the bigger battles of the game," Yeo added.

"That forward battle and trying not to let them earn too much momentum there."

It has the potential to be one of the great deciders, exactly because the Broncos at their best have a very real shot at causing an upset.

Brad Fittler deserved another contract with NSW

NOT REAL: Coaching a State of Origin team is a strange job. For a start you need to have all the right qualities to be a head coach, but not have a current position in the NRL. You get to work with the best players the Origin system allows you to select and you bring these men together over a relatively short period of time, with the task of turning them into a unit which is greater than the sum of its individual parts. You have to convert a team of champions into a champion team. These are the best of the best, they don't need you to work on their individual games, they need you to work on the way they combine and on the passion they will take into the contest.

It is what Queensland coaches have done so well over the years. Quite regularly the Queensland team would appear inferior on paper, but Origins are won on the field of battle, where reputations mean little and camaraderie is king. The Maroons have the wood over the Blues, not because they love their state more, not because they "get" Origin, but because they put winning for Queensland above all else.

Fittler took on the Blues job in 2018 when the Maroons were starting to lose players from their all-conquering era. He coached the team to series victories in his first two years. He lost the following year, won again in 2021, before losing the last two series. In all he has coached 18 State of Origin games and won nine of those. A 50 percent win record in both games and series is not good enough for Blues fans, particularly when Fittler has been seen to make some strange selection choices along the way, in losing to weaker looking Queensland squads.

"I loved doing the job and NSW and I will always love NSW," Fittler said after announcing that he would not be returning.

It is time to try another direction, find someone with the right mix of coaching nous and inspirational man management skills. Such a coach is not easy to find. Plenty will be keen to take on the role, few will be capable of long-term success.

Shaun Johnson unlucky to miss out on Dally M Medal

REAL: No one would deny that Kalyn Ponga is the kind of player that often wins the Dally M Medal. He is so brilliant on his best days that he can single-handedly carry his team to victory. As the Knights charged towards a place in the Top 8, Ponga was easily their best player and subsequently collected a lot of Dally M points. His stand-out performances meant he was able to compensate for the five weeks he missed earlier in the season through concussion.

Should he have won the medal over Shaun Johnson? Probably not, but that is the way this award has been determined forever. Judges put their votes in for each game and every year the award usually goes to the flashiest half or fullback, who has caught the most eyes. Does that make them the best player in the NRL for that year? Well, not really, only by Dally M voting standards.

You can go back round by round and try to decipher how Ponga was able to pip Johnson for the medal, but you'll struggle to find any definitive answers because the process is so subjective. While Johnson no doubt was the key to the Warriors having a great season, he might not have stood out as the only player in the team worthy of maximum points each round.

I would argue that someone like Dylan Edwards or Payne Haas, was the best player in the NRL this season, but those two play in teams where nearly everyone contributes towards victories. Their consistently top-level performances don't always bring in the Dally M votes. It really is a flawed award, and one not worth getting overly upset about.