NRL Finals Week 1 Preview: Matches, Betting, Format, Predictions

25 rounds after the NRL season kicked off, the final eight is at long last settled, and the post-season will kick off this Friday night with a huge game between the Panthers and the Eels. In this piece, we’ll run through the finals format which will ultimately decide the Premier, before taking an in-depth look at each game individually, some relevant stats and trends to each of them, then provide a couple of tips to round things out.

NRL Finals Format

The current NRL finals format has been used since 2012 when it replaced what’s known as the McIntyre system, and provides a much more significant advantage to teams that finish inside the top four at the conclusion of the regular season. That added advantage comes in the form of a double chance, with the top four teams playing one another in the first week of the finals and then advancing to a preliminary final if they win, or a semi-final if they lose. This is how this year’s NRL finals will look. 


Week One

1st Qualifying Final (QF1): Penrith Panthers (1) vs Parramatta Eels (4)

2nd Qualifying Final (QF2): Cronulla Sharks (2) vs North Queensland Cowboys (3)

1st Elimination Final (EF1): Melbourne Storm (5) vs Canberra Raiders (8)

2nd Elimination Final (EF2): Sydney Roosters (6) vs South Sydney Rabbitohs (7)


Week Two

1st Semifinal (SF1): Loser QF1 vs Winner EF1

2nd Semifinal (SF2): Loser QF2 vs Winner EF2


Week Three

1st Preliminary Final (PF1): Winner QF1 vs Winner SF2

2nd Preliminary Final (PF2): Winner QF2 vs Winner SF1


Week Four

Grand Final: Winner PF1 vs Winner PF2


Of the nine finals set to take place over the coming month, seven of them are elimination games from which the loser will be sent packing from the finals. The only two exceptions are the two qualifying finals this weekend between the Panthers and Eels, and the Sharks and Cowboys. The winner of those games will not only advance to a preliminary final, but get to host one, while the losers get a second chance in a semi-final the following week.


With the first four of those finals now scheduled, let’s take a look at how each one of them is shaping up. 


Penrith Panthers ($1.39) vs Parramatta Eels ($3.05)

September 9, 7:50pm @ BlueBet Stadium


Though the Panthers have long been destined for top spot, it took until the final round for their qualifying final opponent to be decided. Courtesy of a terrific win against the Storm, that lucky opponent is the Eels, who will have to do what just two teams aside from Penrith have done all year and win at BlueBet Stadium if they’re to host a preliminary final. Interestingly, however, one of those teams was Parramatta themselves, who recorded a terrific 22-20 win back in early May at this venue.


That was indicative of how good they can be at their best, and they’ve managed to find that level more often than not over the past few weeks. If they can find that mojo, they can threaten the Panthers, though they’ve also dished up more than a few dreadful performances throughout the year, and if they do that the home side will make a mockery of them. The Panthers will enter this game rested after they let a number of their stars sit out last week’s Round 25 clash and well and truly deserve to be favourites, but they’ll still need to play well against the Eels.


Notable Stats and Trends

      The Panthers have lost just eight home and away games in the last three years.

      The Eels have made the finals four times in the last five years, including two top four finishes, but haven’t made it past the semi-finals in that time.

      Penrith have conceded the least points in the league, while Parramatta have conceded the most of any top eight side.



Melbourne Storm ($1.43) vs Canberra Raiders ($2.85)

September 10, 5.40pm @ AAMI Park


For a large part of the year the Storm were seen as comfortably Penrith’s biggest contender for the flag, but a run of injuries and bad form saw them lose their grip on a top four spot as the end of the season neared, and a loss to the Eels last weekend meant that they missed out on the double chance. The Raiders, in contrast, had a terrific end to the year; they won their last four games and seven of their last eight to jump inside the top eight in Round 24, and enter the finals series with their tail well and truly up.

The Storm won’t be easy to beat, but they are certainly a lot more vulnerable than they might have been a few months ago – even at AAMI Park. In fact, though they boast an impressive 8-4 record at home this year, they have lost two of their last three there, including one to their opponents this weekend. On that occasion the Raiders won 20-16 to begin their charge towards the finals, and though they’ll head in to this one as underdogs they’ll take plenty of confidence from that result.


Notable Stats and Trends

      This is the first time since 2014 that the Storm have missed the top four.

      While the Raiders were comfortably the lowest scoring team in the top eight, the Storm have scored more points than any other side in the league this year.

      The Raiders’ Joseph Tapine leads the league in post contact metres in 2022 with 1,596.



Cronulla Sharks ($1.70) vs North Queensland Cowboys ($2.15)

September 10, 7.50pm @ PointsBet Stadium


The Sharks and the Cowboys have both demonstrated an enormous level of improvement this year, and this is a qualifying final that few would have picked at the beginning of the year. Neither of them finished in the top eight in 2021 and the Cowboys were way back in 15th, so for them to both end the season in the top three is a major achievement. Having gotten this far, however, they’ll both be eager to ensure that they don’t waste the opportunity, and a win in this game and subsequent home preliminary final is a great way to do that.

The two sides have met on just one occasion so far this year, back in July, and on that occasion the Sharks were far too good despite having to head to North Queensland for the game. This time around, they get to enjoy the advantage of playing on their home turf, a venue at which they have an equal-best record in the league of 10-2. Perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding them, however, is that they have enjoyed a very easy run of opponents over the last few weeks. They’ve beaten them all, but the Cowboys will certainly pose a far greater challenge.


Notable Stats and Trends

      These two sides sit behind only the Panthers for points conceded this season.

      The Sharks have won a huge eight consecutive games against the Cowboys, and have a 32-17 record overall against them.

      Valentine Holmes leads the league in points this year, while Nicho Hynes sits back in fourth.



Sydney Roosters ($1.57) vs South Sydney Rabbitohs ($2.40)

September 11, 4.05pm @ Allianz Stadium


For the second time in as many weeks the Roosters and the Rabbitohs will be pitted against one another, but while last week the prize for winning was a home final against the same opponent, this week there’s a lot more on the line. The season will come to an end for one of these sides, and with the form they have both displayed over the past couple of months, whichever side that is will no doubt feel as though they had a lot left to give. 

The Chooks have won eight on the trot while the Bunnies have only lost to the top two sides plus the Roosters themselves in the past week. The latter of those results, however, might be significant. Sydney won relatively comfortably last week, something they’ve made a habit of doing all year at home, where they have a 9-3 record. The Rabbitohs, in contrast, have been significantly worse on the road, boasting a 5-7 record in away games. Last year’s grand finalists are good enough if they play at their best, but the Roosters no doubt go in with the advantage.


Notable Stats and Trends

      These two sides have played a whopping 228 times against one another, with the Rabbitohs winning 119 of them, the Roosters 104, and five draws being played out.

      Prior to last week’s Roosters’ win, the Bunnies had won this matchup four times in a row.

      The Roosters have won their last eight games by an average of over 21 points.



NRL Finals Futures

Take a look at the odds for some of the biggest finals markets below.


Premiership Winner

Penrith Panthers – $2.20

Parramatta Eels – $7.00

Cronulla Sharks – $7.50

Sydney Roosters – $8.50

Melbourne Storm – $9.50

North Queensland Cowboys – $10.00

South Sydney Rabbitohs – $17.00

Canberra Raiders – $51.00


To Make Grand Final

Penrith Panthers – $1.50

Cronulla Sharks – $2.70

Parramatta Eels – $2.90

North Queensland Cowboys – $4.00

Melbourne Storm – $4.50

Sydney Roosters – $4.80

South Sydney Rabbitohs – $9.00

Canberra Raiders – $26.00


Clive Churchill Medal

Nathan Cleary – $5.00

Isaah Yeo – $11.00

Nicho Hynes – $13.00

Apisai Koroisau – $14.00

Dylan Edwards – $18.00

James Tedesco – $18.00

Jarome Luai – $18.00

Cameron Munster – $21.00

Mitchell Moses – $21.00

Viliame Kikau – $26.00


NRL Finals Week 1 Tips & Predictions

Sharks -2.5 @ $1.95

The Sharks might not have had to play anyone of the Cowboys’ quality of late, but you can only beat the sides in front of you and they have certainly done that. They enter the game in great form and have grown an extra leg or three on their home turf, so beating North Queensland by three points or more certainly seems well within their reach.


Roosters -4.5 @ $1.95

Of course, the hope is for a tight and tense affair in this one, but as strong as the Rabbitohs have looked lately, the Roosters have been a 15-man wrecking ball over the past couple of months. They’ve beaten everyone in their path, usually comfortably, including the Bunnies just last week. At a ground where they excel, and with the Rabbitohs having struggled on the road this year, all signs points to another win for the Chooks.


**Odds quoted are accurate at the time of writing but are subject to change.