Laurie Daley's verdict on the Roosters three-peat chances

Josh Papalii will be one of the keys to victory for the Canberra Raiders. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Josh Papalii will be one of the keys to victory for the Canberra Raiders. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Can anyone stop this young, fearless Penrith Panthers side from going through the season with just one defeat to win the premiership?

They showed nerves of steel to take down defending premiers Sydney Roosters last weekend and, for mine, were the standouts of the eight teams that kicked off the finals series.

Six remain following the demise of the Knights and the Sharks. And right now, Penrith is the team to beat.

What I loved about them was their composure for a young side and their ability not to panic.

They didn't get rattled when they conceded early and fell behind before exploding into action. And they didn't fall apart, like they easily could have when the Roosters threw the kitchen sink at them in the second half to storm back into the contest.

When it mattered most, their linchpin Nathan Cleary stepped up after a whale of a game to ice the result with that late field goal that put them far enough in front.

Cleary was a dominant force, but so to was livewire five-eighth Jarome Luai, who just provides so much energy and confidence and a running game that makes him a real threat.

The Roosters were gallant in defeat and, like any great side defending their title, showed plenty of spirit and fight to drag themselves off the canvas and back into the game. But they weren't quite good enough.

The other team already through to the preliminary final, Melbourne Storm, were typical in their win over the Parramatta Eels: calm, professional and at times, electric.

As usual, Cameron Smith led them brilliantly, while the likes of Kenny Bromwich, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Josh Addo-Carr were outstanding.

The key for them now is the fitness of Cameron Munster.

He was another star performer who is crucial to their chances of making the grand final and winning it. Without him, I'm not sure they can even get there.

ROOSTERS v RAIDERS

Jake Friend and Sonny Bill Williams are big "ins" for the Roosters from last weekend's loss to Penrith.

But the big question for me here is can the defending premiers get up emotionally again after such a letdown against the Panthers?

They gave absolutely everything in that second-half fightback but still came up short. How will that affect them? Will they be tired and a little flat in this one?

They have a mountain to climb here and there is no doubt they have the class in the likes of Luke Keary and James Tedesco to make a real difference. But will their forwards lay enough of a platform for them to deliver?

In contrast, the Canberra Raiders are coming off a win over the Sharks where they didn't really need to expend any emotional energy. The Raiders were expected to win and did what was needed to get the job done.

They were sluggish early and found themselves down on the scoreboard, but simply shifted gears a little in the second half to win comfortably.

I still think the Raiders are performing well below their capabilities.

They'll need to step it up here, but there is no risk Ricky Stuart will have them pumped and primed with the motivation of last season's grand final loss to the Roosters still fresh.

Jack Wighton will be crucial to their chances. But the player for me who will decide if the Raiders go further or not is Josh Papalii up front. If he produces one of his special games and gets his side on the front foot, I reckon the Raiders may just end the Roosters' quest for a three-peat.

My tip: RAIDERS

EELS v RABBITOHS

It will be a huge letdown for the Eels and their army of fans if they come up short in this one and bow out after a season that promised so much.

They were the form team early on, when they were playing with so much intent. But while they still finished top four, they weren't the same imposing force later in the season.

They come into this one against Souths off the back of a defeat to the Storm that's been made worse by the loss of powerhouse winger Maika Sivo and potentially Blake Ferguson as well.

Just the physical presence of those two in bringing the ball back out of their own end will be sorely missed by Parra, who are going to need a herculean performance from the forward pack to keep those title hopes alive.

Souths, on the other hand, have hit their straps just at the right time and are playing some great footy.

They just back their ability to score more points than other teams with their lethal halves pairing of Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker and hooker Damien Cook leading the way.

A negative for the Rabbitohs is they rarely play for 80 minutes. They give you a chance and are prone to errors if they are put under pressure. They gave up 14 points at better than a point a minute to start the game against the Knights last Sunday, and can't afford to do that against the heavyweights.

For the Eels to come out on top, they are going to have to dictate where Souths get the footy on the field.

Controlling the footy will be the big thing, along with not giving away cheap penalties and regular set restarts. Mitchell Moses' kicking game will also have a big part to play.

The plan has to be to keep Souths coming out of their own end as much as possible, limiting the opportunities for Reynolds and Walker to dazzle with their ball skills and sleight of hand. Easier said than done.

My tip: RABBITOHS