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NRL: Five talking points from the weekend

Round 21 of the NRL was as exciting as ever as the Penrith Panthers bounced back to winning ways while the race to play finals remains tighter than ever.

The Panthers maintained their six-point lead at the top of the ladder as they bounced back to beat the Canberra Raiders, while the North Queensland Cowboys remain hot on their heels following a win over the Bulldogs.

Cronulla Sharks are still pushing for second spot after putting the Dragons to the sword, while the Melbourne Storm made it back-to-back wins when seeing off the Titans.

Elsewhere the Newcastle Knights finally stopped the rot with a tense, but crucial win over the Wests Tigers on Sunday.

There were also big wins for the Parramatta Eels, South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Sydney Roosters who all boosted their finals hopes.

There is plenty to delve into so let’s take a look at the main talking points to come out of round 21.
 

The Penrith Panthers are back on track

Questions were raised about the Panthers and their minor premiership tilt following the defeat against Parramatta in round 20.

It was only their second defeat of the season, and they played much of the game with 12 men, so hardly a reason to reach for the panic button.

However they lost Nathan Cleary after he was handed a five-week ban following a spear tackle against the Eels. Not only that fellow halves partner Jarome Luai is also out injured for the same amount of time.

Once again the Panthers showed they have the strength in depth to cope. Jaeman Salmon and Sean O’Sullivan did a great job and showed Penrith will be in good hands until Cleary and Luai return.

Taking on a Raiders side on their own patch was going to be a tough test and the Panthers passed it with flying colours. Penrith are priced at 11/10 to win the grand final.
 

The weight has been taken off Adam O’Brien’s shoulders

The pressure was really starting to build on Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien but some of it has been lifted following a gutsy win over the Wests Tigers.

The Knights had lost four games on the bounce and had won just five all season as they headed into the game. Another defeat and the knives really would have been out for O’Brien.

It had been a tough week for the club with off-field issues also in the spotlight. However the playing group was galvanised and dug deep to hold out the Tigers, winning 14-10 at Campbelltown Stadium.

“It matters. Everyone is invested, it’s not just me, everyone from physios to players,” O’Brien told reporters after the game. “It was a tough week, I’m really proud of the players, they rallied, we were really united and trained well. I’m really pleased for them.”

Finals hopes on a knife edge for the Broncos

Brisbane were pushing for the top four and were also being touted as potential premiership candidates for the 2022 campaign.

However back-to-back defeats have left them looking anxiously over their shoulder as they have slipped to seventh on the ladder.

Just four points separate them and the Canberra Raiders who sit in ninth and there are four games remaining.

Kevin Walters side are priced at  to make the eight, but they really need to stop the rot when they entertain the Newcastle Knights this week.

Then there are games against the Storm, Eels and Dragons to come. So there is still work to be done to guarantee finals. They are 1/25 to make the eight.
 

Ricky Stuart in hot water again

The Canberra Raiders coach has been hit with a number of fines throughout his long, established career but could be set for his biggest punishment yet.

Stuart shocked the NRL world with his comments regarding Penrith star Jaeman Salmon following the game at the weekend.

The Raiders chief has since apologised, but now all eyes are on the NRL to see what punishment they dish out.

There has been talk of a one-match ban being dished out, which would be the first for a coach in the history of the comp.

Manly’s finals hopes fade

It has been a tough few weeks for the Sea Eagles and they suffered again when losing 36-20 against the Parramatta Eels.
They now sit four points away from the eight with four games remaining and need a bit of a miracle to make finals. They are priced at 16/1.

Des Hasler’s men have to beat the Titans this week to keep their hopes alive. But their leaky defence has been letting them down and unless they plug the gaps fast they will continue to struggle.

Manly have conceded a total of 56 points in the last two games.

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