The whips are well and truly cracking in the 2021 NRL premiership race, so let's take a minute to analyse the four remaining squads using the weekend's semi-finals action as a point of reference.
They're probably the most spoken about side in the Central West, so let's start with the Panthers.
Any concerns rugby league pundits might have had about Penrith's ability to lift the NRL premiership were validated during an 8-6 victory over the Eels on Saturday night.
I'll admit, it's pretty stiff to be sticking the boot into a side after they win a semi-finals match, but I couldn't help think the men in black were flat out underwhelming in that contest.
Let's cast our mind back to the start of the campaign when it was death, taxes, and Penrith putting their opponents to the sword.
They came out of the blocks like a house on fire, winning their first 12 matches by an average margin of 25.5 points... let that sink in.
Ivan Cleary had his men on track to exact revenge against the Storm after losing the grand-final in 2020.
But, when the State of Origin period rolled around, the Panthers showed signs of susceptibility, which is absolutely understandable.
What isn't understandable is this group's lack of potency in the last month of the regular season, and in the first two weeks of the finals.
I was happy to put a pen through the match against South Sydney, attributing the result to an incredibly resilient Bunnies defensive line, but now I'm thinking Penrith's attack has lost its mojo.
It felt like Nathan Cleary and company were knocking on the door for that entire second half against the Eels, and couldn't once crack them.
Brent Naden looked to have pounced on a Blake Ferguson error, only for Jarome Luai to be ruled offside on the kick, that's really not good enough.
Some credit must be given to Parramatta, because their goal-line defence was excellent.
But, when you carry the expectations the Panthers do, you're expected to score more than one try in 80 minutes on a lightning quick Mackay track.
Maybe some sort of blue print has been set on how to stop this group, I'm really not sure.
But, what I am sure of is that the Panthers will need to improve tenfold if they want to go within three lengths of the finals juggernaut that is Melbourne.
We don't need to go too in-depth, here.
I offered my opinion on where this group was standing after they defeated Manly, and we haven't seen them run around since.
What we have seen is the squad they'll be tasked to beat on Saturday, and odds makers have dubbed the Storm a $1.33 chance of winning Saturday's game... about a 75 per cent shot.
There could be merit in suggesting the Panthers will be better off after the fortnight of footy, but it's more likely they come out a tick underdone.
And when I mentioned blue print earlier, there's not a single club or coach that's better at exploiting weaknesses than Melbourne and Bellamy.
They knocked off the Panthers on the big stage last year, and you'd be a brave man or woman to predict anything else will happen on Saturday.
This one's short and sweet.
MANLY SEA EAGLES
Doooooooooinnnnnnn' the Eagle Rock!
Let me first preface this by saying I am not a Manly fan, I just think they are an extremely special footy side.
Footy fans were out to get them after a heavy loss to Melbourne, but they should have been putting their faith in one of the hottest sides in footy to bounce back in style, and that's what they did.
The Sea Eagles ran riot against the Roosters on Friday, a group that well and truly looked to be out of gas.
Now, they've drawn the South Sydney Rabbitohs and enter the preliminary finals contest as a slight underdog... I'm not sure why.
Manly could potentially have the highest ceiling out of any team in the competition, and they're now on high alert after seeing what can happen when they aren't at their best during finals footy.
When Dylan Walker comes onto the paddock, they have the luxury of four genuine ball players in and around the ruck... that's got to be a nightmare to defend.
Tom Trbojevic is a leading candidate for Dally M Player of the Year, which has probably overshadowed the resurgence of Daly Cherry-Evans who's turned in close to a career-best campaign at 32 years of age.
I might have egg on my face after this, but Manly's the team to beat on this side of the draw, and despite smacking them in week one of the finals, I think Melbourne would rather see South Sydney in a grand-final than the Sea Eagles.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
If you're reading this, you might be ready to clip me over the ears for overlooking South Sydney to the extent I am.
Because you're right... I don't give them much hope of winning.
Don't get me wrong, when Latrell Mitchell was part of this team, I thought they had the star-power and structure to give the comp a real shake up.
I don't want to crack on like a broken record, but in 35 attempts to knock off the Storm, the Bunnies have succeeded just five times... these stats matter.
Wayne Bennett's leadership is the key to this club's chances in the next fortnight.
The guru has claimed six NRL crowns, and if there's anyone who can find a way to overcome the loss of Mitchell, it's him.
They say the good coaches capitalise during a week off, and you can bet Bennett hasn't left the film room.
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