Storm icon Cameron Smith is up against the NRL’s ‘buy of the year’ in what’s likely his last game: unorthodox Panthers hooker Apisai Koroisau.
Koroisau has been superb for Penrith all season and again played a leading hand as his team booked a grand final spot by beating South Sydney on Saturday night. He had a shoulder injury scare in the preliminary final but will be fit for the decider.
Smith was typically magnificent as Melbourne beat Canberra on Friday night, giving him the chance to retire after winning a third premiership. Koroisau looms as a worth opponent at No.9, having rejoined Penrith from Manly to become a dangerous foil for Panthers halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai.
“The battle between Koroisau and Cameron Smith … they’re very, very different but both very significant,” Sterling said on The Sunday Footy Show.
“Great news it was only a [shoulder] burner for him, coming out of this game, that he will take his place. He’s the buy of the year, in my opinion.
“He’s been instrumental in getting them this far because he provides something different. He’s so different to Cameron Smith but they are both so significant to their individual teams.”
Jillaroos great Ruan Sims said that Koroisau’s main strength was the thrust he gave them out of dummy-half, both running and linking with forwards.
“The best part of that is, when he does pick and go, he’s got Isaah Yeo screaming at one side, James Fisher-Harris screaming at the other,’ Sims said on The Sunday Footy Show.
“They are just attacking and finding space wherever they go. If the Storm forwards can just rush up with their defensive line and shut down the time and space the Penrith halves have, that will cause a little bit of an issue for them.”
Koroisau ran 82 metres and made 47 tackles in 65 minutes against the Rabbitohs, with whom he won a premiership in 2014. The Panthers won 20-16 to earn a crack at the Storm, aiming to win a first premiership for the club since 2003.
Smith did not register a single run metre as he led a 30-10 win over the Raiders. He is renowned for dusting off his running game for the biggest matches, so may be more influential in that regard in the grand final.
The former Australia and Queensland captain will retire as arguably the greatest player in rugby league history – but Koroisau may deny him a final premiership. He has not confirmed a decision but at age 37, Smith is tipped to hang up his boots.
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