After a season to forget, we could have a grand final for the ages.
The 2021 NRL regular season won't be fondly remembered.
There were few genuinely compelling matches, in contrast to previous years, and far too many lop sided score lines, partly due to the endless and counter productive tinkering with the rules and interpretations by the NRL.
The new version of the game accentuated the gap between the best and the rest, so a competition that used to pride itself on equality and fine margins became predictable, with few upsets and a lack of gripping contests.
Thankfully, that has all changed in the playoffs.
There have already been several classic encounters – and wonderful finishes – and we should get an appropriate climax on Sunday night (9:30pm NZT).
In recent times, the best grand finals have been built on the subtext surrounding the game (think of the Roosters' comeback in 2013, the Cowboys' Houdini act in 2015 or the Sharks' emotional victory in 2016) and there is no shortage of storylines in 2021.
There is 71-year-old Rabbitohs' mentor Wayne Bennett, presiding over his tenth grand final and the first man to reach the decider in each of the last five decades.
Souths' captain Adam Reynolds, who grew up in the streets around Redfern, is chasing a premiership ring in his last game, before he links with the Broncos next year.
Penrith are seeking redemption, after last year's harrowing loss to Melbourne, when first half stage fright ruined their chances after they had dominated the regular season.
A win for the Panthers will also crown coach Ivan Cleary's achievements over the last few years, where he has built a dominant team comprised of almost all local products.
Cleary is the most experienced current NRL coach (369 games) yet to win a decider, after tasting defeat with the Warriors (2011) and Penrith last year.
And then there is Benji Marshall, making one of the most unlikely grand final appearances. He was close to retirement in 2016 and 2019 and again looked out of options in January, before Bennett threw him a lifeline, with the last spot on South's roster.
When Marshall last appeared in a grand final, Helen Clark was Prime Minister, Tana Umaga was All Blacks captain and Facebook was a year old.
That was 2005 and when Marshall runs out on Sunday night he will set a new record for the longest time between deciders (previously Lote Tuiqiri, 2000 and 2014).
Although he hasn't confirmed his intention to retire, the 36-year-old will be hoping for the perfect curtain call, following Cameron Smith (2020) Cooper Cronk (2019) and Steve Menzies (2008).
No Kiwi has played more NRL games than Marshall's 346 and only six men will be ahead of him after Sunday night (Smith, Cronk, Darren Lockyer, Terry Lamb, Menzies and Paul Gallen).
Marshall has continually reinvented himself over the last five or six years, with this campaign perhaps the most impressive makeover, as he has become an interchange impact player.
Penrith have had the edge in recent seasons, winning six out of eight clashes since 2018.
But most have been close, and South prevailed 16-10 in the qualifying final.
The Rabbitohs have a settled squad, with Reynolds (groin) the only major injury concern.
"I will be close to 100 per cent, if not 100 per cent," he said on Friday.
Penrith have a lot more headaches, with injury concerns over fullback Dylan Edwards, wing Brian To'o and Kiwi props James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota, though Cleary insisted they would all front.
"They've shown great resilience, our boys, a lot of them," said Cleary. "I don't think anything is going to stop them again turning up and playing well on Sunday."
Penrith are slight favourites, and have 13 players with grand final experience, compared to four Rabbitohs.
The lessons of last year's decider could pay off, while the Panthers have also taken the hard road, with gruelling wins over the Eels (8-6) and Storm (10-6).
"This year the whole journey has been totally different for us," said Cleary. "It was pretty plain sailing last year. We hadn't lost for four months before the grand final and had hardly any injuries, whereas this year we have had a bit of everything."
"Playing in a grand final if you haven't done one is definitely an experience, and obviously losing one isn't a great feeling. But a lot of our boys have gone on to play Origin this year for the first time. All of those games should help us this weekend."