Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
Rabbitohs v Roosters
Even in their wildest dreams, the NRL couldn’t have imagined the 2013 minor premiership would come down to this. The Rabbitohs v Roosters. The oldest of rivals fighting it out in a winner-takes-all contest. A showdown 105 years in the making. And, perhaps, a grand final preview?
It has been a remarkable season for both South Sydney and the Roosters, who have both at times looked certainties to finish top of the Telstra Premiership ladder before some small lapses over the final weeks of the regular rounds.
For the Rabbitohs, the progress they made in 2012 and their painful exit from the finals series one game short of the grand final appears to have served them well. They shot out of the blocks, quickly overtaking fellow pace-setters Melbourne to establish a four-point lead over the rest of the competition as recently as Round 18.
Injuries then saw them fall away somewhat, allowing the Roosters to move into pole position and seemingly have the minor premiership wrapped up with three games remaining.
But with the Roosters falling to consecutive losses to Cronulla and the Gold Coast in Rounds 24 and 25, Souths reclaimed top spot – leaving us with the remarkable scenario we have in front of us now. Incredibly, until this year, these two clubs hadn’t enjoyed sitting first and second on the ladder since 1984!
This clash could prove to be even more significant than being simply a minor premiership shootout. With both sides having dropped off somewhat over the past month – Souths trailed struggling Wests Tigers 18-0 last week before fighting back – victory here could prove a much-needed confidence boost ahead of the finals.
And they will be well aware of what Melbourne and Manly have been up to the past few weeks with both making significant statements of intent. Rarely has it been so difficult to split the whole top four than it is this season.
As for Souths and the Roosters, the individual battles this Friday night promise to be worth the price of admission alone: Inglis v Minichiello, Merritt v Kenny-Dowall, Sutton v Maloney, Reynolds v Pearce and of course Sonny Bill Williams and co. against the might of the Burgess boys.
This will be one game not to miss.
The Rabbitohs have named the same side that beat Wests Tigers last week, while the Roosters have lost Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to an ankle injury with Shaun Kenny-Dowall moving to the wing and Mitchell Aubusson shifting into the centres. Aiden Guerra comes into the back row to cover for Aubusson with Tinirau Arona the new addition to the squad.
Souths will join the Roosters this week as the only two clubs to appear in 2000 club fixtures. So far they have recorded 1031 wins from 1999 games. They are also poised to record three consecutive wins over their rivals for the first time since 1988.
This is a huge game for the Roosters too – under the grand final format no side has ever lost their last three regular season fixtures and gone on to win the competition.
The last time these two clubs ranked first and second at the end of the regular season was 1937.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: South Sydney’s right-edge defence will need to be at its best this week because they will have plenty of traffic coming their way. The Roosters’ left side is the single most lethal attacking side of any team in the competition this season with 50 tries scored. Not surprisingly, the Roosters’ two top try-scorers patrol that left edge with Michael Jennings having crossed 17 times and Daniel Tupou 12 so far in 2013.
Watch Out Roosters: One of the hardest things about taking on South Sydney is just how hard it is to tackle them. With the likes of the Burgess boys bringing plenty of size and the sheer power of fullback Greg Inglis always a concern for defenders, they lead the league for tackle-breaks with 672, with five players producing 60 or more in 2013 – Inglis (92), George Burgess (82), Issac Luke (66), John Sutton (61) and Sam Burgess (60).
Plays To Watch: One of Adam Reynolds’ favourite plays is to put up a short cross-field bomb that lands right on the try line just to the right or left of the posts with his second-rowers coming in to leap for the ball. Souths scored twice against the Roosters with this play in Round 1 and have enjoyed plenty of success since as well. Watch too for the George Burgess hit-up and play-the-ball in the attacking zone. It is odds-on that brother Sam will receive the ball from the next play and try to barge his way over against the scattered defence.
As for the Roosters, SBW is a real danger man. He is renowned for his offload and will do so regularly but he can also throw a crisp cut-out ball and will often do so to his winger when the defence is least expecting it.
Key Match-Up: Adam Reynolds v Mitchell Pearce. The NSW State of Origin incumbent up against the challenger in Reynolds. Pearce has been superb for the Roosters this season but he will be well aware of the push from some quarters for Reynolds to take his spot in the blue jersey in 2014. And no doubt both will want to send some early reminders of what they are capable of. The composed ball-playing of Pearce against the deadly kicking game of Reynolds – it’s a match-up made in rugby league heaven.
Where It Will Be Won: There is so much size and aggression in these two packs and it stands to reason that whoever dominates the physical battle will gain a huge advantage. Souths boast an enormous pack with the four Burgess boys now together alongside the likes of Roy Asotasi, Jeff Lima, Chris McQueen and Ben Te’o. The Roosters are no slouches either with Williams, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sam Moa and Frank-Paul Nuuausala all monsters in the middle.
The History: Played 206; Rabbitohs 108, Roosters 93, drawn 5. The Roosters have scored 200 points in only seven games against Souths at ANZ Stadium with five wins and two losses. Incredibly, only 33 points separates these two clubs from their 206 clashes with the Roosters scoring 3187 to 3154. In that scoring, only two tries separates them with the Roosters again leading 595 to 593. Souths have won 50 of the past 100 meetings, with two draws.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Nick Beashel; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Matt Rodwell.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Rabbitohs v Roosters clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live, 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: Both sides will come to play this Friday night – of that we have no doubt – but we must admit the Roosters’ losses over the past two weeks are of some concern. They certainly have the ability to bounce back but that won’t be easy against a Souths side finding its feet again and back to full strength after some tough times following Origin. It will be physical and we expect a tight one but we can see a more-confident Rabbitohs outfit taking it out at the death. Rabbitohs by six points.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.