This will be the 199th time these two bitter rivals come head to head and while the Roosters’ season and week has been full of headlines and their finals hopes are non-existent, you can bet your bottom dollar they will fire up for this clash.
Yes they are done for the year and likely wooden spooners. Yes, their coach, good mate and club legend Brad Fittler has been shown the door at season’s end. And yes they have lost the reliable and inspirational captain Craig Fitzgibbon to injury.
But as South Sydney tries to pull a rabbit out of their hat in a late charge for the finals the Roosters would love nothing more than to pull their pants down and trip them up to quash their dreams.
The tri-colours are still in last place on the ladder, still a win away from the second-last Sharks but a horrible differential puts them effectively a win-and-a-half out of the spoon position.
The Rabbitohs, thanks to a last-up win over Brisbane, have moved up to 10th spot on the ladder and are now just three points from the top eight. Should they manufacture a win here they could quite easily be just one point shy of the finals zone with time up their sleeve to find a way; however a loss could just as easily have them scrambling with the also-rans once more.
Souths coach Jason Taylor has stuck with the side that demolished Brisbane, with the only addition being the return of Michael Crocker on an extended bench.
For the Roosters, Fitzgibbon’s place at lock will be taken by Shane Shackleton who moves from prop while Lopini Paea comes into the front row.
In huge news for the club, Anthony Minichiello returns from his broken ankle to captain the side on the wing, with Sandor Earl making way.
Anthony Cherrington is also out of the side that fell to the Warriors last week, with Sia Soliola and Rohan Ahern coming onto the bench.
Watch out Rabbitohs: Mini is back! Sure it might be on the wing but if anyone is looking to make up for lost time it’s Anthony Minichiello. We are talking about one tough cookie here… Minichiello has been plagued by back complaints for a few seasons now but when he broke his ankle earlier this season he managed to stay on the field and even score a try, such was his commitment to the team.
Last season Minichiello averaged 150 metres gained a match and it would be no surprise to see him notch up those kind of numbers on return here.
Watch out Roosters: If the Roosters are to push up and out of the wooden spoon position on the ladder they must improve their discipline, especially against the Rabbitohs who have been one of the cleaner sides in the NRL.
The Rabbitohs have conceded just 90 penalties so far this year – only Canberra have been better – while the Roosters have heard the long shrill referee’s whistle go against them 121 times to be the second worst side in the competition.
With such a young inexperienced side the tri-colours have to find a way to reduce the penalties as they aren’t defensively strong enough to survive sustained pressure against their line.
Where it will be won: Aggression. If South Sydney are a play-off team then they need to prove it with some aggressive performances. We all know they hammered the Broncos last weekend, but seriously… how well are the Broncos going right now?
Every other time the Rabbitohs have come up with a good win they have then fallen at the next hurdle, as they get over-confident and assume they are doing better than they are. Now, when we say aggression, we don’t mean illegalities: we just mean they need to be aggressive in their defensive and attacking structures and play like they mean business.
They must hunt as a pack in defence and not give the Roosters an inch and they must aggressively stick to the attacking game plan and build pressure, as it has been proven the Roosters will wilt under the blowtorch.
The Roosters can also win this match with aggression. We know they’ll be fired up due to the coaching issues and also the fact that to a man they hate the idea that South Sydney is above them on the ladder.
The last thing they want is for the Bunnies to be playing finals while they pass around the wooden spoon. If they can channel the aggression into bruising defence it is possible the Rabbitohs will melt and put up a performance like the dismal one they served against the Wests Tigers recently.
The history: Played 198; Rabbitohs 104, Roosters 89, drawn 5. The Rabbitohs got off to a flyer in the opening round of this season by belting the Roosters 52-12 but the Roosters have still won five of the past seven between the clubs. In the three games between the two sides at ANZ Stadium it is a 3-0 whitewash to the Roosters.
Conclusion: It has been said a few times this season but if we are to believe in South Sydney then they must win these games.
If they cannot get up for a local derby against a side coming last, with semi-final spots on the line, then they might as well quit the season early and book an end-of-season trip to Fiji.
The Roosters are under-strength and without drive but this smells like the type of game they could win as time and time again the Rabbitohs falter when the roast dinner is on the plate and ready to be eaten.
If you are tipping well, have faith in the Rabbitohs this one more time… if you need an upset, here is a good chance.
Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Peter Kirby; Video Ref – Russell Smith.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.