Preliminary Final 2
Rabbitohs v Roosters
There will be nerves on both sides of Anzac Parade this week as any self-respecting Rabbitoh or Rooster will tell you that the only thing worse than bowing out of the premiership race is having it stolen from you by the despised rivals next door.
A finals clash almost 80 years in the making, the Rabbitohs get a third opportunity in three years to prove that 43 years of premiership heartache no longer weighs heavily while the Roosters would love nothing more than once again asserting their superiority to keep alive their quest for consecutive premierships.
Throughout the game's 106-year history in Australia no premiership teams have met on more occasions than these old foes and while the Rabbitohs maintain an edge in head-to-head combat, the Roosters' six grand final appearances – and two premierships – since the turn of the century are the envy of anyone who bleeds red and green.
Under Michael Maguire South Sydney look like a premiership team, play like a premiership team and make betting agencies believe they are a premiership team; all they need now is the premiership.
A week off after their win over Manly will have given the ear drums of the Rabbitohs' players a chance to recover after the monumental spray delivered by Maguire in the wake of their second-half switch-off against the Sea Eagles and allowed superstars such as Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess some much-needed rest and recuperation.
The Roosters were super impressive in racking up 30 points in the first 31 minutes against the Cowboys in last week's Semi-Final but like the Rabbitohs a week earlier, handed in their timesheet before their shift had finished and escaped only by the fortuitous bounce of the Steeden off Rob Lui's forearm.
It was the second consecutive one-point finals game for the Roosters after their Week One defeat at the hands of the Panthers but one point is all the margin they need to keep their season alive into Grand Final Week.
For South Sydney, their Grand Final has come a week early because not only will it break a mental stranglehold the Roosters have enjoyed in denying them consecutive minor premierships the past two season it will repel the demons of last year's Preliminary Final loss to Manly and complete Maguire's dramatic transformation.
Ben Te'o has been named to return from his four-week suspension on the South Sydney bench at the expense of Luke Burgess while Dylan Napa also earns his recall on the five-man Roosters bench after a two-week suspension for a shoulder charge.
It's the Godfather v the Gladiator, working class against the latte set, Sam v SBW, GI v Mini. Without a trophy to be won at the end of 80 minutes, it's the most anticipated meeting of premiership teams in more than a century of rugby league in Australia.
It's the Rabbitohs v Roosters and a place in the Grand Final awaits; it doesn't get any bigger than this.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: In many ways it would appear that James Maloney has embodied the manner of the Sydney Roosters' season as a whole; he hasn't been bad, he just hasn't seemed to have had the influence he did on last year's premiership season. But while his halves partner in Mitchell Pearce has been the recipient of many of the plaudits over the past month, Maloney showed last week against the Cowboys that he is the man for the big occasion. After Pearce scored his runaway try in the third minute Maloney put on a sublime cut-out pass for Daniel Tupou's first try, hit the upright with a grubber kick for Michael Jennings to touch down, sparked the left-side raid that led to Tupou's second and then pushed through Michael Morgan and Gavin Cooper close to the line to score himself. And then, 45 minutes later with the scores locked at 30 apiece, it was Maloney who calmly slotted the match-winning one-pointer. He's the Rooster whose feathers won't be ruffled and he presents a massive danger to the South Sydney defence, particularly on the left edge.
Watch Out Roosters: This time next week he could very well be the 2014 Dally M Rookie of the Year and there has been absolutely nothing to suggest to this point that Alex Johnston will be overawed by the greatest occasion in his young footballing life to date. His two tries against Manly in the Qualifying Final a fortnight ago took his tally to 19 from just 16 games, his four line breaks the most he has recorded in a single game this season. With ball in hand it will be a mouth-watering match-up against Roger Tuivasa-Sheck while when the Roosters are on the attack Johnston's job will be to prevent the most capped Rooster of all time, Anthony Minichiello, from adding to his illustrious list of achievements. Done all that has been asked of him thus far.
Plays To Watch: The devastating nature of the Roosters' attack at full flight stems largely from the direct style of play employed by their two halves, Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney. Pearce straightens the attack with a sharp right-foot step while Maloney has a knack of pushing up through a defensive line when there didn't appear to be space to run into. When these two run straight on the edges, it gives the ideal shape for their outside runners to hit holes or to find the quick men in support up the middle. The South Sydney attack gathers its momentum from the work in the middle but with a couple of weeks on the training paddock, look for a couple of trick shots on the left edge involving Luke Keary, Greg Inglis, Chris McQueen and Alex Johnston.
Where It Will Be Won: The Rabbitohs will be entering dangerous territory if they think they have the firepower to overcome another slow start against a Roosters outfit that love to be front-runners. Across the season the Bunnies have been beaten to the punch in the opening 20 minutes where they have conceded 58 points and scored just 42. Only the Warriors with a differential of +58 are faster starters than the Roosters (+56) and they completely stunned the Cowboys with their onslaught in the opening half hour last week. The Roosters have led after 20 minutes on an NRL-high 18 occasions this season and won 14 of those games while the Rabbitohs have won just half the games where they have trailed after the opening quarter. The Rabbitohs' points differential for the final quarter of games of +73 is by far and away the best in the NRL; they just better make sure they haven't given themselves a mountain too high to climb.
History: Played 209; Rabbitohs 108; Roosters 96; drawn 5. It was May 16, 1908 when these two clubs met for the first time, the Roosters overcoming a 6-5 half-time deficit to record a 13-12 victory with Horrie Miller the hero for the Bondi boys with his two tries. In the 208 meetings that have followed little has separated Australian rugby league's oldest rivals but incredibly, they have not played each other in a finals match since the 1935 Final when the Roosters were victorious to the tune of 19-3. Over the past four seasons each team has claimed a win apiece in their two meetings during the course of the season but the Roosters have won both Round 26 encounters the past two seasons with the minor premiership up for grabs.
What Are The Odds: Sportsbet has received 30 per cent more money on South Sydney in comparison to the Roosters, and the Bunnies remain warm favourites to break their Preliminary Final hoodoo. There’s 10 times the money on Souths at the line, where they’re giving away 2.5 points. Alex Johnston has been very well backed to be first tryscorer. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee – Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee – Ben Cummins; Touch Judges – Steve Carrall and Brett Suttor; Video Referees – Ashley Klein and Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm.
How We See It: It may sound dramatic but how Michael Maguire's reign as South Sydney coach is remembered may very well be determined by the result of this game. To fall short of a Grand Final again would leave long-lasting scars in players and fans alike but to conquer the Roosters for a shot at the crown may see him elected as the new Mayor of Redfern. Despite the manner of their escape last week the Roosters will be cock-a-hoop with the way they started against the Cowboys and seem to have rediscovered their premiership swagger. It's not quite a Grand Final blockbuster but it's the next best thing. Rabbitohs by four points.