League's oldest rivalry reignites
Rugby league's two oldest and fiercest rivals head into battle at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, with the Roosters still stinging after being bundled out by last season's premiers the Rabbitohs in their last meeting – the 2014 preliminary final.
This week Roosters players admitted the loss still hurts, while Rabbitohs players for the most part did their best to deflect talk of a cross-town rivalry.
The Tricolours – 2014's minor premiers – shot out to a 12-0 lead after 10 minutes in that preliminary final. The Bunnies' fightback started with a try to veteran winger Lote Tuqiri after 20 minutes; they hit the lead shortly after half-time and raced away to a strong win despite a couple of consolation tries to the Roosters in the dying minutes.
Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves admitted the loss is "still there".
"We came so close last year and us getting knocked out by the Bunnies... I haven't [forgotten], you'd be lying if you said you did," he said.
"It's always going to be there. As disappointing as it was to lose, a new year is a new year, we've moved on, we're looking forward to getting out there and playing our style of footy in 2015."
He described this Sunday's contest as "massive" and "exciting".
"You're going up against the best... They were impressive [in Round 1 against Brisbane]. They're big, powerful through the middle, and they've got some skill out wide.
"They defend well, they defend as a team and throw a lot at you. They power through you and we play a similar game and that's why I'm excited to play them because it's going to be on."
Roosters winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall admitted the preliminary final loss does still sting.
"Especially being arch rivals... and definitely to get knocked out by them," he said.
"You know you're always in for a tough game and I'm sure this one will be no exception.
"It's a great rivalry and one we look forward to very year. We need no motivation getting up for this game, it's one we mark on the calendar every year."
Both the long history and geographical proximity are major factors in the rivalry. With both sides recording strong wins in Round 1, it could make this one an even bigger event than their traditional season opener.
"It makes for a good game [with both sides having played and won last week] – I thought we were pretty good Round 1 and hopefully we can keep that up against Souths," Kenny-Dowall said.
"They were very good, they've had a few changes [from last year] but they still seem to show up every week."
And Roosters rookie Sio Siua Taukeiaho said he was looking forward to finding out what the old rivalry is all about when he takes the filed in his second game in the Tricolours.
"Rabbitohs and Roosters has always been a tough clash; I watched it last year and now I get the opportunity to be a part of it this weekend and it's something that I'm looking forward to and I just can't wait," Taukeiaho told NRL.com.
"They've got a strong team: the Burgess boys, they're not small boys, they take all the hit ups and they've got footwork as well. Also Adam Reynolds and Greg Inglis at the back – they've got a strong team but I'm playing with the boys, we all trust each other, we've been playing together all pre-season. We all have roles out there on the field and if we all do that well it will make everything much easier."
Rabbitohs hooker Issac Luke played down any rivalry with fellow Kiwis such as Waerea-Hargreaves and Shaun Kenny-Dowall – "nah, they're too big for me" the fiery hooker laughed – but said he always looked forward to coming up against his Kiwi brothers.
"I love playing against the Roosters. Massive rivalry, they're only across the road across Anzac Parade there, it's always a massive game. It's always a big match against them and we'll have to be on our 'A' game."
Another player looking forward to joining the rivalry for the first time is former Manly back-rower Glenn Stewart, heading into his second NRL game with the Rabbitohs.
"I've watched the rivalry so it'd be nice to be a part of it... they look very sharp, we'll be just starting to do a bit of work on them. We'll do some video on them this week and work out where the threats are we've got to keep an eye out for," he said.