Friday night football doesn’t get much better than a local derby, with the league-leading South Sydney Rabbitohs taking on the red-hot Sydney Roosters from ANZ Stadium in Sydney in what is sure to be a blockbuster.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Despite leading the competition, the Rabbitohs have not been in the greatest form over the past month. They looked uncomfortable against the Bulldogs in round 18, they were beaten convincingly by the Tigers 22-6 in round 19, and they were challenged two weeks ago by the team currently in the wooden spoon position, the Parramatta Eels. That was until they beat the Melbourne Storm 30-20 last week. The Rabbitohs saved one of their best performances of the year for one of the best teams in the league. They looked simply unstoppable against the Storm, as their big men rolled through the middle and dominated the Melbourne forwards for most of the game. On the back of this, Damien Cook was able to split open the Storm’s usually very solid defensive line multiple times, proving that even the best defensive sides in the game are no match for his speed out of dummy half when playing well.
If the Roosters were playing any other team in the competition, they would arguably be favorites to win. They have been on a roll in recent weeks, after they beat the Titans with many of their Origin players missing in round 18, belted Manly 56-24 in round 19, and smashed the 4th placed Dragons 36-18 two weeks ago. They have only lost one of their past nine games, and that was 9-8 to the Melbourne Storm in Adelaide. They were able to beat an improving Cowboys side 26-20 in reasonably close affair last week, which has been the closest they have come to losing in over a month. They jumped out to a 26-8 lead after about 60 minutes, and looked to be on the way to another big scoreline, but led by Johnathan Thurston the Cowboys turned things around and made the Roosters work hard to salvage a win. They backed their defense in the last 10 minutes and it got them out of trouble, much like it has all season.
The Rabbitohs only have one change, with Richie Kennar coming onto the wing in place on the injured Adam Doueihi who is out for the season.
The Roosters are unchanged after their 26-20 win over the Cowboys last week.
This game marks the second meeting between the two sides this year. The first came in round 6, when the Rabbitohs were able to get the better of the Roosters 26-14 at Allianz Stadium in Sydney. The win came at a time of the year when the Roosters were still trying to find their rhythm, and the Rabbitohs were just starting to find some good form. This game was also before the events of the Origin series this year, which has seen players like Latrell Mitchell, Damien Cook and Angus Crichton all debut for New South Wales and gain a lot off confidence from playing in a winning series. The teams are both in very different positions now, with the Rabbitohs leading the competition and coming fresh off a big win over the Storm, and the Roosters continuing their march up the ladder after winning their fourth straight game.
There are a few key battles in this one, but the two players under the spotlight are the two hookers, Damien Cook and Jake Friend. Damien Cook has been tearing opposing defenses to shreds this season. His speed out of dummy half is unmatched in the NRL, and when the South Sydney forward pack can win the ruck and get quick play the balls for him, he is the most destructive attacking player in the game, as he showed last week against Melbourne. Off the back of this, the Rabbitohs back-line is full of skill and speed with the likes of Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds and Alex Johnston ready to support any breaks and attacking opportunities Cook creates with his speed and agility. If the Roosters cannot slow down the play the ball and prevent Cook from getting out of dummy half, they will be in for a long night.
Jake Friend on the other hand is a different sort of player, but is still capable of having an impact. He has made more tackles than any other player in the NRL this season (877) and leads the league in successful charge downs off kicks this year (3). His work rate in defense sets an example for the rest of his team, and is one of the key factors in why the Roosters defense has been so good this year. He is also an underrated player in attack, and he can chime in when necessary with a kick from dummy half or a perfectly timed pass when his team needs it. His role in attack may increase in the absence of five-eighth Luke Keary, as the Roosters could be looking for another play maker to create chances when attacking the Rabbitohs line.
The Roosters have the best defense in the competition, conceding just 301 points across 20 games. The Rabbitohs have scored 487 points and are the 2nd best attacking team in the competition. Something has to give on Friday night.
Rabbitohs: 1 Alex Johnston, 2 Campbell Graham, 3 Hymel Hunt, 4 Dane Gagai, 5 Richie Kennar, 6 Cody Walker, 7 Adam Reynolds, 8 Tom Burgess, 9 Damien Cook, 10 George Burgess, 11 John Sutton, 12 Angus Crichton, 13 Sam Burgess (c)
Interchange: 14 Braidon Burns, 15 Cameron Murray, 16 Jason Clark, 17 Tevita Tatola
Reserves: 18 Billy Brittain, 19 Kyle Turner, 20 Dean Britt, 21 Tyrell Fuimaono
Roosters: 1 James Tedesco, 2 Daniel Tupou, 3 Latrell Mitchell, 4 Joseph Manu, 5 Blake Ferguson, 6 Ryan Matterson, 7 Cooper Cronk, 8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 9 Jake Friend (c), 10 Sio Siua Taukeiaho, 11 Boyd Cordner, 12 Isaac Liu, 13 Victor Radley
Interchange: 14 Dylan Napa, 15 Zane Tetevano, 16 Mitchell Aubusson, 17 Sean O’Sullivan
Reserves: 18 Nat Butcher, 19 Kurt Baptiste, 20 Matthew Ikuvalu, 21 Lindsay Collins
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday August 10 2018
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 7:55pm AEST
WHO WILL WIN?
This game should be an absolute cracker. If both teams decide to turn up and play their best footy, this could be the best game of the year. It’s the Roosters defense vs the Rabbitohs attack. The Rabbitohs are slight favorites in this one, but we could be in for a golden point thriller that could go either way.
Rabbitohs by 1.