NRL Grand Final preview: South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Canterbury Bulldogs

written by Matt Pritchard and Sam Dasey

Date: Sunday October 5
Venue: Stadium Australia
Kick-off: 7:20pm (Sydney), 6:20pm (Brisbane)


Rabbitohs: Greg Inglis, Alex Johnston, Dylan Walker, Kirisome Auva’a, Lote Tuqiri, Luke Keary, Adam Reynolds, George Burgess, Issac Luke, Dave Tyrrell, Ben Te’o, John Sutton (c), Sam Burgess. Interchange: Jason Clark, Kyle Turner, Chris McQueen, Thomas Burgess, Ben Lowe, Luke Burgess, Bryson Goodwin

Bulldogs: Sam Perrett, Corey Thompson, Josh Morris, Tim Lafai, Mitch Brown, Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson, Aiden Tolman, Michael Ennis, James Graham, Josh Jackson, Tony Williams, Greg Eastwood. Interchange: Tim Browne, Dale Finucane, David Klemmer, Frank Pritchard, Moses Mbye, Reni Maitua


South Sydney Rabbitohs

Qualifying Grand Final: Sydney Roosters (N), W 32-22
Finals Week 1: Sea Eagles (N), W 40-24
Round 26: Sydney Roosters (A), L 18-22
Round 25: Bulldogs (A), W 21-14
Round 24: Cowboys (A), L 10-22

Canterbury Bulldogs

Qualifying Grand Final: Penrith (N), W 18-12
Finals Week 2: Sea Eagles (A), W 18-17
Finals Week 1: Storm (A), W, 28-4
Round 26: Titans (A), L 18-19
Round 25: Rabbitohs (H), L 14-21

Grand Final droughts set to be broken

Whoever wins Sunday’s National Rugby League Grand Final will end their Premiership drought.  South Sydney’s record stands at an impressive forty-three years.  Their 1971 victory over St George 16-10 was their twentieth Premiership which today still by far the most of any other club.  As for Canterbury their last Grand Final victory was in 2004 where they won 16-13 over Sydney Roosters and Willie Mason was the recipient of the Clive Churchill Medal.  The Bulldogs did make the Grand Final in 2012 but couldn’t deny Melbourne their second (official) title.  South Sydney looking for title twenty-one, Canterbury to jump one place above Manly and win premiership number nine.

Tactical play – Canterbury

Canterbury are a team who likes to play from in front.  If you notice their last four games, they have led comfortably in most games by half time.  Gold Coast they were up by eighteen, Melbourne by twenty-four, Manly by twelve and Penrith by six.  The latter two games they led to nil until conceding tries near the break.

Whilst playing ‘front runner’, second half totals in the four above mentioned games only total twelve points (Gold Coast nil, Melbourne four, Manly two, Penrith six).  On the positive side, South Sydney were rattled early on by a rampaging Sydney Roosters.  The Bulldogs may not be so friendly to let the Rabbitohs back into the game.

Expect Canterbury will try and out muscle South Sydney and in particular target Sam Burgess.  You only have to go back to the way Melbourne targeted Burgess late last season that led to the infamous ‘squirrel grip’ suspension.  Targeting Sam may lessen the impact of brothers George and Luke Burgess on the game.  James Graham will be the man with the job after he fired up in the latter stages of a dramatic Qualifying Grand Final against Penrith last weekend.

What’s good about Canterbury is their ability to punish the opposition.  Last weekend was a great example where Penrith made two errors in the first half carting the ball off their line (Dean Whare and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak).  They proved on both occasions to convert the opposition errors into points.  South Sydney are in general good at taking the ball out from their line but will take extra care this week to limit the Bulldogs chances in their own half.

The danger men are in key positions.  We know about the Origin halves pairing of Hodkinson and Reynolds, the quality of props Tolman and Graham, and Morris speed out wide that will worry the opposition.  One player who could make this Grand Final his own is Tim Lafai.  Lafai is a threat to the Rabbitohs when he’s got the ball in his hands. It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets the better of Dylan Walker and Alex Johnson out wide that this is where the Bulldogs ultimately win the Grand Final.

The crystal ball game plan from the Bulldogs is to play it through the forwards.  Try and force the error by South Sydney in their own half by getting up quickly in defense.  Target the key Rabbitoh players in Burgess, Adam Reynolds and Inglis.  Get out to a commanding half time lead and force South Sydney to play catch-up footy.

Tactical play – South Sydney

South Sydney have the advantage over Canterbury in respect to what period they score during the game.  The Rabbitohs literally swept the Sea Eagles off the park in week one of the finals before they conceded late.  Last week they looked all at sea in the opening ten minutes before they worked their way back into the game and ran over the top of the Roosters.  Probably on Grand Final day they won’t want to be trailing by eighteen or twenty-four points like Canterbury have put on their opposition at times over the last five weeks.

What Canterbury have struggled with over the last two matches in particular is conceding late in the first half and then coming out particularly slow in the second half.  Manly punished them two weeks back but Penrith missed a golden opportunity to put any score on the Bulldogs in the opening fifteen minutes after half time when they were on top.  South Sydney have the players like Greg Inglis, Alex Johnson, Dylan Walker and Lote Tiquiri who will take advantage of any lapse in concentration by the opposition and make them pay.

To offset Canterbury’s physical forward battle, expect South Sydney to match their opponents aggression in the opening stages.  The two Burgess brothers, John Sutton and Ben Te’o in particular will hold their ground and not let James Graham and co run over the top of them.

What happens after the opening exchanges is all good news.  Expect a little frustration to set in from the Bulldogs and for their discipline to drop.  One thing you don’t want to give South Sydney is plenty of ball with back to back penalties.  That’s just asking for trouble and ultimately could lead to the Rabbitohs getting on a similar roll like they did against Sydney Roosters last week.  They proved it as well against a similar liked opponent in Manly where their discipline handed South Sydney the game on a platter.

South Sydney haven’t got to this stage of the year by fluke and have the match-winners all over the park.  Inglis and Tiquiri know Grand Final day and this will help one of the brightest starts Johnson in settling the nerves.  Luke Keary’s pairing with Adam Reynolds has gone from strength to strength and they will definitely target fullback Sam Perrett with some spiraling kicks.  But this battle will be ultimately won up front and this is where I expect Sam Burgess to focus on the game and not the niggle in order to end South Sydney’s premiership drought.

The crystal ball game plan from the Rabbitohs is to match the Bulldogs early on and frustrate them into poor discipline. Use the field position to post points then play with confidence to put a gap between them and the opposition.  And most importantly, not to be dragged into playing on Canterbury’s terms.

Greg Inglis v Sam Perrett

At the start of the season there was a lot of talk around Perrett’s ability to play fullback for the Bulldogs rather than his regular position on the wing. That talk has quietened down with the Bulldog’s number one performing admirably at the back throughout the season.

He will again be tested this week, and after making a couple of errors last start, the Rabbitohs are sure to be putting up under a lot of high ball pressure.

To make the task harder, Perrett’s opposite number is none other than superstar Greg Inglis.

It is highly likely that Inglis will find himself in broken play at some stage in the Grand Final and it will be Perrett who is the last line of defence to stop the Rabbitohs custodian from making his way across the try line.

Sam Perrett does have a bit of speed about him and has been getting better at playing like Inglis in attack from fullback in popping up to create an overlap, Inglis will also have to be on his toes in defence.

The key to this battle however will be in safety. In a game that will be high intensity and pressure, both men at the back will have to make sure they are as safe as houses and well positioned in order to keep their team from being forced in to the back foot.

The Centres

Both teams have potency in the centres. The speed and footwork of Dylan Walker and Kirisome Auva’a for Souths is nicely matched by the fleet feet of Tim Lafai and the strength of Josh Morris. The side that is able to best contain their opposite numbers here will go a long way to winning the contest.

The Bulldogs pair are particularly a handful when inside the opposition twenty metres, while the Souths side aren’t afraid to spread the ball earlier in their sets and create room for their speedy men.

In a game that is likely to be an arm wrestle, a defensive lapse by any of these four men could well prove the ultimate cost, with all likely to show the skill needed to make the other pay.


Trent Hodkinson, the Blues halfback, taking on Adam Reynolds, the man many had tipped to be the next in line after Mitchell Pearce in a mouth-watering encounter. Reynolds had a slow start to the year which may have cost him an Origin birth, while his counterpart showed silky skills in the first half of the year.

As their team’s fortunes began to shift, Reynolds began to shine, while Hodkinson seemed to lose some of his composure. He seems to have regained this highlighted by his two field goals to claim the win over Manly a fortnight ago.

Both halfbacks will need to control the game with their kick metres firstly.

The danger for the Rabbitohs is found in Hodkinson’s running ability, the Bulldogs number seven making a habit of scoring tries in big games. Adam Reynolds is also capable of slicing through the line, and is quick enough to score from further afield with his added speed.

In the five eighth department The Bulldogs Josh Reynolds will take on South’s young gun Luke Keary. Josh Reynolds can be guilty of getting too enthusiastic in games and costing his side penalties. It is this enthusiasm however that makes him the quality player he is. His work rate is phenomenal, as he looks to get involved in everything, whether offense of defence.

Keary has proven his worth, pushing long time five eight Sutton to the second row. For Keary it may a matter of keeping composure and being confident in what he has achieved so far and playing his natural game. On the big stage that is the NRL Grand Final, this can be a big test for such a young man, however he has shown his composure and cool head in a breakout season so far. Expect Josh Reynolds to try to get under his skin to throw him off the game.

George Burgess vs James Graham

James Graham is a major reason the Bulldogs have made it to the Grand Final. The Englishmen is the key man in Canterbury’s workroom and is the personification of a metre eater. When he is angry he is an even fiercer competitor, however, last Grand Final Canterbury made the big man took it too far, biting Melbourne Storm’s Billy Slater. He has managed to contain his emotions better since that mistake, and has channelled his aggression in to charging up the middle.

George Burgess is a monster, and is so hard to stop for the defence.

In a game where the middle of the field is likely to be the key battle, it is these two men who hold the keys to victory with their work rates and yardage likely to get their teams in to a position to strike. They will need to both muscle up strongly against each other, as if one gets the better of their other, their respective sides could find themselves in a spot of bother.

Apisai Koroisau vs Damian Cook (likely)

South Sydney’s departing back up hooker Apisai Koroisau is shaping as an unlikely key figure for the Grand Final following the loss of star hooker Isaac Luke to suspension this week, in a big blow to the bunnies.

Koroisau picked up by the Panthers after he showed great form filling in for Luke earlier in the season.

The Bulldog’s are also likely to be missing their own hooker, captain Michael Ennis, who claimed he would require a “miracle” to recover from a foot injury in time. Young Damian Cook looks to be the likely replacement, with Ennis saying Cook would be able to handle the occasion.

In such a crucial position it’s a major blow for both sides. Koroisau’s experience from earlier in the year should give him the edge over Cook, however the lack of major experience from both number nines could prove a weak point for both sides, and may slow the attack.

Previous Meetings This Season

Round 25 – Canterbury 14 South Sydney 21 Match Report

Round 7 – South Sydney 14 Canterbury 15 Match Report


[table]Tipster,Winner,Clive Churchill Medal
Matt Pritchard,South Sydney,John Sutton
Sam Dasey,South Sydney,Greg Inglis
Adam Bagnall,Canterbury,James Graham
Shanaya Gregg,South Sydney,Greg Inglis
EagleTah,South Sydney,Sam Burgess
Jake Bull,South Sydney,Sam Burgess
James Gow,South Sydney,Trent Hodkinson
Stephen Humphreys,South Sydney,Greg Inglis
Daniel Watson-Hayes,South Sydney,Sam Burgess
Sean Hayes,South Sydney,Sam Burgess
Oliver Roby,South Sydney,Sam Burgess
Adam Leah,,
Adam Cuncliffe,South Sydney,Greg Inglis

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