Mitch Dransfield previews the semi-final fixture between Rabbitohs and the Sea Eagles this Friday night at ANZ Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
South Sydney Rabbitohs
South Sydney beat the Sydney Roosters in the last round of the regular season, but had a rematch in week one of finals. They were outmuscled by a clinical Roosters performance which was all but done in the first half, ending with a 30-6 scoreline.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
The miracle was made at Lottoland in week one of the finals, with the Sea Eagles getting out of the gates fast to dominate the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in an elimination final. Manly won 28-16 to move into the semi-finals against the Rabbitohs.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
South Sydney are boosted by the return of Sam Burgess and Dane Gagai, with a reshuffle of their side to accommodate. Burgess is shifted into the second row with Jaydn Su’a dropping to the reserves and Gagai coming back into the centres. Campbell Graham moves on the wing with Corey Allan dropping out. Tom Burgess has been named to start and he swaps with brother George, who goes to the interchange.
South Sydney Rabbitohs’ Squad: 1. Adam Doueihi 2. Alex Johnston 3. James Roberts 4. Dane Gagai 5. Campbell Graham 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Liam Knight 11. John Sutton 12. Sam Burgess 13. Cameron Murray 14. George Burgess 15. Mark Nicholls 16. Tevita Tatola 17. Ethan Lowe 18. Jaydn Su’a 19. Dean Britt 20. Corey Allan 21. Kyle Turner.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Martin Taupau returns after his week’s suspension and will join Addin Fonua-Blake in the front row once again. Sean Keppie drops to the bench, while Toafofoa Sipley goes back into the reserves.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles’ Squad: 1. Brendan Elliot 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Brad Parker 4. Moses Suli 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Dylan Walker 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Martin Taupau 11. Corey Waddell 12. Jack Gosiewski 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Manase Fainu 15. Haumole Olakauatu 16. Sean Keppie 17. Lloyd Perrett 18. Lachlan Croker 19. Tevita Funa 20. Toafofoa Sipley 21. Tony Williams.
HEAD TO HEAD
This match has the elements of another epic between two rivals that have had incredible meetings this season. Both matches this year have gone down to the wire; each side won one game by a point, the first head-to-head in round four went down to Golden Point with Daly Cherry-Evans snapping a field goal to win it. After Origin three the Rabbitohs won by the field goal in round seventeen.
The stage is set for the ‘decider’, with the winner to play the Raiders in Canberra (with both having the wood over the Raiders). South Sydney were on a hot streak, coming back into form before their loss to Roosters last week by plenty, while a torn Sea Eagles outfit muscled over the top of the Sharks to book this clash. Over the past five seasons its been back-and-forth between these teams. These matches are traditionally high scoring, but this match will be closer, with defence the focus.
It’s hard to go past the clash of the big forwards in this match for the key battle, the return of their elite big men with South Sydney welcoming Sam Burgess while Manly get Marty Taupau for this semi-final. These two powerhouse forwards have had the week off to freshen up and would be ready to rip into the opposition after missing week one of the finals.
It’s been a tough season for Sam Burgess with suspensions and injuries plaguing his season, it’s still to be seen that he is a premier player among the forwards of the competition. Having only played 17 fixtures and missing the most recent against arch-rivals the Sydney Roosters, the Englishman would be out to prove himself to the coach and team for this do or die clash against Manly. Burgess has moved around from prop to the back row, however now finds himself on the edge where most of his 7 tries and 133 run metres on average have been from; no doubt he will be targeted as an enforcer of their side, but he has definitely been more effective on an edge this season, running off Adam Reynolds from a short ball at the try line or a kick through for a possible try. Sam will need to contain his aggression from boiling over, as he will be baited by the Sea Eagles, but if that doesn’t come into calculations and he runs hard on the right lines from his playmakers he could do some serious damage and be a match winner.
One of the key leaders in the Sea Eagles’ forward pack and the side in general, Marty Taupau has become a wall for opponents in 2019 alongside his apprentice Addin Fonua-Blake. The combination of the Manly props has been one of the best, if not the best, all year and a real reason why they have dominated the better sides and gotten to the semi-finals. Taupau was absent last match due to a suspension with Fonua-Blake’s man of the match performance getting them through. With a week off be on the lookout for Marty to lead from the front. The durability of the representative prop has been outstanding, having played 24 matches this season with 40 offloads, 78 tackle busts and averaging over 145 run metres. Marty has gone to another level under Des Hasler with a near perfect all-round game which compliments his backline players, but also contributes to having Fonua-Blake go with him and bash through opposition each week with great success. If the Sea Eagles are to create another upset win in the finals, it will be down to Taupau coming back in and playing one of his most dominant games alongside his companion in the front row to allow Daly Cherry-Evans put on another clinical display for the victory.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday, 20th September
Venue: ANZ Stadium
Kick-off: 7:50 pm
Referee: Gerard Sutton and Adam Gee
WHO WILL WIN?
This game will start fast: each side will be wanting to get over the top of one another as soon as possible so that fatigue and possession don’t come back to bite them later. The return of many players for South Sydney can only help, with their side near full strength now they should be confident against Manly, who are still scraping together their side after many injuries in the past month.
The expectation is this will be low scoring after two one-point games between them, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it ended up being a back-and-forth affair with long range tries and many points, while still being close. The Sea Eagles have an almighty task of containing a Rabbitohs side coming off a big loss – their edge backrowers will need to be on song while the big props in Taupau and Fonua-Blake need to dominate once again if they are any chance of scoring enough points to win. This is for the Bunnies to lose and if they falter under the pressure or fall into the grind that Manly will try ambush them with, they could come unstuck in defence but also have it not click in attack like last week. It should be enough playing at ANZ to fire up Souths to push into the preliminary final, with their side having more cohesion across the season than Manly.
Prediction: Rabbitohs by eight.