Andrew Pelechaty previews the historic preliminary final between Canberra and Souths.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Finishing fourth after an upset last round loss to the Warriors, few fancied Canberra’s chances of beating the minor premiers in Melbourne. The Storm led for most of the second half, before a late try to John Bateman gave Canberra a 12-10 win and a home preliminary final, the first at Bruce Stadium/Canberra Stadium/GIO Stadium. The week off would have been cherished after a tough final month of footy against Cronulla-Sutherland, Manly-Warringah, Melbourne and the Sydney Roosters. The Raiders will be expecting a packed out Bruce Stadium and the Viking Clap alone will be sensational.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Following a heavy qualifying final loss to the Roosters, Souths were 15 minutes from an embarrassing straight-sets exit against Manly before the controversial sin binning of Jake Trbojevic turned the game. Trailing 26-20, tries to John Sutton, Cameron Murray (his second of the night) and three goals to Adam Reynolds gave Souths a 34-26 win and their second straight preliminary final.
Josh Papalii is in the starting side, Bailey Simonsson (who recently re-signed until the end of 2023) is on the bench, with BJ Leilua to start.
Canberra Raiders’ squad: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Josh Papalii 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Iosia Soliola 11. John Bateman 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Bailey Simonsson 15. Emre Guler 16. Corey Horsburgh 17. Dunamis Lui 18. Sam Williams 19. Ryan Sutton 20. Siliva Havili 21. Sebastian Kris.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Souths name an unchanged team.
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. Tevita Tatola 16. Ethan Lowe 17. Mark Nicholls 18. Jaydn Su’A 19. Corey Allan 20. Dean Britt 21. Mawene Hiroti.
HEAD TO HEAD
These teams last met in round 10 in Canberra, with Souths winning 16-12. The mid-season game had a finals-like intensity, with the Rabbitohs outscoring Canberra two tries (Cody Walker, Mawene Hiroti) to one (Sam Williams). Canberra led 6-4 at half time and had a chance to steal the game at the death but couldn’t pull it off. Since 1998, Canberra lead 14-13. Canberra fans will remember the last time they played Souths in a preliminary final: winning 32-16 back in 1989. We all know what happened the week after…
Aidan Sezer vs Adam Reynolds
The battle of the halfbacks could decide this one. After missing the first part of the season due to injury, Sezer has re-established himself as the Raiders’ frontline halfback, playing every game since round 12 and guiding the Raiders into the preliminary final. He’s grown in confidence each week (including three field goals in the crucial Golden Point win at Shark Park that sealed Canberra’s double chance) and combined well with fledgling five-eighth Jack Wighton. With George Williams coming next year, Sezer will be desperate to lead Canberra to a drought-breaking premiership and show he deserves to keep his spot.
Reynolds has been a massive part of Souths finishing in the top four again, playing 24 games and kicking 95 goals (at 83.3 per cent) including 7 seven in the semi final against Manly-Warringah – and topping 200 points for the second straight year. If Souths are to make their first grand final since 2014, Reynolds will need to be busy to silence an emotional Canberra crowd and be accurate with his goalkicking.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday September 27th.
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
WHO WILL WIN?
How will Canberra react to arguably the biggest ever game at Bruce? Will they embrace the challenge and pick up where they left off in Melbourne, or will the pressure get to them? After the pain of last year’s preliminary final loss, Souths will be desperate to make the grand final, and will be hardened by the tough win against Manly-Warringah. Travelling to Canberra won’t intimidate them. The 2019 Raiders have shown they can handle adversity, so – embiggened by a sell-out home crowd – they should make their first grand final in 25 years.
Canberra by six.