Julian Vella previews this elimination finals match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Newcastle Knights. This is what we have to look forward to.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
After suffering a humiliating loss to the then 16th-placed Canterbury Bulldogs, the Rabbitohs bounced back in tremendous style by recording a record 60-8 victory over their bitter rivals the Sydney Roosters. In their fierce 112-year rivalry, this was the Bunnies’ biggest ever win over their neighbours, eclipsing their 50-0 win in 1952.
Once again Newcastle suffered a humiliating loss to continue their ‘yo-yo’ season in 2020: after beating the St George Illawarra Dragons in round 19 by a convincing 24-point margin, they were walloped by the Gold Coast Titans 36-6. This continues a worrying trend for the Knights where they back-up big wins with big losses, although if they keep this trend up they should claim a comprehensive victory on Sunday.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Unsurprisingly, Wayne Bennett has stuck to a winning formula, naming an almost unchanged side for this knock-out match, with the return of Jaydn S’uA from suspension the only change. S’uA reverts back to his usual right edge, with Liam Knight going back to the bench.
1. Corey Allan 2. Alex Johnston 3. Campbell Graham 4. Dane Gagai 5. Jaxson Paulo 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Tevita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. Jaydn Su’A 12. Bayley Sironen 13. Cameron Murray 14. Mark Nicholls 15. Liam Knight 16. Jed Cartwright 17. Keaon Koloamatangi 18. Steven Marsters 19. Hame Sele 20. Troy Dargan 21. Patrick Mago.
Adam O’Brien has also made just the one change to his side; just like the Rabbitohs, the Knights have welcomed back a starting second row forward of their own in Lachlan Fitzgibbon. Tex Hoy has been named in the number 20 jersey: considering he was supposed to start at five-eighth against the Dragons, he could be a late inclusion.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Edrick Lee 3. Enari Tuala 4. Bradman Best 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Mason Lino 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Kurt Mann 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Chris Randall 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Herman Ese’ese 17. Sione Mata’utia 18. Josh King 19. Gehamat Shibasaki 20. Tex Hoy 21. Brodie Jones.
South Sydney and Newcastle have played each other 43 times, but this is their first finals match. In fact, these two clubs have only ever participated in the same finals series on one occasion (in 2013), where both clubs lost in the preliminary finals.
BATTLE TO WATCH
The Rabbitohs’ attack vs the Knights’ defence
If you’re a betting man, the first thing you do when attempting to pick a winner is to check the form guide: you will often check how your horse and the favourite have done against similar runners. In this instance, if we’re checking the form of the Rabbitohs and Knights – and using their recent meetings against the Roosters – you won’t be putting your money on Newcastle.
Three weeks back, the Knights were obliterated 42-12 by the Roosters; fast forward two weeks and the Rabbitohs have beaten the same opposition by a whopping 52 points. This 82-point difference doesn’t bode well for the Knights, and they’ll know their defence is in for a huge test against the rampant Rabbitohs.
South Sydney’s halves Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds have been in career-best form in the second half of the season, after struggling for cohesion and confidence earlier in the year. Reynolds especially has gone to a new level and is producing the attacking football that most thought he wasn’t capable of. The fact both players are combining on the same side of the field is making them very dangerous for opposing sides.
The Knights look tired and weary and it’s showing in their defence. In the first half of the season, Newcastle conceded just 160 points at 16 per game; in the second half of the year they’ve leaked 214 points at 21.4 per game. This shows that the gritty defence that had served them well during the early part of the season has gone out the window, as they have started to fall into the bad habits that plagued them last season.
If Newcastle are to pull off a victory here (in what would be a massive upset), they will need to rediscover that gritty resolve that brought them plaudits earlier this season; if they can’t find it, this match could turn ugly very quickly.
Continuing on from above, recent form tells you this is going to be a very tall ask for the Knights to claim victory against the in-form Bunnies; the Knights have had to deal with constant injuries to key players all season and they look like a team that has run out of steam.
On the other hand, South Sydney are peaking at the right time of year and are the side no-one wants to play right now; despite also missing key players (such as Latrell Mitchell), the Rabbitohs have blooded some good talent this year, who seem to have found their feet in the NRL.
The finals can throw up crazy results and courageous performances, so we can’t totally rule the Knights out of this one, but Souths will start firm favourites.
Date: Sunday, October 4th.
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park.
Kick-off: 4:05pm ADST.