The most merciless rivalry of rugby league sparks once again with the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs preliminary final at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
It was a cut-throat qualifying final between the Sharks and Roosters that saw Cooper Cronk produce a commanding performance for the Eastern Suburbs side. Much of the game was battled end-to-end with many of Cronulla’s possession not turning into points, allowing the Roosters to prevail in the second half with a 21-12 victory.
South Sydney had a square up against St. George Illawarra (who were coming off a huge upset win over Brisbane). The Bunnies had a composure to them that was missing from the Dragons and saw playmaker Adam Reynolds slot three field goals in the dying stages of the match, pushing his side to a win and the next stage of the finals.
South Sydney are unchanged after last week’s win over the Dragons.
Everything is on the line with no second chances as the Rabbitohs and Roosters go into battle for a place in the 2018 grand final. The last time these two met in a finals fixture was in 2014 when South Sydney came over the top of the Tri-Colours and eventually moved on to win the premiership. These two sides have been at the top of the competition for most of the season, showing why they deserve their spot with incredible defensive records and an unrivalled attacking record. It’s a decider of some sorts with one win each; the Bunnies won in round six 26-14, while just weeks before the finals (round 22), the Roosters overcame Souths 18-14 to set up a mouthwatering conclusion to this year’s meetings.
The Sydney clubs are stacked with two of the most balanced line-ups in every position, however even with their chief playmakers coming to the forefront in recent weeks, it will be a key match up of the five-eighths that will see Cody Walker and former Souths playmaker Luke Keary trying to get their teams through to the big dance. Both have been under the radar for much of the season and have accumulated many wins without recognition while each has had a hand in their side’s current finals wins.
Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker has flourished under new coach Anthony Seibold, with the added structure aiding him with tremendous decision making. Walker has been a highlight of the Souths side this year with much of his efforts being underrated, he has much to do with the increasingly potent left edge attack which is the best in the competition. He has had the best season of his career (since joining in 2016) with the playmaker having a hand in 13 line break assists and 19 try assists, much of which has pushed the side to a title chance. Cody’s damaging assisting is complemented with tremendous instinctive footy from a half which has shades of Cliffy Lyons poking its head in his game.
If South Sydney are to compete, Walker will need to be in the thick of it taking as much pressure off his other in-form half in Reynolds, doing what he does best – moving the ball around the side while getting his edge backrowers and outside backs to link with him in short side raids or coming back inside to put pressure through the middle for points.
A former Bunnies player in their last title campaign in 2014, Keary moved to the Roosters and has become a dominant five-eighth with a combination with Cronk allowing them to come into form at the pinnacle of the season. Keary has been one of the most consistent halves providing an electric and polished attack on either side of the field, having even Cronk taking a backseat to allow Keary to steer the side. Much of the points come from his side of the field being able to link with his captain Boyd Cordner, Mitchell in the centres or Daniel Tupou out on the wing combining for a classy edge that terrorises opposition with the playmaker is one of the best short side players in the NRL getting those players involved as much as possible.
The Roosters will rely heavily on Keary to get them on the front foot in which he has the second most try assists with 19; his pass selection is first class, being able to identify defensive changes and even support his outside backs for tries. If they are to conquer a red-hot Rabbitohs, Keary’s kicking game will need to be pinpoint to not only create pressure when opportunities are not presenting themselves or to provide service to his forwards who will need to dominate early, so that he can get benefits of tiresome defence late in the match to set up his backs to score and get the victory.
Last time these sides met in a playoff match Rabbitohs beat the Roosters in 2014, in which was the first time since 1938 that they had met in the post-season. This will be the last sporting fixture held at Allianz Stadium before a new stadium is built.
Roosters: 1 James Tedesco, 2 Daniel Tupou, 3 Mitchell Aubusson, 4 Joseph Manu, 5 Blake Ferguson, 6 Luke Keary, 7 Cooper Cronk, 8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 9 Jake Friend (c), 10 Siosiua Taukeiaho, 11 Boyd Cordner, 12 Isaac Liu, 13 Victor Radley.
Rabbitohs: 1 Alex Johnston, 2 Campbell Graham, 3 Greg Inglis, 4 Dane Gagai, 5 Robert Jennings, 6 Cody Walker, 7 Adam Reynolds, 8 Tom Burgess, 9 Damien Cook, 10 George Burgess, 11 John Sutton, 12 Angus Crichton, 13 Sam Burgess.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 22nd September
Venue: Allianz Stadium
Referee: Ashley Klein
WHO WILL WIN?
This preliminary final will definitely be a match to remember, both Sydney sides are firing at the right moment with either able to win on their given day. The Roosters are without star centre Mitchell who has been a focal point, but in saying that fullback James Tedesco and Cronk both signings of this season have been incredible in the last month, their side will be heavily relying on those two as well as Keary to lift for this big occasion. The Rabbitohs – after a narrow loss in Melbourne – came back to win against the Dragons with precision clutch kicking from their halfback; the most crucial point for the Souths side to succeed is with their big forwards getting around the park and troubling the best defensive side in the Roosters, allowing the likes of Damien Cook, Greg Inglis and Walker to run riot. A last ever sporting fixture at Allianz Stadium will go down to the wire and will have many pinnacle moments from each side that define the match. The week off and the defence that the Tri-Colours have produced it will allow Tedesco, Cronk and Keary to seize the opportunities and finish a battered Bunnies season to reach the 2018 grand final.
Prediction: Roosters by 7