All signs point to a blockbuster affair tonight as the Sydney Roosters battle the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the second preliminary final and final ever match at Allianz Stadium. It's all or nothing as the winner faces the Melbourne Storm in the NRL Grand Final next week.
The Roosters will come into this clash feeling well rested after their 21-12 win over the Sharks in week one of the finals series gave them last week off however they will be without a couple of key players. Latrell Mitchell's crusher tackle in the match against the Sharks saw him suspended for one match while Dylan Napa continues to be sidelines for a dangerous tackle from round 24 against the Broncos.
The Rabbitohs don't have any such concerns but they required three field goals in the last ten minutes from Adam Reynolds last week to get past a determined Dragons' outfit by 13-12 last week. After a close loss to the Storm in week one and an unconvincing win against St George-Illawarra, the Roosters will know they could be slightly vulnerable.
2018 - Roosters 18 def. Rabbitohs 14 at ANZ Stadium
2018 - Rabbitohs 26 def. Roosters 14 at Allianz Stadium
2017 - Roosters 14 def. Rabbitohs 12 at Allianz Stadium
2017 - Roosters 20 def. Rabbitohs 6 at ANZ Stadium
2016 - Roosters 17 def. Rabbitohs 10 at ANZ Stadium
In the NRL era the Roosters have a good head-to-head advantage over the Rabbitohs, with 25 wins to 12. However, there has also been five draws and in terms of tonight that could be an accurate indicator of how close the teams will be. The Roosters have won the last six of ten contests, including the last three of five at Allianz. The teams have each taken a victory apiece this season away from each other. The Rabbitohs prevailed 26-14 at Allianz in round six while the Roosters triumphed 18-14 at ANZ Stadium in round 22. This will be a very close run contest.
With Latrell Mitchell out, Mitchell Aubusson comes into the centres. Victor Radley is in at lock, whilst Nat Butcher comes onto the bench.
The South Sydney team is unchanged from last week's win against the Dragons
|Sydney Roosters||South Sydney Rabbitohs|
|1||James Tedesco||Alex Johnston|
|2||Daniel Tupou||Campbell Graham|
|3||Mitchell Aubusson||Greg Inglis|
|4||Joseph Manu||Dane Gagai|
|5||Blake Ferguson||Robert Jennings|
|6||Luke Keary||Cody Walker|
|7||Cooper Cronk||Adam Reynolds|
|8||Jared Waerea-Hargreaves||Thomas Burgess|
|9||Jake Friend||Damien Cook|
|10||Siosiua Taukeiaho||George Burgess|
|11||Boyd Cordner||John Sutton|
|12||Isaac Liu||Angus Crichton|
|13||Victor Radley||Sam Burgess|
|14||Lindsay Collins||Hymel Hunt|
|15||Zane Tetevano||Cameron Murray|
|16||Nat Butcher||Jason Clark|
|17||Ryan Matterson||Dean Britt|
|18||Matt Ikuvalu||Braidon Burns|
|19||Sean O'Sullivan||Mark Nicholls|
|20||Paul Momirovski||Tevita Tatola|
|21||Sitili Tupouniua||Connor Tracey|
The facts that matter
Without Latrell Mitchell to attack the left edge, it's up to James Tedesco to continue his fine form and fill in that role. He's made an average of 181 metres per game this season, to go with an average of four tackle breaks, 17 line break assists, 18 line break assists and 19 line breaks. While Mitchell Aubusson is an able replacement in the centres, it will be Tedesco who has to create that attacking instinct and generate points for the Roosters.
Cooper Cronk's match-up against Adam Reynolds will be important. Cronk kicked 688 metres against the Sharks in their week one finals' match-up which repelled the Cronulla attack when the match was very tight. Defense will be the real key here as the Rabbitohs like to score points, and if he can keep their forwards at bay, or Reynolds from bringing their backs into play, it could make the difference.
Reynolds was ice-cool last week, slotting three field goals in the last ten minutes to get his team over the line. If this match turns out to be as close, then he may well find himself in a similar position. His defensive kicking has been just as good and it will be up to the Roosters' pack of Cordner, Liu and Radley to really put the pressure on him and Cody Walker.
To get to that position, his forwards will need to continue their good work, but need to translate that into points. The Rabbitohs ran for over 1,700 metres last week and forced four goal-line drop-outs out of the Dragons, but could still only score one try, which came in the 60th minute. Cameron Murray made a huge impact off the bench as did his forwards partner Tom Burgess, and Damien Cook was consistent as usual with 131 metres out of dummy-half which will really test the Roosters' line. But they have to convert the statistics into points and cut down their errors which seem to come at the wrong time (ten last week against the Dragons).
Expect a very tight finish here. Even without Latrell Mitchell the Roosters still have the experience of Cronk and several others to guide them through. The Rabbitohs have done it tough through the finals' series but it's a testament to their strength this season that they have gotten to this stage. Both teams are quite evenly matched, so it's tough to pick.
Tip: Roosters by 2