So big is this game, the team (of one) at 26 Rounds decided to split the match preview into two parts for your reading pleasure. If you missed part one, which included the typical intro and breakdown of the Roosters, click here.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Rabbitohs team for Round 26: Greg Inglis, Nathan Merritt, Bryson Goodwin, Dylan Walker, Dylan Farrell, John Sutton, Adam Reynolds, Luke Burgess, Issac Luke, Roy Asotasi, Chris McQueen, Ben Te’o, Sam Burgess. Interchange: Luke Keary, Jeff Lima, George Burgess, Thomas Burgess, Jason Clark, Matt King.
Greg Inglis is reportedly not at risk of doing any more structural damage to his injured knee and has again been named to play — he’s even said he’s running without pain this week. He’s been playing with severe discomfort it seems, but he’s still be on fire.
Michael Maguire has again named the Burgii, with this game being the return battle between the Sam strain of Burgii and Sonny Bill Williams. He’s also named an extended bench with Matt King and Jason Clark added.
The Bunnies have now won three straight following two straight losses and a stretch of three out of four — all of which came with Greg Inglis out. They’ve won these three by an average score of 27.3 to 16.
How they’ll play
Those forwards will just hammer away as they always do, setting a huge platform for Adam Reynolds to put grubbers away and force repeats sets. Rinse and repeat.
Reynolds has forced 24 dropouts in 23 games this season and often leads the chase to attempt the in-goal tackle. Regardless if he makes it or not, the kick returner is more often than not tackled within the 10 metre zone, and the opposition is rarely piggy-backed out of danger with a penalty.
They actually concede more penalties than they receive on average this season, at 6.32 to 6.14, but under Klein, they’ve received 23 penalties and conceded 22 and won all three games he’s adjudicated (Penrith, Manly and New Zealand) by an average score of 31.3 to 19.
In those games, interestingly, Reynolds did not force a single dropout. Expect that to change in this one, unless the Rabbitohs are repeatedly awarded penalties and don’t need to.
While we’re in a stats mood, this is a phenomenal one as highlighted in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday:
South Sydney have scored a staggering 20 per cent of their tries off the back of Burgess play-the-balls in the 21 games the Englishman has played this season.
The Rabbitohs have scored following a barnstorming Burgess run on 17 occasions this year, taking advantage of the damage the 120-kilogram prop inflicts on the defensive line. His giant frame and strength often attracts three or four defenders in a tackle, yet the 21-year-old still manages to get a quick play-the-ball.
He’s also scored seven tries this year, including one against the Roosters in round one. This could be somewhat nullified by quick marker play and pressure from Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, but that doesn’t stop Issac Luke getting it straight out left to John Sutton to put something on.
Besides all that, their forwards are just damaging. Chris McQueen is Cordner-lite and perhaps a more adept bump-off runner. He can run a hole or scrap his way over, and he’s a chief chaser of Reynolds’ punts. Meanwhile, the two chief strains of Burgii, Sam and George, have scored 15 tries between them while T’eo is always a threat.
But if they are attacking a certain side, they also tend to favour the left with the triumvirate of Inglis, Goodwin and Merritt, who have scored 37 tries between them. Inglis needs to be rushed and gang-tackled early as the Storm did so well in their win over them back in round six, which was by far Inglis’ worst game in a year that he’s been virtually faultless — the Storm forced him into two errors and prevented him from breaking the line, despite the fullback running for over 140 metres in that one. He finished with no try assists and no line breaks either.
Whether the Roosters’ defence can return to its miserly best to contain him is another question after conceding an average of 24.5 points in the past four rounds — well above their season average of just 13.6 points conceded for the season.
Their key though, in recent times, has been the play of Issac Luke. In their three recent wins he’s been dominant, with four try assists, four line break assists, a line break and a try while running for 299 metres. He’s also missed just one tackle in his past four matches.
Both he and Jake Friend, in this writer’s opinion, have been jostling for that top spot on the next tier of hookers behind Cam Smith and Robbie Farah, and on recent form the Kiwi rake is a nose ahead.
Their battle will be worth the price of admission.
The Roosters no doubt have been looking at this game for a while, as a kind of finals match a week early. In their last four matches they’ve started out extremely poorly and will have addressed that at training this week — although this writer feels like he’s said that before.
In three of his past four halves, Sonny Bill has been below his best and has been easily niggled, and he’s the type of player who would have addressed that. And they’ll be keen to stop themselves from heading into the finals on a three-game losing streak, especially with bragging rights, revenge and the minor premiership on the line.
But having read this preview, do you see that happening?
The Roosters are down three stars who have been so integral all year (Boyd, O’Donnell and The Sheck) while the Bunnies are virtually at full strength. They’ve also won all their games under Klein while the Roosters have lost 60 per cent of theirs. The Rabbitohs have been solid in the past three games (the Tigers’ first 20 minutes notwithstanding) while the Roosters were out of form even in their two games prior to their current two game losing streak.
If the Roosters win, it will be a famous victory: away from home, against their hated rivals with three stars out and literally against the odds to win the minor premiership. And if the Roosters return to that devastating attack and roll-on that only they can put on, then they have a real shot. But with a gun to my head (and I might as well keep it there) I think the Bunnies will be too strong in this one. I’ve been wrong before though, including the past two weeks, and hope to God I’m wrong again.
Man of the Match for the Roosters will be Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. He was back to his beast-like best last week and will relish the challenge of taking his three names up against the four Burgii. Or he could get sent off like he was under Klein against Manly. Either way, it will be something to see.
With that in mind,never has it been more important for Roosters fans to head out to ANZ. We’ll need the Chook Pen to drown out the constant whistling from the referees, and the constant groans and boos from the Bunnies mob for every line ball, and every tackle. It will be a monumental atmosphere and if they do manage to pull this out, Roosters fans will see one incredible effort and something we haven’t seen in a decade: a minor premiership presentation. The Roosters need a full team of support.