For the most part, South Sydney fans have been conspicuous in their silence since October 6. Recently however, my BS detector has started to catch some stray readings of nonsense emanating from our neighbours to the south — I mean, west (that’s where Homebush is, right?).
That lame Rorters tag is popping up once again, en masse. The same old salary cap stuff and the notion we have no fans (I guess except for the 30,000 who came to the WCC, but I digress); blah blah blah.
But whatever. I’m not getting angry, far from it. In fact, I’d like to thank them.
Thanks for buying Grand Final tickets the moment they come out. It gives us the opportunity to buy them laternfrom.you at a massive discount, as we have done for six of the past 14 years.
Thanks for claiming the Ron Coote Cup — we needed the space in the cabinet to fit in the Minor Premiership, the Premiership and the World Club Challenge trophies.
And thanks for claiming we are forever in your shadow. It served to fire up the fans, players and the club alike to the rarest of accomplishments: the rugby league version of the Triple Crown or Grand Slam.
Actually, screw that: the only shadow cast is from the 43-year-old monkey on your back.
Shadow. My. Arse.
Should be a good game, though. Hatred and banter aside, the two games these clubs play every season are among the most enthralling, edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting games on the NRL calendar, and generally played in the right spirit.
Whichever way it goes, the footy, at last, is back.
Bring on tomorrow night.
Team for Round 1: Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Boyd Cordner, Sonny Bill Wiliams, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala. Interchange: (From) Daniel Mortimer, Aidan Guerra, Mitchell Aubusson, Dylan Napa, Kane Evans, Kurt Kara.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been named on the wing after missing the World Club Challenge two weekends ago. He played during the club’s 52-4 thrashing at the hands of the Penrith Panthers in a trial game instead in his first action since breaking his leg in the RLWC final.
Isaac Liu is out for between 8-12 weeks after suffering a knee injury in the Nines, but he was unlikely to make the squad regardless.
Surprisingly, Trent Robinson has elected not to run with french import Remi Casty, instead opting for The Red Menace, Dylan Napa, with Kane Evans 18th man and Jets Utility Kurt Kara in the 19 jersey on an extended bench.
Remi Casty played in that game and looked impressive, but so did Napa: he combined well with Sonny Bill Williams in several tackles defending the Wigan right-side, and left the crowd wanting more. He’s more than earned his place in this squad over the import, who didn’t make it onto an extended bench.
How they’ll play
Personally, I would punt grubbers right at the legs of Lote Tuqiri every single chance I got. He struggles with the bounces and is as agile as a father-son combo in a two-man sack race. But that’s just me.
I’d also attack down that edge with RTS coming up against him. If RTS can do this against Todd Carney…
… then one can only imagine how easily he’ll leave Statuqiri grasping at nothing but hope.
But failing that, it wouldn’t hurt to exploit their new-found expertise in high-kicks out wide, either to the Sheck or Toops, as both wingers have athleticism advantages over their opposites.
The Roosters exploited some lax play in the middle third of the field in their round 26 clash at the end of the year, and short balls from Sam Moa and JWH to one of their angle-running second rowers (SBW, Boyd, Aubo) could work a treat from within their own 50.
It’s also yet to be seen whether The Gurgii will be able to maintain his effort levels with increased minutes, so running at him and following it up with a dart from Friend from dummy-half could work a treat, especially after the first 20 minutes have passed.
If both Reynolds and Walker play, you need to run the big fellas at them. Both were under an injury cloud heading into this game, so confidence in their respective ailing body parts, regardless, is not going to be 100 per cent.
The Roosters, in addition, will certainly have the advantage during the middle third of the game. The Bunnies, putting it politely, have a dogshit bench compared to what the Roosters are throwing out: Napa (intensity personified) as well as Morts, Aubo and Guerra, who are all adept at finding holes, supporting and taking advantage of a tired defence.
The Roosters need to up that intensity from the 25-60 minute period to ensure a win here, and possibly a comfortable one.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Team for Round 1: Greg Inglis, Nathan Merritt, Beau Champion, Bryson Goodwin, Lote Tuqiri, Dylan Walker, Adam Reynolds, George Burgess, Issac Luke, Sam Burgess, Chris McQueen, Ben Te’o, John Sutton. Interchange: (From) Ben Lowe, Joe Picker, David Tyrell, Luke Burgess, Joel Reddy, Kyle Turner.
Luke Keary is out for five months after tearing his pectoral muscle, and coach Michael Maguire has seemingly elected to let John Sutton get comfortable in the forwards rather than shift him back to the spot from which he nearly made his Origin debut last year.
Instead, Maguire has elected to shift Dylan Walker to the halves to partner Adam Reynolds, but may be forced into another late shift back with Walker still feeling the effects of an ankle injury. He’s likely to be a game-time decision and if he can’t play, they’ll likely shift Sutton to the halves, Lowe to lock and promote Kyle Turner to the bench.
Reynolds is seemingly fit to play after being initially in doubt with a knee injury, while Lote Tuqiri will also make his first appearance in Souths colours. The loss in the offseason of Roy Asotasi means George Burgess will start in the front row this year.
Many are predicting this to be a whitewash for some reason — one notable Twitter follower suggested it’s a 30-point game, and he does have a habit of picking these absurd-sounding scores that come off.
Can the Roosters make it happen? Has Heighway picked it again?
How they’ll play
Their forward pack is still as big as any in the league, but not having that impact off the bench that The Gurgii provided could hurt their mid-game impact. Regardless, he’s just a beast.
He can bump off tackles and is very effective just before hitting the line, as he gets in low late and gets extra drive through the middle because of it. I marvel at his running game, as do many, and the Bunnies scored something like 18 tries on the next play following one of his charges.
Issac Luke is the best running hooker in the game as well, and while it’s easy to say “he should be watched” there’s another thing in stopping him. He isn’t as creative as his counterpart in this one, and that may hurt them if Reynolds and Walker are indeed unfit to play. But out of dummy half, there isn’t anyone as dangerous as Luke.
Is the strike power there out wide though? Nathan Merritt knows how to find the tryline, but if his halves aren’t present he may struggle to see the ball. I’ve always liked Beau Champion, the former Australian Schoolboys Player of the Year, and he’s a danger — but one that can be nullified by a rushing defence. And Jenko.
The Rabbitohs, by the very nature of these games in recent times, always have a good chance of beating the Roosters provided their halves make it through warm-ups.
Remember, had the ball bounced a different way for Walker in round 26, we may have been looking at different minor premiers. Roosters fans cannot get too cocky (pun intended) about this game, even IF the halves are ruled out. Their forwards are still dominant and can get a roll on as good or even better than any team in the premiership, especially their all-Burgii front row.
The Bunnies looked great against the Dragons in the Charity Shield, even after Inglis and Walker went off during the game and even while missing Reynolds. Whether that’s a measure of the team’s class or the Dragons’ lack thereof remains to be seen, but the St George club were never in it.
Meanwhile, the Roosters looked rusty in attack against Wigan and put themselves under the pump in the second half in a game that really should have been a blow-out.
These games are always near-classics, and it’s worth remembering that the Roosters won in round 26 last year despite missing four regular starters: I only mention that because these games tend to bring out the best in both clubs, and in effect injuries don’t matter for these teams in round one or 26.
The Surgii will be keen to put some negative publicity and backlash behind him, and will want to prove he has his mind on the job before he heads off to Rugby. Love him or hate him, you have to admit the dude can play. And either way, they’ll still have Greg Inglis — who this writer rates as the best player in the competition when he is fit.
These games are always close, but the difference in benches and the class in the backlines is enough to get the Roosters a win, and when you combine it with the injury cloud that the Bunnies have over many of their stars? It could push it to 13-plus, although it would take a brave man to bet on that given how these games have been competed on in the past.
Man of the Match could be Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. With Robbo not naming a second prop on the bench, JWH could be forced into extended minutes.
He could top 180 metres, with 21 hitups, 30 tackles and four offloads, especially when he comes up against who the Bunnies have on the bench.
Whatever happens, though, just be thankful for games like these. They are nerve-racking, exhilarating, nauseating and invigorating. It’s only after it’s been away for so long that you begin to realise how much you miss it. Kind of like the opposite of herpes.