South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Olympic Stadium, Homebush, Thursday, 17th September, 7.50pm
South Sydney: 1-Corey Allan; 2-Alex Johnston; 3-Campbell Graham; 4-Steven Marsters; 5-Jaxson Paulo; 6-Cody Walker; 7-Adam Reynolds ©; 8-Liam Knight; 9-Damien Cook; 10-Thomas Burgess; 11-Jaydn Su’A; 12-Bayley Sironen; 13-Cameron Murray; Interchange: 14-Mark Nicholls; 15-Jed Cartwright; 16-Hame Sele; 17-Keaon Koloamatangi; 18-Junior Tatola; 19-Patrick Mago; 20-Troy Dargan; 21-Cory Denniss. Coach: Wayne Bennett
Canterbury-Bankstown: 1-Will Hopoate; 2-Dallin Watene-Zelezniak; 3-Reimis Smith; 4-Tim Lafai; 5-Jayden Okunbor; 6-Jake Averillo; 7-Lachlan Lewis; 8-Aiden Tolman; 9-Jeremy Marshall-King; 10-Luke Thompson; 11-Josh Jackson ©; 12-Raymond Faitala-Mariner; 13-Chris Smith; Interchange: 14-Brandon Wakeham; 15-Renouf To’omaga; 16-Sione Katoa; 17-Sauaso Sue; 19-Dean Britt; 20-Tuipulotu Katoa; 21-Nick Meaney; 23-James Roumanos. Coach: Steve Georgalis.
Officials: Ashley Klein; Chris Butler; Phil Henderson; Henry Perenara (video).
Just two more rounds to go of this strangest of footy seasons, before the real competition - the semi-finals - begins in October. The Top Eight has long been decided, along with the participation therein of our Mighty Rabbitohs, though some of the placings (including our own) remain to be determined. Bigger tests await for Souths, but first we must get past this year’s likely wooden spooners, the Bulldogs.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
We have been building well over the last couple of months, having now won six of our last seven matches, and confirming our third consecutive finals campaign. Not all of these wins have been that convincing, such as over the Dragons, Cowboys and Tigers, but a couple - most notably over Manly and Parramatta - had authority written all over them. Nevertheless, a win is a win, and whether is by a point over a team in the bottom four or by 38 over a team in the top four, they are all worth two competition points.
Overall, I’ve been pretty happy with our progress recently, and I think we are building well for a good tilt at the finals. In particular, the form of key players Adam Reynolds, Cody Walker, Damien Cook, Tom Burgess, and Cameron Murray has been great, while players like Campbell Graham, Jaydn Su’A, Bayley Sironen and Tevita Tatola have also been in good nick. The loss of Latrell Mitchel is of course huge, but if the players remaining can maintain their recent form, then we can still give this competition a bit of a shake.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have had a dreadful season, their weak roster proving no match for most other teams in the competition, and winning just two matches from their 18 starts. That said, they have looked decent in patches in recent weeks, and they’ve had opportunities to win any of their last five matches, giving up leads against Wests, NZ, Canberra, Gold Coast, and Manly. A win in any one of these matches would have lifted them off the bottom (given their superior points differential over the similarly struggling Broncos), but with the Panthers next week, that chance might have gone.
There’s probably not a whole heap that Berries fans can take out of this season, though the retention of players like Adam Elliott, Will Hopoate, and Luke Thompson, along with 2021 recruits Nick Cotric and Blake Green, will give incoming coach Trent Barrett something to work with next season. Finals footy still looks a few years away for the Bulldogs, but they should improve next year.
Souths have played Canterbury 176 times since they entered the top grade in 1935, with 81 wins to Souths, 88 for the Berries/ Bulldogs and 7 draws. Among them of course are two famous grand final wins for the Rabbitohs, the 12-10 win in 1967, and the 30-6 victory in 2014. This year we’ve already beaten them once, a 26-10 win back in Round 8, and apart from the 14-6 defeat at the end of last season, we’ve won every match against them going back to the loss in the Good Friday clash of 2017. This recent run has improved our overall NRL-era record, which currently stands at 16 wins for us, 22 for them, and one draw.
Corey Allan v Will Hopoate
There’s no doubt that Latrell Mitchell’s season-ending hamstring tear was a massive blow to Souths’ title hopes, but the Rabbitohs have two able (if considerably less dynamic) replacements in Corey Allan and Alex Johnston, and it appears that Allan has won the race to be the custodian. As decent as he is though, he’s no Latrell, and this one position where the Dogs possibly have the edge on Souths this week. Hopoate has been a shining light in a losing team, and if Canterbury are to have any hope this week, Hopper will need to be at his best.
Adam Reynolds v Lachlan Lewis
Lewis looked like a handy player when he first hit first grade a couple of years ago, but he hasn’t really come on since. Still, if he can recapture that early form, he may yet improve to be one of the better young halfbacks in the competition. Reynolds is now probably in the veteran class, but our little general has been in career-best form over recent weeks, and if he brings anything like his A-game this week, we could be seeing a pretty one-sided face-off here.
Jaydn Su’A v Josh Jackson
Su’A has emerged to be one of the best back-rowers in the competition this year, and he gives Souths’ pack a real fear factor. All successful forward packs need an enforcer, and Su’A is becoming that player for Souths. Jackson has been one of the Dogs’ better performers this season, but it’s never easy in a losing team, and it will require a real captain’s knock from him to compete with Jaydn and co.
Tom Burgess v Luke Thompson
Burgess has really stepped up this season following the departure of brothers Sam and George, and he has emerged as a real forward leader. His handling is much-improved too, and he is a large part of the reason why Souths’ unheralded pigs have matched it with more credentialed packs. Thompson’s return is a fillip for the Dogs, and he has the reputation as one of the best forwards to come out of the English Super League since Sam. He’ll need to contain the likes of Burgess and Su’A if his team is to have any chance.
There’s really no way to see this match as anything other than a comfortable victory for the Rabbitohs. Souths outclass the Dogs all over the park, and we should be easily able to score far too many points for the Berries to compete with. That said, Canterbury have been pretty competitive over the last month or so, and we take them lightly at our peril (and anyway, I’m always worried when Souths are strong favourites). I suspect that the Dogs will again come out firing, but if we can see off their early efforts, I think we’ll run away with the match over the last half hour.
The bookies have Souths as hot favourites, paying $1.10 versus Canterbury’s $7.00. NSW TAB is giving the Bulldogs a 15.5 points start.
Mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs by 24