Only four teams remain, with one week until the grand final. Sydney, what an exciting weekend it will be.
Rabbitohs v Roosters, ANZ Stadium, Friday
The grand final every fan wanted to see will be played a week earlier. The rivalry between these two teams dates back to when the foundation clubs entered the league in 1908, and will be on full display come kick-off tonight.
The Rabbitohs have the advantage of enjoying a week off, after thumping the Sea Eagles 40-24 in the first qualifying final. But having been labelled chokers after bowing out in the preliminary finals in the past two years they have more to prove.
It will be third time lucky for the Bunnies if they are able to beat a hot and cold tri-colours side. The Roosters had their fans on the edge of their seats in last week’s semi-final when, after cruising to a 30-0 lead in as many minutes, they let the Cowboys back into the game and just scraped through 31-30. It was the second consecutive one-point finals game for the Roosters, who lost to the Panthers by one-point in the first qualifying final.
The Bunnies will welcome back key player Ben Te’o from suspension; Roosters player Dylan Napa is also back from suspension. Three of rugby league’s superstars may play their last game here: Sam Burgess (heading to Rugby Union), Sonny Bill Williams (heading back to Rugby Union) and Anthony Minichiello (retiring). The Bunnies’ leading try scorer, Nathan Merritt, has already played his last game for the Bunnies, retiring after playing 236 games and scoring 145 tries. He also played for the Sharks and represented NSW and the Indigenous All Stars.
Newsroom’s prediction: Rabbitohs by 7
Panthers v Bulldogs, ANZ Stadium, Saturday
The final spot in the NRL grand final will be a battle between two teams from the west.
If any team has defied the odds this season it has been the Panthers. Despite securing a top-four finish, they still had their critics. Having disposed of the premiers in week one of the finals they continue to defy the doubters and may very well be this year’s Cinderella story. The Panthers, coming into this match after a well-earned week off, are still being labelled underdogs, even by the punters.
The Bulldogs also defied the odds to dispose of the two most successful clubs of the past decade, the Storm and the Sea Eagles, in consecutive weeks. After leading the Sea Eagles 16-6 at half-time last weekend, the Doggies were able to scrape through with two clutch field goals from half-back Trent Hodkinson. The Bulldogs feared forward pack were back to their dominating best.
If the Dogs can keep the winning momentum going, they could be the first team since the Broncos in 2006 to play in all finals matches and then win the big one, but statistics are not on their side. Panthers welcome back Adam Docker from suspension, while the Bulldogs remain unchanged.
Newsroom’s prediction: Bulldogs by 6 – David Telefoni
Top photo from Jorge’s Flickr photostream.