NRL FINALS - Storm v Rabbitohs
Friday 7 September 2012 10:47 AM
The big hits keep coming in the 2012 NRL finals, first with Canterbury-Bankstown against Manly tonight and then another must-see when fellow top four sides Melbourne and South Sydney go head-to-head in tomorrow night’s early match at AAMI Park (7.45pm NZ time).
In the coaching boxes it’s another match-up between the supposed master and his former apprentice (as it is tonight with Des Hasler squaring off against his former Manly assistant Geoff Toovey).
Tomorrow night it’s Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy matching wits with South Sydney’s Michael Maguire, who was on the Storm’s coaching staff before taking up the top job with Wigan in the English Super League.
While Bellamy has ensured the Storm keep keeping on – finishing second in the minor premiership – Maguire has enjoyed an outstanding season as a rookie NRL head coach, taking the perennial pretenders to third place in the regular season.
The Rabbitohs are relentlessly touted as being on the verge of achieving something big but have had a special ability to compound. Since re-entering the competition in 2002 they haven’t so much flattered to deceive as failed miserably.
Want proof? No trouble – they finished 14th or second to last in 2002, claimed the wooden spoon in 2003 and 2004, came 13th in a 15-team competition in 2005, took the wooden spoon again in 2006, finished in the top eight at last in 2007 (seventh but were eliminated immediately in the play-offs), came 14th from 16 teams in 2008, 10th in 2009, ninth in 2010 and 10th in 2011. Just once in the top eight in 10 years until now – it’s a poor record considering the incessant hype that has surrounded the Bunnies year after year and the amount of money invested in big-name signings along the way.
For some context close to home consider the Vodafone Warriors’ regular season record in the same 10 years – first, sixth, 14th, 11th, 10th, fourth, eighth, 14th, fifth and sixth (six visits to the finals, a minor premiership and two grand final appearances). While there's reason for real disappoinment about this year's effort the overall output leaves South Sydney in the shade.
Now the feeling for the Rabbitohs is building to fever pitch as they seek to win their first finals match in 25 years (their last play-off win was a 15-12 result against Balmain in 1987).
They’re in much better space this season with a squad brimming with class performers from fullback Greg Inglis to winger Nathan Merritt, Dally M Rookie of the Year Adam Reynolds at halfback, prop Sam Burgess and second rower David Taylor plus Kiwi hooker Issac Luke lurking on the bench (if that’s where he stays).
But beware the Storm …
They might be without a legitimate premiership since their first in 1999 but they demand the utmost respect and have more than enough machinery to get the job done. Any side with Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith in harness always will have.
There’ll be added interest for Vodafone Warriors followers, too, with 2013 acquisition Dane Nielsen lining up in the centres although Vodafone Warriors-bound loose forward Todd Lowrie is out with a pectoral injury.
Apart from Luke, both sides throw up some special New Zealand interest, South Sydney via Roy Asotasi and Eddy Pettybourne in its pack and Melbourne with prop Jesse Bromwich, second rower Sika Manu and bench forward Kevin Proctor.
In terms of recent form, the Storm are in better touch with five straight wins while the Rabbitohs have won their last two but can point to eight victories in their last 10 outings.
So get strapped in for another gripping qualifying final with the outcome the same as tonight’s play-off – the winners will advance to week three, the losers will live to fight again in week two.
Teams for tomorrow night are:
STORM: Billy Slater, Sisa Waqa, Justin O'Neill, Dane Nielsen, Mahe Fonua, Gareth Widdop, Cooper Cronk, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Jason Ryles, Sika Manu, Ryan Hoffman, Ryan Hinchcliffe. Interchange (from): Rory Kostjasyn, Bryan Norrie, Jaiman Lowe, Kevin Proctor, Richie Fa'aoso, Siosaia Vave.
RABBITOHS: Greg Inglis, Nathan Merritt, Matt King, Dylan Farrell, Andrew Everingham, John Sutton, Adam Reynolds, Sam Burgess, Nathan Peats, Roy Asotasi, Eddy Pettybourne, Dave Taylor, Michael Crocker. Interchange (from): Jason Clark, Luke Burgess, Chris McQueen, Issac Luke, Ben Lowe, Dave Tyrrell, Justin Hunt.
Referees: Shayne Hayne and Jason Robinson.