Souths might never be presented with a better opportunity to finally end their five-decade premiership drought in Sunday’s NRL grand final against Canterbury.
South Sydney might never have a better chance to finally end their heartbreaking premiership drought, which has stretched into its fifth decade.
Ever since the Rabbitohs thumped then premiership frontrunners Manly 23-4 at the SCG in round 22, they have been the team to beat for this year’s NRL title.
They have overcome hiccups against North Queensland and premiers the Sydney Roosters to go into Sunday’s decider against Canterbury at ANZ Stadium the hottest grand final favourites in NRL history.
With good reason too.
Rugby-bound Rabbitohs back-rower Sam Burgess has been the form player of the final series, with superstar fullback Greg Inglis not far behind.
Their massive forward pack consistently rolls up field with their zippy backline capable of making the most of any opportunities presented.
The week off after their preliminary final win revitalised them in last week’s win over the Roosters.
Canterbury has played all four weeks of the finals, and no team has done that and taken out the title since Brisbane in 2006.
And the game is far more demanding mentally and physically now that it was eight years ago.
They face a Bulldogs side with no specialist hooker, following Michael Ennis’ withdrawal with a fractured foot.
Regular five-eighth Josh Reynolds and playmaking rookie Moses Mbye, who has just eight NRL games to his name, are expected to share the role.
Issac Luke’s ban is a setback for Souths, but Apisai Koroisau is a ready-made replacement, and the Dogs are expected to lose far more in that area with Ennis gone.
Canterbury halfback Trent Hodkinson couldn’t run a week and a half ago and will carry a knee injury into the game.
The Rabbitohs style of play appears to have the referees on side too.
The Dogs have won just 39 per cent of penalty counts this year, with a differential of -13.
Souths have won 73 per cent of counts this year, with the NRL’s No.1 differential of +44.
The weight of history, now 43 years since their last title in 1971, and expectation crushed the Rabbitohs in successive preliminary final losses over the past two season and all the hype this week surrounding the grand final has been about Souths.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler has made a living out of “flying under the radar” but as the two-time premiership winning mentor said on Triple M on Saturday: “I didn’t have to try this time”.
Of course that is just the way Dessy likes it, and with one of the best packs in the game, upfront is where Canterbury can win it.
But in his final game before defecting to English rugby, British enforcer Burgess, for one, is keen to carry that weight of expectation upon his burly shoulders into the biggest game of the year.
“It’s a good achievement (for me) to play here in the NRL grand final and for a club like South Sydney,” Burgess told AAP.
“We have had a good run here and we finally made the big dance so it is pretty exciting for a young kid from back home to be playing in Sydney on grand final day.
“I am proud of that but the job is not done yet, we have just given ourselves a good opportunity.
“I am always proud putting on the jersey, it is always a proud moment running out for South Sydney.
“What it means now is to give something back to my family, my mum, my dad, give something back for all the times I was a pain in the arse over the years they had to take me to training.
“Obviously me and my teammates we get to create something and we can create something that no one can take away.”
What it can take away is 43 years of pain and misery for the Rabbitohs faithful.
Rabbitohs v Bulldogs ANZ Stadium, Sunday, October 5, 7.15pm.
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 149, Canterbury 78, Souths 67, drawn 4. IN FINALS: Played 3, Canterbury 2, Souths 1. IN GRAND FINALS: Played 1, Souths 1, Canterbury 0. AT ANZ STADIUM: Played 19, Canterbury 13, Souths 6. COACHES HEAD-TO-HEAD: Games 7, Maguire 4 wins, Hasler 3 wins.
This year Canterbury defeated Souths 15-14 at ANZ Stadium, April 18, 2014 (Rd 7) Souths defeated Canterbury 21-14 at ANZ Stadium, August 28, 2014 (Rd 25)
These teams will meet for the 150th time. They first met on April 27, 1935 when the Rabbitohs downed the competition newcomers 37-9 at Marrickville Oval. They have met in three finals matches, including the decider of 1967 when the Rabbitohs triumphed 12-10. In finals, the Bulldogs have won two to Souths’ one.