The NRL careers of Sam Burgess or Sonny Bill Williams and Anthony Minichiello could come to an end at the conclusion of Friday’s preliminary final.
The end is nigh for at least one of the NRL’s biggest names when South Sydney take on the Sydney Roosters in Friday’s preliminary final.
The do-or-die encounter has more plotlines than a Hollywood thriller but most emotional could be at the final siren when Roosters pair Anthony Minichiello and Sonny Bill Williams or Souths superstar Sam Burgess potentially walk off ANZ Stadium for the last time.
Minichiello, who will make a record 302nd appearance for the tri-colours, hangs up his boots at the end of this season, capping off a remarkable career that started in 2000.
Williams and Burgess will return to New Zealand and England respectively to play rugby with the possibility of facing off in next year’s World Cup.
Both Williams and Burgess have laid low this week in the build-up to a game many believed would be the grand final less than a month ago.
The usually-relaxed Minichiello did face the media on Thursday morning but appeared more on edge and did his best to claim this was just another game as he stands on the cusp of a seventh grand final appearance.
“It’s in the back of your mind that this could be the last game I ever play for the Roosters,” Minichiello said.
“But I keep bringing it back to what I need to do and what my focus is and my job within the group.
“Souths are a great team and we have a big job ahead of us.”
It’s been 76 years since the two sides last met in a preliminary final and it was the Roosters who won through 19-10.
While the Roosters players know exactly what it takes to win a premiership, the Souths squad must work out how to make it past the final hurdle and get to a grand final.
It’s where they have stumbled the last two years and in gut-wrenching fashion 12 months ago when they squandered a 14-0 lead against Manly to capitulate in the second half.
The team is also weighed down the milestone of not winning a premiership since 1971 and a long-suffering and expectant fan base.
Coach Michael Maguire said he gave his players last weekend off to prepare for a tough four days leading into the game and denied there was any extra pressure on his team than usual.
“I wasn’t even born 43 years ago,” Maguire said earlier this week.
“It’s something we don’t worry about, but we can’t stop people talking about it.
“They’re just kids who love playing footy. I think they really enjoy the pressure. The bigger the game, they rise to the occasion.”
Souths fans are expected to outnumber the Roosters supporters for the game with a crowd of around 55,000 predicted.
In another delicious twist, in the Roosters coaching box will sit former Souths mentor Jason Taylor who’s credited with having a major effect on Mitchell Pearce’s recent good form.
Taylor and Alan Hill, Andrew Johns’ former mentor, have both spent time working with the dumped NSW halfback and Maguire has been impressed with his recent performances.
“We’re playing against a team that’s been there and done that,” Maguire told Sky Sports Big Sports Breakfast.
“They’re minor premiers and they’ve got quality across the park.
“Mitchell Pearce is coming off his right foot and left foot, and just acting very quickly.”