Round 1: Roosters v Rabbitohs preview
Traditional rivals square off in round one blockbuster at historical venue.
With the demolition of Allianz Stadium now underway, the defending Premiers will set up base at the Sydney Cricket Ground for the majority of their home fixtures in 2019. The venue is of course steeped in tradition with many referring to it as the spiritual home of rugby league. One can only hope the hallowed turf holds up after it was ripped to shreds during last week's Super Rugby game.
Opening their premiership defence on Friday night, the Roosters go toe to toe with traditional rivals South Sydney in what shapes as a mouth-watering encounter to open their respective campaigns. The history surrounding the two sides and the SCG will feature heavily in the build-up to this one, with plenty of blood spilt between these arch-rivals in both regular season games and Grand Finals at the venue throughout the annals of rugby league history.
The Roosters have arguably strengthened their playing group even further this off-season with the arrivals of Brett Morris and Angus Crichton replacing Blake Ferguson and Ryan Matterson in the team that lifted the trophy on Grand Final night.
The Rabbitohs have seemingly covered the loss of Crichton fairly well, electing to shift Sam Burgess to the right edge back-row position and promoting Cameron Murray from the interchange to lock forward. They have also lost their leading try scorer from last year in Robert Jennings with Braiden Burns to slot into the backline. George Burgess will be missing up front for the first few rounds through suspension, whilst skipper Greg Inglis remains in doubt for the clash with his troublesome knee.
In one of the great defensive performances in the history of semi-finals football, the Roosters turned away countless attacking raids from the Rabbitohs to see them through to the decider the following week.
Who to watch: Roosters Coach Trent Robinson pulled somewhat of a selection shock when he named Angus Crichton on the bench on Tuesday afternoon, but that won't stop all eyes being on the tri-colours prize recruit when heruns out against his former team mates for the first time. Crichton stamped himself as one of the premier back-rowers in the game last season with his hard running and tackle busting abilities earning him a State of Origin debut for New South Wales. Well adept at running good lines in attack, his combination with Cooper Cronk who is a master of sending his runners into space should prove lethal throughout the season and it wouldn't surprise at all to see Crichton crash over for his first try in Roosters colours on Friday night.
Starting at lock but effectively replacing Crichton in the Rabbitohs starting side, Cameron Murray looks set for an enormous year after enjoying a breakout 2018 season despite coming off the interchange for much of the year. Widely touted in rugby league circles as one of the brightest young stars in the game, Murray is a natural footballer in the truest sense. A real tough competitor who punches well above his weight and has a tremendous work rate. The young tearaway also has the footballing nous to find his way through the defensive line with a neat piece of footwork or the simple art of holding the ball in two hands as he approaches the line. Look for him to be close to best on ground in this contest.
My tip: With the Rabbitohs failing to break the Bondi wall during last year's Preliminary final, it's hard to see how they'll find the points required here. Providing the Roosters defence holds firm in their first hit-out of the season they should prove too strong in this one. Roosters by 10.
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