Round 24: Sydney v South Sydney preview
Foundation foes face off in a night of milestones
Coming into the contest in outright fourth position, the Sydney Roosters will be out to claim the scalp of a premiership contender after falling short against the Storm, Panthers and Rabbitohs in every previous meeting this season.
Fighting back from a second half deficit to pile on the points in a 40-22 humbling of the Dragons last Sunday, coach Trent Robinson will be hoping his side can record a win by more than ten points in order to reclaim the Ron Coote Cup for the first time since 2017.
With the Sea Eagles sitting two points behind the Tricolours with winnable matches against the Bulldogs and Cowboys over the final two rounds, the Roosters will be treating Friday night as a must-win given the precedent of no team winning the premiership from outside the top four.
Forced into a host of changes with Adam Keighran, Dale Copley and Nat Butcher all unavailable due to injury, journeyman Brad Abbey will make his club debut on the wing with Ben Marschke and Naufahu Whyte coming onto the bench.
Eight years on from being the first player Trent Robinson selected to debut in first grade, acclaimed forward Isaac Liu will play his 200th NRL match for the club.
Determined to bounce back after coming up short in last week's precursor to finals football, the South Sydney Rabbitohs will be hoping to extend a recent run of dominance over their foundation foes.
Taking an early lead against the Panthers only to fall short 25-12 at Suncorp Stadium last Friday, the Rabbitohs will be out to extend a strong record against the Roosters after winning four of their past six meetings during Wayne Bennett's tenure.
Sitting six points clear of the Roosters but two points behind the Panthers after last week's loss, the Rabbitohs will face the Panthers in the opening week of the finals with other results to determine whether the side finishes in second or third position.
Jaxson Paulo comes onto the wing after Josh Mansour sustained a season-ending knee injury against his former club, while Dragons-bound second-rower Jadyn Su'A replaces Keaon Koloamatangi due to suspension.
Who to watch: Set to join elite company as only the 11th man in 114 seasons to play 200 first grade matches for Eastern Suburbs, Isaac Liu will have his sights set on a bigger prize in the weeks to come. Playing a role often undervalued by fair-weather supporters but respected by teammates in times of adversity, the 30-year-old battle-hardened forward has been among the most consistent players during the Roosters latest era of dominance as a result of his reliability, versatility and toughness. Making the decision to depart the club at the end of the season in order to see out his career closer to family on the Gold Coast, expect Liu to do what is needed for the Roosters to claim a top four finish.
Born, bred and going on to become a club legend at South Sydney, Adam Reynolds will experience bittersweet emotions ahead of what will likely be his final encounter against the Rabbitohs' fiercest rivals on Friday night. Gaining an introduction to first grade opposite the Roosters nine years ago, the 31-year-old halfback has experienced many memorable moments in clashes between the two foundation clubs, including the iconic match-winning try in 2012, securing a place in the 2014 decider and last year's record victory. Winding down his time at Redfern as the highest point-scorer and second only to John Sutton in appearances, Reynolds will be sure to take in the occasion ahead of his final payday in Brisbane next season.
My tip: In a match likely to be decided in the closing minutes, the experience of Adam Reynolds should see South Sydney become the first club to hold the Ron Coote Cup for four consecutive seasons. South Sydney by 2.