Final: PREVIEW: NRL State Championship: South Sydney v Brisbane Tigers
NSW dominance finally set to end?
It's one of rugby league more forgotten about games. The annual NRL State championship is coming up this Sunday as a curtain raiser to the 2023 NRL Grand Final. This year's edition pits the Brisbane Tigers, QRL Hostplus Cup champions, up against New South Wales Cup premiers South Sydney Rabbitohs.
And for the Queensland combatants - it's been a while. In the history of this clash - instituted in 2014, the mantle has only been claimed by a team north of the Tweed twice. Northern Pride (2014) and Ipswich Jets (2015) took the first two finals, with all five since tipping the way of the NSW Cup premiers, the two COVID years indeed not having a winner declared owing to the effects of the pandemic.
And so to this year's edition. Brisbane (more commonly known to fans as Easts) held on in a thrilling Hostplus Cup decider against minor premiers Burleigh a fortnight ago. The Tigers did dominate the contest for large parts but a strong finish from the Bears nearly put paid to their title hopes. It was the black and orange team's first premiership in 32 years, and the first in the QLD Cup era which began in the mid-90s.
South Sydney meanwhile, came good at the right time to claim their first reserves title in forty years. Facing minor premiers North Sydney in the Grand Final at Commbank Stadium last weekend, the Rabbitohs claimed a 22-18 victory after trailing 18-16 headed into the final ten minutes. A match winning try for Tyrone Munro saw the Rabbitohs take a late lead, much to the joy of their fans in attendance at Parramatta.
There are at least seven NRL-experienced players on the Bunnies' teamsheet, however the most recognisable name in the 17 hasn't played first grade for over a decade - Yileen Gordon. The interchange utility appeared for the red and green at first grade level back between 2005 and 2008.
Brisbane - who act as one of the Melbourne Storm's feeder clubs - also have seven NRL-capped players, including halfback Jonah Pezet, who has deputised for the Storm several times in 2023 when regular halves Cameron Munster or Jahrome Hughes have been out of action.
Who to watch: Canterbury-bound Blake Taaffe will play his final game in the cardinal and myrtle on Sunday afternoon and will be looking to go out on a high. The Rabbitohs' fullback has been in and out of the NRL squad owing to Latrell Mitchell's ongoing injury issues and his experience has been a key element of the South Sydney surge to the NSW Cup title this year.
Brisbane second rower Leivaha Pulu has been plying his trade in the Hostplus Cup since departing the Warriors at the end of the 2020 season. After two seasons at Norths Devils - and being a member of the Devils' premiership squad last year - he's back for another bite at the State Championship after winning the QLD Cup with the Tigers. It's not clear if the former NRL star wants a new contract (he turns 34 next year), but if he does, a strong performance here could be eye-catching for any club looking for a hard-working back rower.
Favourite: South Sydney are extremely short priced favourites.
My tip: For whatever reason, the Tigers have no backing here. But with more time to recover since their grand final (2 weeks v s 1 week) - I think they will finally start to see QLD balance the State Championship ledger. Brisbane by 6.lea
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