Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Top four berth awaits Eels as Bunnies draw curtain on dismal 2017.
Who'd have thought three years ago when one of these sides was comfortably sitting in top four, en route to a premiership, and the other in freefall in the bottom half of the table... that the roles would reverse in a matter of seasons?
2014 premiers South Sydney have fallen from grace dramatically - after stumbling into the 2015 finals series they fell to 12th last year and again look like they may end up in the same position this season. The malaise has left the Bunnies' faithful aghast to the point where they suddenly have the lowest crowd average in the competition and there are genuine questions over the tenure of premiership-winning coach Michael Maguire.
Friday night's contest is the end of the road for the Rabbits but their opponents Parramatta are excitedly preparing for their first foray into Finals footy since they lost the 2009 Grand Final to Melbourne. And boy aren't they keen... a 52-34 drubbing of Brisbane last Thursday has them primed, and they'll want to put in another entertaining, confident showing in this one to ensure they're best placed for the finals.
The team news is good for the Eels as well with Manu Ma'u back from suspension while Beau Scott and Kaysa Pritchard are both named on the long bench. South Sydney's growing list of outs includes the suspended Zane Musgrove, and just tonight (Thursday evening) Adam Reynolds and Aaron Gray were ruled out. The side sports just five of the players from the 2014 title triumph, a makeshift backline missing the likes of Greg Inglis and Alex Johnston a huge concern for the red and green.
Last meeting: Round 12 2017 - Rabbitohs 16 Eels 22
Over 130 meetings, this pair are fairly even. South Sydney hold the balance 68-58 with four draws since 1947. Souths have had the wood for most of the last eight seasons, although the Eels have won three of the last five dating back to 2015. Prior to that, Parramatta were in a significant lean patch against the cardinal and myrtle.
Who to watch: It'll be interesting to see if returning enforcer Manu Ma'u can keep his temper in check this week. A few times in the past few season the second-rower has cost his side with suspension (although last week he didn't seem to be missed all too much). He slots straight back into the starting pack alongside Tepai Moeroa.
With just 80 minutes of football left this season, it's time for the Burgii to stand up and carry this team to the end. All three Bunny brothers are named for this one and each of them needs to put in a big shift if the Rabbitohs want to exit 2017 on a high. A reshuffle of the lineup is expected pre-kickoff with Reynolds and Gray out, so don't be surprised if Sam moves into the back row and George is welcome into the front row with brother Tom.
The favourite: Parramatta by the length of a Semi Radradra sprint.
My tip: A pre-finals banana peel won't be slippery enough to put the Eels out on their backsides. Sorry Souths, this will get ugly. Eels by 36.
1. Will Smith 2. Semi Radradra 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Takairangi 5. Kirisome Auva'a 6. Corey Norman 7. Mitchell Moses 16. Siosaia Vave 9. Cameron King 10. Tim Mannah 11. Manu Ma'u 12. Tepai Moeroa 13. Nathan Brown 8. Daniel Alvaro 15. Kenny Edwards 17. Suaia Matagi 20. Beau Scott
9. Damien Cook 2. Campbell Graham 4. Tyrell Fuimaono 5. Robert Jennings 1. Bryson Goodwin 6. Cody Walker 21. Luke Kelly 8. Thomas Burgess 14. Robbie Farah 15. George Burgess 11. John Sutton 16. Kyle Turner 13. Cameron Murray 17. Dean Britt 18. Jason Clark 19. David Tyrrell 20. Siosifa Talakai
Referees: Gavin Badger, Chris Butler; Sideline Officials: Tim Roby, Clayton Sharpe; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton, Luke Patten;