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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Rugby league's oldest rivalry is set to heat up when the Roosters and Rabbitohs contest for a spot in the 2018 grand final
Rugby league fans are renowned for being serial whingers. But I don't think anyone will be complaining about this week's preliminary finals fixture as fierce rivals battle for spots in the big dance.
Saturday night's game features the sport's most heated foes and it is only fitting that they play out what will be the final game at Allianz Stadium before it is knocked down and rebuilt.
The Roosters may have finished the regular season as minor premiers, but history tells us that this often means very little for Trent Robinson's men.
The Tricolours have achieved three first-placed finishes in the past five years, but only have one premiership to show for it.
They have also made it all the way to four preliminary finals, but again have only made it to the following week on one occasion.
It means that all eyes will be on halfback Cooper Cronk, who was purchased from Melbourne as the missing link.
His big-game experience was what the Roosters needed to get past the final hurdle and he showed promising signs a fortnight ago when he guided them to a 21-12 win over Cronulla.
The real test comes this week, however, as anything but a spot in the grand final will be considered a failure given the strength of the Roosters' roster.
While the Tricolours have enjoyed a week off and are well-rested for Saturday night's clash, they will be without Latrell Mitchell and Dylan Napa, who have both been wiped out through suspension.
The Rabbitohs, on the other hand, will field a virtually full-strength side as they look to put a week of off-field dramas behind them.
South Sydney rallied last weekend to down the Dragons 13-12 off the back of a trio of Adam Reynolds field goals.
While Cronk has provided the Roosters with composure and control in attack, the same can be said for Reynolds, who has improved significantly in 2018 as a game manager.
In saying this, he's even more effective when playing behind a dominant forward pack.
With Napa still suspended, the Rabbitohs have the advantage up front, but will need the Burgess brothers to stand up.
The trio of twins have struggled for consistency in the finals series, with Tom being the most impressive of the lot.
Sam, on the other hand, has struggled with errors limiting his impact while George hasn't exactly rediscovered the form that saw him lead the Rabbitohs towards the top of the ladder.
A powerful forward pack is not only key to Reynold's game but Damien Cook's too, as his running game isn't as dangerous if he isn't afforded quick play-the-balls and space to roam.
Last meeting: Round 22 2018 - Rabbitohs 14 Roosters 18
Who to watch: Without Latrell Mitchell, the Roosters will look for even more in attack from star fullback James Tedesco. When Mitchell is on their left edge, the opposition defence is kept guessing, which makes Tedesco's job even easier as he sweeps across the field and into their set plays. Mitchell's presence alone creates a sense of uncertainty. Mitchell Aubusson, while a dependable fill-in, won't offer much individual brilliance in attack. Therefore, more pressure falls onto the shoulders of Tedesco, who will be tasked with providing the explosive power and evasiveness Mitchell is known for.
On the flipside, what South Sydney have lacked in recent weeks is grunt and energy up front. Cameron Murray has provided plenty of that off the bench, but the Rabbitohs will simply need more from experienced lock Sam Burgess if they are to topple the Roosters on Saturday night. Burgess hasn't been near his best in recent weeks, with errors becoming more frequent. The 29-year old has still produced a strong work rate but will need to cut out the mistakes if he is to be the enforcer that the Rabbitohs need to win the battle of the big men.
The favourite: The Roosters are slight favourites to win Saturday night's battle.
My tip: Both sides are evenly-matched across the park but the experience and composure of Cronk should see the Roosters through to their first decider since 2013. Roosters by four.
1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 20. Paul Momirovski 4. Joseph Manu 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Luke Keary 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Jake Friend 10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho 11. Boyd Cordner 3. Mitchell Aubusson 12. Isaac Liu 13. Victor Radley 14. Lindsay Collins 15. Zane Tetevano 17. Ryan Matterson
1. Alex Johnston 2. Campbell Graham 3. Greg Inglis 4. Dane Gagai 5. Robert Jennings 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. George Burgess 11. John Sutton 12. Angus Crichton 13. Sam Burgess 14. Hymel Hunt 15. Cameron Murray 17. Dean Britt 20. Tevita Tatola
Referees: Ashley Klein, Adam Gee; Sideline Officials: Nick Beashel, Chris Sutton; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Ben Galea;