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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Finals arrive early as foundation rivals face off
The South Sydney Rabbitohs will be out to retain the Ron Coote Cup on Thursday night by accounting for the Sydney Roosters in a contest between two of the competition heavyweights at ANZ Stadium.
Sitting in fourth position following a comprehensive 31-10 victory over the Warriors in Auckland last Friday, the South Sydney Rabbitohs will be looking to fine tune their finals preparations by claiming consecutive victories over their foundation rivals for the first time in a decade.
Coming away with a fiery 26-16 win over the reigning premiers at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the opening round of the season, coach Wayne Bennett will be aware of the stakes on offer with a win guaranteeing a second chance in the play-offs, while a loss could see the side face an elimination final should other results go against them.
In the only change from the side that prevailed across the Tasman last week, rookie prop Tom Amone comes onto the bench in place of injured premiership winner Kyle Turner (quad).
Guaranteed to finish the home-and-away season in second position, the Sydney Roosters will have their sights set on becoming the first team in more than two decades to record back-to-back premierships in a united competition.
Coming into Thursday's match after disposing of Penrith 22-6 at the Sydney Cricket Ground - their seventh win in succession - coach Trent Robinson will be eager to continue his positive record over the Rabbitohs having won eight of 15 clashes during his tenure.
Winning 15 of their past 20 matches at ANZ Stadium, the Roosters will need to win by more than ten points in order to claim the Ron Coote Cup for the eighth time since becoming an annual fixture between the two foundation clubs back in 2007.
Boosted by the inclusion of retiring halfback Cooper Cronk at the expense of Drew Hutchison, captain Boyd Cordner will play his first match in five weeks as part of a reshuffle that sees Angus Crichton shift to the bench.
In a night of milestones for two premiership-winning players, speedster Brett Morris will make his 250th NRL appearance, while prop Zane Tetevano will play his 100th game in first grade.
Last meeting: Round 1 2019 - Roosters 16 Rabbitohs 26
Who to watch: Establishing a reputation as a player to thrive on the big stage, Rabbitohs flyer Dane Gagai will be intent on making his mark against the reigning premiers. Shifting back to the centres after spending much of 2019 in the position that saw him reach the heights of representative football with Queensland and Australia, the 28-year-old flyer will relish his personal duel opposite fellow Indigenous superstar Latrell Mitchell. Averaging over 100 metres in 22 appearances this season, look for Gagai to display the traits that saw him named the Wally Lewis Medallist two years ago.
Starring over the course of 14 seasons across three clubs, veteran speedster Brett Morris will bring up 250 appearances in the NRL on Thursday evening. Enjoying a new lease of life at the Roosters in 2019, the 33-year-old winger has brought invaluable leadership to the Tricolours in their pursuit of becoming the first team in over two decades to claim back-to-back premierships. Averaging over 100 metres per game to go with seven tries in 12 appearances, look for Morris to revel with a performance capable of bringing the Ron Coote Cup back to the Eastern Suburbs for the first time since 2017.
The favourite: On track to record eight consecutive wins for the second time this season, the Roosters are expected to prove too strong at the venue set to host the grand final in a month's time.
My tip: While the Rabbitohs have bounced back into form with back-to-back wins over the past fortnight, the class of the reigning premiers should be the difference in a highly competitive affair. Roosters by 6.
1. Adam Doueihi 2. Alex Johnston 3. Campbell Graham 4. Dane Gagai 5. Corey Allan 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Sam Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Liam Knight 11. John Sutton 12. Jaydn Su'A 13. Cameron Murray 14. Ethan Lowe 15. Tom Amone 16. Tevita Tatola 17. Mark Nicholls
1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Joseph Manu 18. Billy Smith 21. Drew Hutchison 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Sam Verrills 10. Isaac Liu 11. Boyd Cordner 17. Angus Crichton 16. Nat Butcher 13. Victor Radley 14. Lindsay Collins 15. Zane Tetevano 19. Sitili Tupouniua
Referees: Ashley Klein, Chris Sutton; Sideline Officials: Belinda Sharpe, Chris Butler; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Bryan Norrie;