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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
History repeats as finals return to the SCG
The Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs will host the first finals match at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 32 years on Friday evening - just eight days after facing off in the final round of the regular season.
Contesting their third finals clash over the past five years, the foundation rivals will be aware of the stakes on offer with the winner moving within 80 minutes of the premiership decider.
Determined to become the first team in 26 years to record back-to-back titles in a unified competition, the Sydney Roosters will be primed to bounce back following a disappointing second half in last Thursday's 16-10 loss to the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium.
Failing to capitalise on a number of try-scoring opportunities in the final round of the home-and-away season, coach Trent Robinson will be looking maintain his impressive record in September that has resulted in nine wins from 14 finals matches.
Winning three of five qualifying finals during Robinson's tenure, results have tended to be notoriously close for the Tricolours during the opening week of the play-offs with the average margin being less than four points.
Boosted by the inclusions of Siosiua Taukeiaho, Luke Keary, Mitchell Aubusson and Brett Morris - in his belated 250th NRL appearance - Kiwi enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will take the field after being found not guilty of dangerous contact on Liam Knight in the loss to South Sydney.
Chasing three wins in the same season over their foundation rivals for the first time since 1932, the South Sydney Rabbitohs will be looking to build upon the form shown during last week's victory at home.
Overcoming a 10-2 halftime deficit to outscore the reigning premiers 14-0 in the second half last Thursday, coach Wayne Bennett will have plenty of confidence in his squad as the Rabbitohs strive to become only the third side to defeat the second-ranked team since the NRL moved away from the McIntyre system seven years ago.
Winning six from 12 finals matches this decade, the Rabbitohs will be hoping Bennett's record in September improves from the form shown during his second stint with Brisbane where he managed four wins from nine matches.
Receiving mixed news on the selection front, speedster James Roberts replaces Dane Gagai in the centres extended bench, while Tom Burgess and Dean Britt come into the squad in place of Sam Burgess and Tom Amone. George Burgess has been named on the extended bench after serving a nine-week ban for eye gouging.
Last meeting: Round 25 2019 - Rabbitohs 16 Roosters 10
Who to watch: Finishing the regular season as the leading point-scorer and second only to Maika Sivo in the try-scoring stakes, Latrell Mitchell will have a point to prove on the big stage of finals football. Dropped from the New South Wales team for Origin II and III following a much-maligned performance in the series opener, the 22-year-old has come under scrutiny for lacking involvement in matches at times in 2019. Capable of seizing big moments in finals football previously - most memorably with a match-winning fend against Brisbane two years ago - look for the Taree Red Rovers' junior to stand up and dominate on Friday evening as the Roosters strive to uphold their impressive record at the SCG this season.
Retuning from his maiden Origin campaign to develop into the premier forward of the competition on current form, South Sydney lock Cameron Murray will have his sights set on claiming the scalp of the reigning premiers on Friday night. Averaging well over 100 metres and just under 40 tackles in the weeks following his experience with New South Wales, the 21-year-old has defied his youth to emerge as one of the best young players in the league today. Needing to step up in the absence of captain Sam Burgess, expect Murray to rise to the occasion as the Rabbitohs fight to advance directly into the preliminary final.
The favourite: With a number of representative stars set to return and Sam Burgess missing for the visitors, the Roosters are favoured to bounce back from the disappointment of last Thursday.
My tip: With points set to be at a premium on Friday night, look for the Roosters to prevail off the back of the impact provided by their interchange players. Roosters by 4.
Outcome: The winner will progress straight through to the preliminary final. The loser will host a semi final against the winner of the Sea Eagles v Sharks elimination final.
1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Joseph Manu 5. Brett Morris 6. Luke Keary 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Sam Verrills 10. Isaac Liu 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Mitchell Aubusson 13. Victor Radley 14. Angus Crichton 15. Zane Tetevano 16. Nat Butcher 17. Siosiua Taukeiaho
1. Adam Doueihi 2. Alex Johnston 3. James Roberts 4. Campbell Graham 5. Corey Allan 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 18. George Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Liam Knight 11. John Sutton 12. Jaydn Su'A 13. Cameron Murray 8. Junior Tatola 14. Ethan Lowe 16. Thomas Burgess 17. Mark Nicholls
Referees: Gerard Sutton, Adam Gee; Sideline Officials: Todd Smith, Belinda Sharpe; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;