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Get to the big dance so you don't die with the music in you…
Another chapter in the storied rivalry between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Manly Sea Eagles will be written on Friday evening as the two teams face off for a place in the grand final.
Coming into the contest well-rested after an unexpected victory a fortnight ago, the South Sydney Rabbitohs will be hoping to go one better after falling short in their past three preliminary finals.
Naming the same squad that prevailed in the opening week of the play-offs, rookie Blake Taaffe has retained his place at fullback following a strong showing in the 16-10 victory over the Panthers.
Winning four of their five clashes against the Sea Eagles during Wayne Bennett's tenure, including a rain-affected 26-12 win at Lottoland in the early rounds of the season, the Rabbitohs have historically performed strongly against the Sea Eagles in finals football with nine wins from 13 meetings.
Falling a game short of the big dance three years in a row, departing captain Adam Reynolds will be out to prove his credentials as a big match performer after attracting criticism from Cooper Cronk earlier in the season for his inability to get the Rabbitohs over the line in past preliminary finals against the Roosters (4-12), Raiders (10-16) and Panthers (16-20).
Returning to form with an emphatic win in Mackay last week, the Manly Sea Eagles will be out to impress in their first preliminary final appearance in eight years.
Flexing their attacking muscles with seven tries during last Friday's 42-6 victory over the Roosters, coach Des Hasler will be aiming to secure his sixth grand final appearance and first since returning to the coaching ranks two years ago. The Sea Eagles have named an unchanged side with Martin Taupau starting in the front-row despite coming off the bench in his 200th first grade match last week.
Friday marks the first time the Sea Eagles have featured in a preliminary final since upsetting the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium in 2013; Daly Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran, Adam Reynolds, Dylan Walker and Tom Burgess (18th man) are the surviving players from the 30-20 victory which saw Manly overcome a 0-14 deficit en route to booking a place in the grand final.
Last meeting: Round 2 2021 - Sea Eagles 12 Rabbitohs 26
Who to watch: Holding a distinct piece of history as the oldest player to ever represent South Sydney in first grade, rugby league icon Benji Marshall will be out to end his career as it started. Experiencing the euphoria of winning a grand final as a prodigious 20-year-old, the veteran Kiwi has spent nearly two decades chasing similar heights all the while forging a legacy as one of the most beloved players to ever grace a rugby league field. Playing predominantly off the bench as needed by his coach this season, the 36-year-old premiership winner shapes as an experienced head capable of propelling the Rabbitohs into the final match of the season after several near misses in recent years.
Going about his work without the fanfare of his universally acclaimed younger brother this season, Jake Trbojevic will be out to right a wrong on Friday evening. Falling foul of a contentious sin bin ruling when the two sides last met in finals football, the 27-year-old lock forward will be out to make amends after helplessly watching his teammates play a man down with the game on the line two years ago. Regarded as the modern day heart and soul of Manly through his on-field performances and affinity for the club, expect Trbojevic to be at his best if the Sea Eagles are to book a ticket to the big dance next Sunday.
The favourite: With 14 of the past 18 preliminary finalists going through to the Grand Final well-rested after a week off, the Rabbitohs are favoured to continue recent historical trends.
My tip: Few preliminary finals have been as hard to pick as the showdown on Friday night headlined by two of the best coaches of the NRL era. In a contest where both teams measure up strongly on paper it will come down to the team that can make the most out of Latrell Mitchell's absence. Sea Eagles by 2.
1. Blake Taaffe 2. Alex Johnston 3. Dane Gagai 4. Campbell Graham 5. Jaxson Paulo 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Mark Nicholls 9. Damien Cook 10. Tevita Tatola 11. Keaon Koloamatangi 12. Jaydn Su'A 13. Cameron Murray 14. Benji Marshall 15. Jacob Host 16. Thomas Burgess 17. Jai Arrow 19. Patrick Mago
1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jason Saab 19. Moses Suli 4. Morgan Harper 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Lachlan Croker 16. Sean Keppie 11. Haumole Olakau'atu 12. Josh Schuster 13. Jake Trbojevic 10. Martin Taupau 14. Dylan Walker 15. Karl Lawton 17. Taniela Paseka 21. Tevita Funa
Referees: Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials: Jon Stone, Phil Henderson; Video Referees: Grant Atkins;