League Freaks 2014 NRL Grand Final Preview – The South Sydney Rabbitohs Vs The Canterbury Bulldogs

When I was in high school I had a friend that supported the South Sydney Rabbitohs. It was something he didn’t mention too much though. This was when George Piggins was running the club and they looked like they did not belong anywhere near the top level of the game.

After high school I remember talking to this friend of mine not long after the Rabbitohs were kicked out of the competition. He seemed resigned to not having his team taking part in the NRL any more. I couldn’t blame. After all, the Rabbitohs had been a terrible club for as long as I could remember.

This was a club that was more about the history books than anything else. That was the only reason they were relevant at all. They were once the pride of the league. Now they weren’t even in the competition, and quite honestly, they didn’t deserve to be there.

When the courts ruled that the Rabbitohs could return the club still was poorly run. It was not long after that we saw Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes à Court come forward with a proposal to buy the club, modernize it, and turn the biggest joke in the game back into the powerhouse it once was.

Sunday evening could very well be the culmination of that grand plan…

When the South Sydney Rabbitohs run out against the Canterbury Bulldogs it will be a moment that the games history books will welcome with open arms. You don’t have to like the Rabbitohs at all, but you can not look past the fact they are the most successful club in the history of the game.

It is a lot for the Bulldogs to face up against, but I have a feeling they wouldn’t want it any other way!

Bulldogs captain Michael Ennis has been getting around on crutches all week. He has all but been ruled out by the Bulldogs. I think he will play!

If Ennis had two broken bones in his foot we would have seen his x-rays on the front pages of all the newspapers. You can actually break bones in your foot that aren’t weight baring and still play. Its painful, but its something you’d play through to play in a Grand Final.

If Ennis plays it would be one of the greatest Grand Final stories of all time. The Bulldogs have sold it so well. Ennis would deserve an Oscar for his performance. I hope he plays just for that reason!

The loss of Issac Luke is a terrible blow for the Rabbitohs. Luke is the second best hooker in the game. He is a big game player too, and his attacking from dummy half is one of the main reasons this big South Sydney forward back is so successful.

His suspension was fair. He couldn’t have played this week. Keep in mind that Luke was on a striking charge against Michael Ennis not that long ago. Luke’s argument was that he kicked out because he feared for his life after being placed in a dangerous position. With that in mind, and the carry over points he had already accumulated, Luke couldn’t play in this game. It was the right call for the judiciary to make.

So what we now could see is two teams without their first choice hookers. Two players that go a long way to defining their clubs. It will have a massive impact on the game and it will be interesting to see which team adapts better. My money is on the Bulldogs finding their feet earlier in the contest if Ennis can not play.

The best player on the field on Sunday evening will be Greg Inglis. To be honest, he is the best player by a long way in the Grand Final. If Inglis can lead South Sydney to a premiership and win the Clive Churchill Medal while wearing the little masters number on his back, we need to start thinking about Inglis’ position on an all time scale.

Keep in mind that we have seen him win as a center, as a five-eighth and we would now have seen him do it at fullback. It would be an incredible achievement.

The halves battle in this game is a really interesting one.

On one side of the field you have a very young halves pairing who are in the biggest game of their lives by a very long way. On the other side you have a much maligned halves duo who have had their ups and downs this season. They are much more experienced, but you get the feeling they still have a lot to prove.

Luke Keary and Adam Reynolds have been fantastic for Souths now that they have worked out their combination. Reynolds has done well to lead the Rabbitohs in the past while Keary has not looked overawed at any point during his first real run through the finals. Both players give South Sydney a lot of attacking options and they both play off the back of their big forward pack really well.

Josh Reynolds is super competitive and you know he will not slow down at all over the full 80 minutes. There are concerns that Trent Hodkinson is carrying a bit of a leg injury still so that will be interesting to see how he goes over the course of the game.

Both sets of halves could falter under pressure. We may actually be watching a trial for which halves pairing runs out for NSW in State Of Origin next year!

I do have concerns that Josh Reynolds will go over the top in this game. He’s had a strange season that at times has seen him lose his head. At one point a suspension looked like it would do him good in that it would give him a bit of a break to clear his head. The way he has carried on in some games in the finals series though, I worry that he is working himself towards a brain explosion that could very easily cost the Bulldogs the game.

Trent Hodkinson is a really steadying influence for the Bulldogs which is great for the team. His kicking game needs to improve over last weeks efforts however as this week Greg Inglis is the player running it back.

Both sets of halves have a lot of questions hanging over them going into this game. I can’t wait to see which players step up in the big game.

Of all the players that will take part in the Grand Final, Greg Eastwood is the one that intrigues me the most. He is a player who can be pretty average for most of the season, but he has 2 or 3 games in him where he can be devastating.

If Eastwood fires, I think the Bulldogs win the match. I think he just adds enough that it makes this Bulldogs pack too much to handle. He is the difference between the Bulldogs being on a bit of a roll, and being unstoppable.

Both sets of forwards are big, and you have to wonder which pack will start to fade quicker as the game goes on.

The Bulldogs second half performances have been very poor so far this season. That really concerns me. It is less of a concern now that Issac Luke isn’t facing up against them however.

The Bulldogs will need to get off to a good start once again. They can’t afford to be chasing points going into the second half. The Rabbitohs know this, so they will come out with all guns blazing. It should make for a brutal opening to the Grand Final.

So, how do I think the game will play out?

Des Hasler is possibly the best coach in the game right now. The difference between him and most coaches in the NRL is huge! He has led so many teams to Grand Finals in a relatively short coaching career, he will have the Bulldogs prepared perfectly for this contest.

There is so much pressure on South Sydney and we have seen many times where this pressure has overwhelmed them. It doesn’t take much to get the Rabbitohs wobbling. The loss of Issac Luke is a blow to the club. Its something they’ll only be able to work out during the opening moments of the game. If that is happening as the Bulldogs are exposing weaknesses in their defensive line, we could very easily see the Rabbitohs side self destruct in the biggest game of the year.

On the flip side, James Grahams temper must be something both teams have talked about this week. Its all very well and good to have a laugh about the way Graham carries on, but we need to keep in mind that in the biggest game of his life he sought out Billy Slater and made a couple of efforts to bite him. He was successful in one of those attempts. When someone does that in their biggest moment, under pressure, you have to be concerned that they will do something stupid again in a similar situation.

If I was the Rabbitohs I’d make an effort to get under Graham’s skin all night. It might not work, but if he does crack, he will do something that will get him sent off.

In the past there has been a feeling that if you aim up to these Rabbitohs forwards, if you get in their faces and don’t back down, they will eventually break. I can’t think of a better team in the NRL to make that happen than this Bulldogs team.

The South Sydney Rabbitohs pack is led by Sam Burgess. For all of the hype that surrounds Burgess few people have spoken of the fact that he has never won a major title as a senior player. Both clubs have players in their lineups that have won major titles, that know when the pressure is on they come through in the games that matter and walk away with silverware. Burgess can’t say that heading into Sundays game.

If the Bulldogs target Sam Burgess early and take him out of the contest, what other South Sydney forward do they really need to be concerned about? The Bulldogs have Pritchard, Eastwood, Williams….a number of players that can break the line, get a good offload away or just skittle the defense through their sheer size. This Rabbitohs pack has some good players in it, but not the same amount of game breakers that for sure.

I expect we will see a war early on. A game of field position with both teams just working through their sets of six. Any early mistakes in the match will be telling and both sides are going to have gut check moments where they need to perform under pressure in defense in the face of an attacking onslaught.

I expect the first half to be a close affair. At half time as both teams are taking a breather and people try their hand at the great Aussie sport challenge, both coaches will be giving their final speeches for the season before sending their charges out for the last 40 minutes of their season.

For the most part I think these teams match up pretty well. Their strengths and weaknesses play into each others hands in many respects. It all comes down to one major difference between these two teams that can’t be overcome with tactics or with players stepping up and performing beyond their own ability.

On his worst day, Greg Inglis is a force to be reckoned with. A player who can still win you the game. One his best day, Greg Inglis can single handedly win beat any opposition at any level of the game and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Last weekend after Mitchell Pearce had told the Rabbitohs to stop choking early in the contest, Inglis took it all on board. As he eviscerated the Roosters in a completely dominate display, he scored tries and pointed to Mitchell Pearce every single time.

A player like that knows the occasion. He knows that in the moment there is more to do than to just keep the technical side of the contest under control. He knows that when the best players in the world are pushed to their limits, that is when the true greats stand tall.

I can not look past the fact that Inglis is on another level to every player that will take the field on Sunday evening. I think on this occasion, in this moment, and wearing that famous red and green jersey with the number one on his back, Inglis will lead the South Sydney Rabbitohs to premiership glory, marking his place in the games history books as one of the greatest of all time.

My Tip: South Sydney Rabbitohs 34 Canterbury Bulldogs 20

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