Forty Three Years. How many times have we heard that number over the past fortnight? South Sydney have done all the hard work over the past 29 weeks to make it to the big dance but now they must keep their emotions in check to bring their fans a premiership for the first time in over four decades.
If this was a regular club game than i would be tipping an easy Rabbitohs victory but with the grand final comes the added pressure of expectation. While I still believe the Rabbits will be lifting up the trophy come 9pm this Sunday night, the Bulldogs do have some things going in their favour.
The first is the old adage that you have to lose one to win won. Canterbury made the grand final only two years ago and that should be enough for them to not be overawed. The majority of their team have played in a grand final compared to only Greg Inglis and Lote Tuqiri for South Sydney.
Another thing going for the Bulldogs is the suspension of Isaac Luke. He is a pivotal attacking player who will be sorely missed by the bunnies. Api Korisau is a star of the future but the occasion may prove to much for a player with only limited first grade experience in his last game for his club. Manly’s finals run shows the difference in quality to the whole teams dynamic when the hooker is missing. Jayden Hodges showed flashes of brilliance but semi final football is a whole new ball game. Ironically the Bulldogs would possibly not even be in this years grand final if it wasn’t for a poor ball out of dummy half to Cherry-Evans in extra time that didn’t allow him enough time to get a field goal attempt away.
This advantage gained by Luke’s absence can of course even out if Michael Ennis is ruled out of the game as expected. Des Hasler is no doubt up to his old tricks this week, naming Ennis the same day that the man himself said he was no chance of playing. If Ennis is missing it will be interesting to see if Des opts for the experience of Reni Maitua or the exuberance of Moses Mbye. There’s no doubt that we will not find out the answer to that question until about an hour before kickoff.
But above all, what gives the Bulldogs their biggest advantage heading into Sunday’s game is that no-one expects them to win. They have come from seventh place to rocket into calculations and will have to become the first team in the NRL era to win the competition from outside the top four. All the expectation falls on to the shoulders of The Rabbitohs and Canterbury will be hoping that the occasion proves to much for the boys from Redfern and they will be able to take advantage of that.
Of course South Sydney also have a few things going in their favour, one of which is devastating form. On paper The Rabbitohs line up reeks talent across the park. So much so that Chris McQueen, a current state of origin player will be coming off the bench. Their back line has talent across the park from their halves through to their centres and wingers. The creme de la creme of this is of course Greg Inglis, who will go down as one of the games all time greats. Their forward pack is just as good with the Burgess brothers the headline acts followed by Ben Teo who put in one of the all time great semi final performances last weekend against the chooks. If he performs like that again this weekend then watch out Canterbury.
South Sydney will go into this years grand final as the biggest premiership favourites since Manly in 2011. If they go in firing they should have no problem disposing of the dogs, if they don’t then we could have a repeat of 2001 on our hands. While grand final week poses many questions, the one i can’t wait to hear answered is will we get to here Rusty ring the bell for the first time in twelve years? Bring on Sunday night so we can find out.