The Raiders’ home ground is a sell-out for this game. There will be 28,000 fans packed in to see the third and fourth-placed sides battle it out for a place in the 2019 grand final.
The viking clap will probably be the best one ever.
The Raiders have played the Rabbitohs 56 times since they entered the competition in 1982. In fact, the Raiders’ first ever game in the competition was against South Sydney at Redfern Oval on Saturday 27 February. The cardinal and myrtle thrashed the David Grant-led side 37-7. The Raiders would have revenge at Seiffert Oval in Round 15, winning 23-18, with a wiry, young centre from Portland, NSW called Craig Bellamy scoring a try.
The record between the two sides now stands at 32-24 in the Raiders’ favour. It is nine to six in the Raiders’ favour at this venue. However, South Sydney have won four of the last five meetings at GIO Stadium, including their 16-12 win in Round 10.
These two sides have only played against each other in three finals:
• The Steve Mavin minor semi-final in 1987, won by the Raiders 46-12.
• The 1989 preliminary final, won by the Raiders 32-16.
• The 2012 semi-final, where the Rabbitohs thumped the Raiders 38-16.
There are three Rabbitohs backing up from that game: Sam Burgess, John Sutton and Adam Reynolds. There are three Raiders backing up: Jack Wighton, Josh Papalii and Mark Nicholls, who is playing for the Rabbitohs in this game, of course.
Home ground advantage? Sure, GIO Stadium will be packed out. However, there are bound to be loads of Rabbitohs faithful there as well. They always travel.
Further, the Canberra crowds cannot be depended on to provide the type of vociferous support one would expect from a full house. Back in 1993, in his regular column in the Canberra Chronicle, then-halfback Ricky Stuart stated that his home crowd were sometimes better suited to a polo match, so often did they fall silent.
Their average home crowd this season is just under 15,000, so 13,000 of Friday night’s crowd are likely to be fair-weather fans and unlikely to be frothing at the mouth. The Rabbitohs don’t have fair-weather fans. They are pretty much all crazed fanatics.
The Raiders’ record this season is 16 wins and nine losses. However, their home record is six wins from 12 matches. It gets worse, too. The Green Machine have lost three straight games at GIO Stadium leading into this game. They’ve lost five of the last seven and haven’t won at home since July 20.
Of the 13 games the Rabbitohs have played on the road, they have won eight, including three of the last five.
Here are the comparative records of both clubs this season.
|Raiders home results||Rabbitohs away results|
|Round 2 lost 10-22 to Storm||Round 1 won 26-16 over Roosters|
|Round 3 won 17-10 over Knights||Round 2 won 34-18 over Dragons|
|Round 5 won 19-0 over Eels||Round 4 lost 12-13 to Sea Eagles|
|Round 6 won 26-22 over Broncos||Round 6 won 14-6 over Bulldogs|
|Round 8 won 30-12 over Panthers||Round 7 won 22-18 over Panthers|
|Round 10 lost 12-16 to Rabbitohs||Round 10 won 16-12 over Raiders|
|Round 11 lost 16-22 to Cowboys||Round 12 lost 14-26 to Eels|
|Round 14 won 22-20 over Sharks||Round 15 lost 9-14 to Wests Tigers|
|Round 18 won 20-12 over Wests Tigers||Round 18 won 30-18 over Cowboys|
|Round 21 lost 18-22 to Roosters||Round 20 lost 24-39 to Sharks|
|Round 23 lost 14-18 to Sea Eagles||Round 23 won 22-20 over Broncos|
|Round 25 lost 20-24 to Warriors||Round 24 won 31-10 over Warriors|
|Finals week 1 lost 6-30 to Roosters|
However, before you all rush to put your hard-earned on the Rabbitohs to win 1-12, also note the following. While the Raiders have lost five of their last seven home games, they’ve done it by an average of only four points. South Sydney have lost four of their last seven away games and they’ve done so by an average margin of 15. Their last three away wins were against a Michael Morgan-less Cowboys, as well as wins against the rabbles that were the 2019 Broncos and Warriors.
The Rabbitohs’ last away win against a side of any note was their 16-12 win over the Raiders at this venue in Round 10.
The Bunnies played a brilliant spoiling game that day, led by Sam Burgess. The Raiders learned a great deal from that match. The teams that will take the field for the preliminary final will have significant line-up changes as both sides come into this game with no significant injuries or suspensions.
For the hosts, out go Sam Williams, Michael Oldfield, Hudson Young, Sebastian Kris and Saliva Havili, and in come Aidan Sezer, Jordan Rapana, John Bateman, Joseph Leilua and Joseph Tapine. For the visitors, Mawene Hiroti, Dean Britt and Corey Allan drop out for Alex Johnston, James Roberts and Adam Doueihi.
While the inclusion of the blistering speed of James Roberts is good for the Rabbitohs, this time they’ll be taking on a full-strength Raiders side – something they didn’t have to do in Round 10.
The Rabbitohs have a 3-2 win record against the other top-four sides this season. Conversely, the Raiders have a 2-4 record.
|Raiders results vs top four||Rabbitohs results vs top four|
|Round 2 lost 10-22 to Storm||Round 1 won 26-16 over Roosters|
|Round 9 lost 24-30 to Roosters||Round 10 won 16-12 over Raiders|
|Round 10 lost 12-16 to Rabbitohs||Round 21 lost 16-26 to Storm|
|Round 21 lost 18-22 to Roosters||Round 25 won 16-10 over Roosters|
|Round 22 won 22-18 over Storm||Finals week 1 lost 6-30 to Roosters|
|Finals week 1 won 12-10 over Storm|
In the Raiders’ favour, their two wins have come in their last two attempts. However, the Rabbitohs seem better prepared for the big matches.
To predict the score, we can compare four things.
1. Both sides’ average 2019 scores: Raiders 19.8, Rabbitohs 18.5
2. The Raiders’ home scores against the Rabbitohs’ away scores: Raiders 18.4, Rabbitohs 17.4
3. The Raiders’ and Rabbitohs’ scores against the other top-four sides: Raiders 17.5, Rabbitohs 17.8
4. The Raiders’ home scores against top-four sides against the Rabbitohs’ away scores against top-four sides: Raiders 16.3, Rabbitohs 18
Any way you look at this, there isn’t a struck match in it. Whoever wins, it will be a very narrow margin.
Canberra have a number of statistical advantages in their favour going into this game. Finals experience, however, is not one of them. The Raiders only have 63 finals games of experience in their line-up, compared to the Rabbitohs’ 124.
The Raiders have six players lining up in this game who only tasted finals footy for the first time in 2019. For South Sydney, only Liam Knight and Adam Doueihi are experiencing finals for the first time this season. The Rabbitohs have 61 more games of finals experience under their belts.
There really aren’t many attacking or defensive statistics separating these two sides.
• The Raiders make 50 more metres on average a game.
• The Raiders make significantly more runs from dummy half than the Rabbitohs, an extra four a game on average.
• The Raiders lead the competition for escapes from the in-goal. The Rabbitohs are at the bottom of that list.
• The Raiders concede two more penalties a match on average than the Rabbitohs.
• The Rabbitohs have endured two more sin-binnings this season than the Raiders.
• The Raiders have conceded 14 fewer tries this season than the Rabbitohs.
• The Raiders concede 2.5 fewer offloads a match on average than South Sydney.
• The Rabbitohs’ goal-kicking percentage is 82 per cent. The Raiders’ is just 73 per cent.
For the Rabbitohs, there is no question where the danger lies. Hooker Damien Cook has 20 try assists and 20 line break assists. Cody Walker has 16 tries, 19 try assists and 26 line break assists. Adam Reynolds also has 11 try assists and 16 line break assists this season. Sam Burgess averages 121 metres a match with ball in hand.
For the Raiders, Josh Hodgson leads the way with 15 try assists and 15 line break assists. He is supported by Jack Wighton, who has 10 try assists and 13 line break assists. Aidan Sezer has nine try assists. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad averages 161 metres a game, with Josh Papalii averaging 136.
In terms of liabilities, Aidan Sezer misses an average of 2.2 tackles a game. However, with John Bateman next to him, that usually doesn’t amount to much.
Jack Wighton is the most error-prone Raider with 1.5 a game. Josh Hodgson, Joseph Leilua and Joseph Tapine are all likely to concede a penalty.
Jarrod Croker’s goal-kicking percentage has dipped to a career-low 73 per cent. Conversely, Adam Reynolds is kicking at a very respectable 82 per cent. It could prove to be a vital difference.
Adam Reynolds misses nearly three tackles a game and makes 1.5 errors. For an outside back, Dane Gagai’s two missed tackles a match aren’t ideal.
Sam Burgess and Cam Murray are the Rabbitohs very likely to give away at least one penalty each per game.
So who is going to win, and why?
The Rabbitohs missed 36 tackles last week against a wounded Sea Eagles side. Dane Gagai missed seven. Adam Reynolds missed five. Liam Knight and John Sutton missed four each. If they repeat that effort against the Raiders they will lose.
However, they had seven players who made over 100 metres for the game. If they replicate that statistic then they will surely win.
The Raiders are at full strength, well-rested and at home in front of a sell-out crowd. They like being the underdogs, the Raiders. While certainly not raging favourites, they aren’t the underdogs in this match.
If the Raiders can replicate their stingy and gritty defensive best, as well as take their chances, they’ll win in a tight match. However, if this turns into a high-scoring game, expect the Rabbitohs to qualify for the grand final.
I suspect the Raiders at full strength will eke out a tight win. Raiders by two.
Now to some other stats of interest. Since the demise of the old finals system, this is the sixth time from a possible eight that all the sides that finished in the top four at the end of the home-and-away season will play off in the preliminary finals. The fourth-placed Eels in 2017 and the second-placed Sea Eagles in 2014 are the only two top-four clubs to miss the prelims since 2012.
This once again hammers home the necessity of making the top four.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than looking at what position the eventual premiers have finished in at the end of the home-and-away season over the last 20 years. On six occasions, teams from positions five to eight made the grand final but not one lifted the trophy.
|Ladder position||Grand finals||Premierships|
With the Roosters playing off against the Storm, the most common grand final combination – first playing second, which has happened seven times – cannot occur this season. First versus third – which would be the Storm versus the Rabbitohs – has happened four times, the next most common combo. If the Roosters play the Raiders, it will be the first time in the NRL era that the second-placed side has taken on the fourth-placed team.
The Roosters and Raiders have a statistical leg-up as nearly three quarters of the top-four sides that won in the first week of the finals have played in the grand final since 1999. That’s 29 of 40 teams, to be precise.
Of the 11 times where a grand final combatant was not a top-four side who won in the first week of the finals, only four times did they win the premiership. Further, since the end of the old finals system, only one side has lost in the first week of the finals and gone on to win the premiership: the Cowboys in 2015.