'Energiser Bunny' Latrell’s return doesn’t mean rudderless Rabbitohs will suddenly regain their mojo
Latrell Mitchell's talent is unquestioned but Souths face a mammoth task to turn their season around.
Wins by the Storm and Panthers at the weekend locked them into the top two and guaranteed them two home finals with a round in hand.
The Panthers won comfortably over the Cowboys on Friday night to deliver them their third ever minor premiership on the back of 14 straight wins. The Storm similarly never looked troubled by the Tigers on the Sunshine Coast, the win meaning they too will get the ‘home’ finals, most likely at Suncorp Stadium.
To be decided this weekend is who will play them in Week 1 as well as the rest of the match-ups in the bottom half of the eight.
Less exciting but certainly significant is that the destination of the wooden spoon is still to be determined. The Bulldogs got a win over the weekend to finally lift themselves off the bottom and relegate the Broncos to the bottom of the ladder. If Brisbane can’t win against the Cowboys, that is where they will stay in 2020.
It all starts on Thursday night with the Queensland derby. In seasons gone by this has been a marquee game, and rightfully in a prime-time free-to-air spot. How the mighty have fallen.
If the Broncos lose this one, that is the spoon heading their way for the first time in the history of the club. Truthfully, they deserve it. They have been awful this season, with some real cricket scores going against them. If they do manage a win, it puts the Bulldogs back in last place. The only way the Bulldogs would then get off the bottom is to beat the Panthers on Saturday, and you would have to say that would be a bridge too far for them.
I’m tipping the Cowboys to just edge the Broncos and the Panthers to beat the Bulldogs, handing the Broncos the well-deserved spoon.
On Friday the Titans host the Knights in the early match, chasing a very respectable five straight wins. If the Knights win this one, it means they lock in sixth place and a home final regardless of other results. Barring major blowouts, they would host South Sydney in the Hunter in Week 1 of the finals. I don’t know about that though. The Titans were very good on the weekend against Manly, albeit clocking off at times.
They will fancy their chances at home against a Knights team that has been inconsistent at best. Newcastle may have beaten the Dragons by a fair way, but some of their tries were mighty soft. The Knights’ patchy form continues and they face a nervous wait in the Roosters vs Souths clash to determine their fate, with the Titans ending their season on a high.
Immediately after the Knights and Titans, the Roosters take on the Rabbitohs. The Roosters can’t miss the top four now, but if they lose to the Rabbitohs, they could slip to fourth and would then take on the Panthers in Week 1 if the Eels beat the Tigers. If the Knights lose to the Titans, the Rabbitohs will be playing to leapfrog them into sixth and host them instead – a big advantage against the Knights.
The Rabbitohs were woeful against the Bulldogs. They won’t be that bad again, but the Roosters will be better. Trent Robinson will understand the importance of this one as a springboard into the finals. He will name the best team possible and it will be too much for Souths to cope with.
Saturday night is the time to watch. As outlined, the Bulldogs may have to win to get themselves off the bottom against the minor premiers. The Panthers, like the Roosters, will understand the importance of winning this one. I doubt anyone will get a rest with James Tamou, Api Koroisau and Zane Tetevano already rested last week. The rest can come with a Week 1 finals win.
The following clashes see the Sharks host the Raiders followed by the Eels and Tigers. The Sharks are in a real jam with injuries and suspensions. Their best player in Shaun Johnson is injured, so too Matt Moylan. Chad Townsend is still suspended. Josh Dugan is also under some doubt. It leaves the door open for the Raiders to win and jump into the top four in fourth pending the outcome of the Eels game, needing them to lose to stay there.
You can’t see the Sharks winning this one. The Raiders have been coming for weeks now, and even when they have looked down in matches they have stormed back into the contest to get the result. The Warriors may not be a top-eight side, but they have been playing good footy of late and the Raiders did well to overcome them. The Raiders will win this one and then have to wait to see their fate, either a rematch in Week 1 with the Sharks or a date with minor premiers the Panthers in Penrith.
Those scenarios by the Raiders rest on the Eels. They have looked wobbly for months now, scrapping by against opposition but doing just enough to stay in the top four. The Tigers have scored some points of late, 80 in three weeks. They were outclassed by the Storm, but the Eels weren’t exactly scintillating against a team that is now dead last. The finals have come a week early for the Eels, as has the pressure that comes with it. They may go into this knowing that they have to win for two bites of the cherry.
The Tigers get to play without that pressure, and they have also had plenty of luck going left, a real problem area for the Eels of late. I think the Tigers can win this one and send Benji Marshall out a winner for the club, leaving the Eels to play the Sharks in a sudden-death final in Week 1.
Sunday is all immaterial in terms of matches, with the finals fixtures already determined by then. The Warriors and Sea Eagles do battle for some pride, while the Storm take on the hapless Dragons. If the Storm are at full strength in that one, it could be an absolute bloodbath in the final game of the regular season.
My predictions leave the fixtures for Week 1 of the finals looking like this:
Penrith Panthers (1st) vs Canberra Raiders (4th) at Panthers Stadium.
Melbourne Storm (2nd) vs Sydney Roosters (3rd) at Suncorp Stadium.
Parramatta Eels (5th) vs Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks (8th) at Bankwest Stadium.
Newcastle Knights (6th) vs South Sydney Rabbitohs (7th) at Hunter Stadium.
What are your predictions?
The finals are set to get a boost in crowds and colour as the COVID-91 situation improves across the nation. Let’s hope that no matter the make-up of the finals as many people as possible get to witness this series after a tough year for everyone.