The last time that Manly and Souths met in a preliminary final was September 2013, and it didn’t end well for the Bunnies.
For those who can’t remember that far back, noted wine connoisseur Barry O’Farrell was Premier of NSW, Australia had three Prime Ministers in the one year, NSW lost the Origin series to Queensland for the eighth year on the trot, Michael Clarke led Australia to its first Ashes series win for seven years, Chopper Read passed away, and the only virus causing concern was the Crypto Locker trojan horse trying to get into your computer.
Now back to the football.
Souths came in a close second on for and against in 2013 behind the Roosters who were the minor premiers, while Manly finished fourth behind Melbourne. Souths progressed straight to the preliminary final after defeating Melbourne in Week 1 of the finals, while Manly got there the hard way after defeating Cronulla by the odd try in the semi-final, after losing to the Roosters in the first week.
Souths went into the preliminary final as strong favourites, and looked to justify that favouritism by leading 14-0 midway through the first half and were still in control at halftime with a 14-6 lead. However, Manly weren’t finished by a long shot, and they upped the ante in a physical display in the second half, scoring 24 unanswered points, before Souths ran in a consolation try with just seconds to go.
The final score was 30–20, and Souths season was over after being overrun by Manly in the second half.
For trivia buffs, four players from the 2013 preliminary final will run out again this week. Adam Reynolds for Souths, and Daly Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran and Dylan Walker for Manly. Walker, of course, played for Souths in 2013.
So, will history repeat on Friday night at Suncorp? Will Souths take their best chance for a premiership since their famous victory in 2014? Or will the Sea Eagles win against the odds again and go through to their first grand final since their narrow defeat at the hands of the Roosters in 2013?
The way I see it, Manly have both the team and the game plan to take Souths down, and are at full strength, while Souths may just miss the impact that the suspended Latrell Mitchell could bring to a big match like this.
So, let’s look at how they compare, who’ll win, and why.
The big games are usually won in the forwards, and the Manly pack are big improvers, playing a more direct game lately with a big increase in physicality, while minimising some of their higher risk plays.
Martin Taupau, Josha Aloiai, Sean Keppie, Taniela Pasaeka and Haumole Olakau’atu are an imposing group of forwards who love to get physical, and they are backed up by the skilful Josh Schuster and the cool head and experience of forward leader Jake Trbojevic. The return of the unsung Lachlan Croker has also been a big boost to both their attack and defence.
The Manly pack is more than capable of matching it with the likes of Damien Cook, Tom Burgess, Jai Arrow and co, and if they can win the ruck and the field position battle, I believe that the Manly backs will get the job done.
The Manly halves pairing of Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran are among the best in the business, and have played some 500 first grade games, 16 Origins and 37 Test matches between them. You can’t beat experience in the finals, and these two know how to win the big games.
On the other hand, the Souths halves of Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker are close to the form pair in the NRL, but are far less experienced than their Manly rivals, with a combined 370 first grade games, nine Origins and no Test matches.
This comparatively lower experience level may just count against Souths in the big minutes of a sudden-death final. There’s also that question in the back of my mind whether Cody Walker can produce the goods in the big games.
The three-quarter lines of both Manly and Souths know their jobs and how to score tries when they’re on offer, but neither would really be expected to dominate the other. Souths may just be ahead on the basis of the experience of Dane Gagai and Alex Johnston, but not by much.
It’s when we get to the fullback position that Manly have the biggest advantage over Souths, with Tom Trbojevic putting together possibly the most dominant season by a fullback in the history of the game. These days, the fullback has more influence over the outcome of a game than almost any other player, and in Turbo, Manly have the most influential player in the game in 2021.
Have a look at his incredible stats from just 17 games this season:
• 27 tries
• 28 try assists
• 117 tackle busts
• 33 line breaks
• 216 average running metres
Unbelievable stuff from Turbo, and Souths just won’t be able to match his influence on the game from the back. Good young player that Blake Taaffe is, he obviously lacks experience, and this will count against him in a big game like this.
I think he got off lightly against Penrith two weeks ago, and I expect him to be put under a lot more pressure this week by the Manly halves. The pity for Souths is, that if Latrell Mitchell hadn’t been suspended, they may have had the firepower to match Tom Trbojevic.
So, I believe that it all comes down to both teams being fairly evenly matched across the park, with Turbo the X-factor and the difference between the sides. It will be a hard fought game, and my tip is Manly to win by ten points, just like they did in 2013.
No need to panic at this stage, Souths fans, as I’m usually wrong. Just ask my wife.
That’s my take on how the game will pan out, but what do you think?