OPINION

South Sydney Rabbitohs turn finals series on its head

VICTORY: Laurie Daley says thanks to a brilliant defensive effort, South Sydney has found itself on the better side of the finals draw. Photo: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
VICTORY: Laurie Daley says thanks to a brilliant defensive effort, South Sydney has found itself on the better side of the finals draw. Photo: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

I get a hard time quite often from people about my tipping prowess and while I probably shouldn't be reminding anyone because most would have forgotten by now, I'll put my hand up here and now and admit I did have the Wests Tigers in my top eight this year before a ball was kicked.

In hindsight, I have no idea what I was thinking. But sometimes, I do get it right.

Last week, I suggested in this column that easily the two best teams in the competition over the course of the season, Melbourne and Penrith, won't be playing in the grand final. Now okay, if you want to be pedantic, I only got it half right because I picked the wrong upset last weekend.

I thought Manly could rattle the Storm's cage and be the first side through to the preliminary final. But they were never a hope after fumbling their way through the 80 minutes in one of their worst showings since they lost the opening four games of the season.

Instead, it was South Sydney who turned the finals series on its head by taking out the Panthers in the other qualifying final with some of the best defensive resolve we have seen from the Rabbitohs all season.

Given we know how they can score points, if they can replicate that defence for two more games, Wayne Bennett's boys may very well give their great coach the perfect send-off in a fortnight's time.

I certainly think they are now on the better side of the draw as they wait for the winner of the Manly-Sydney Roosters clash, with Melbourne to face the victor of the Penrith-Parramatta local derby.

The elimination games last weekend went to script, although I thought the Knights and the Gold Coast both put up a great fight against the Eels and Roosters respectively. The quality of the games and the competitiveness of the two sides that went out dispelled the theory the bottom two sides were simply there making up numbers.

The Titans were only one pass away from causing a boilover against the Roosters, while the Knights' fightback against the Eels had that game on a knife-edge.

It's left six teams remaining and two games this weekend in Mackay that offer so much, with Manly looking to bounce back against a battered but unrelenting Roosters and the Panthers and Eels meeting in a wild west shootout that will be no place for the faint-hearted.

MANLY v ROOSTERS

The Eagles were blown off the park by the Storm, with Tom Trbojevic unable to get into the game because of his side's mountain of errors and lack of field possession.

Melbourne is already a fantastic side. They don't need a leg-up to win big games but Manly obliged anyway and didn't give themselves a chance of causing the upset I thought they were capable of. Were they over-awed by the occasion? Whatever it was, Dessie Hasler has to fix it fast because the Roosters are not going to lie down here.

Trent Robinson's team may be decimated by injuries and have a rag-tag squad of players held together by champions like James Tedesco and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves but you know they will fight to the end. They got out in front against the Titans last weekend and while it was hard not to feel for the Gold Coast at the death when they fought back and looked certain to score and snatch victory, the courage shown by the Roosters defensively to stop them in the 79th minute was remarkable. They won that game with ticker.

They now turn their attention to Manly and how to stop Trbojevic. The blueprint is there, provided by the Storm last weekend. Pin the Eagles in their own half, and when he does get opportunities, swarm at him in numbers with the first bloke going low to cut him down. Sounds easy enough but keeping Tom quiet two weeks in a row, given the form he's been in, will be a big ask.

I'm not expecting Manly to make the mistakes they made last weekend and their right edge defence will have received a rocket from Dessie this week. The Roosters will no doubt go there through Drew Hutchinson because of the success the Storm had. Time will tell if the Eagles have managed to plug the holes.

The big out for the Roosters is their hooker Sam Verrills and I just have my doubts this side has another 80 minutes left in them. To me, they look like they are just about out of gas which, given their season, is no surprise.

I'm tipping the Eagles to win and set up a meeting with the Bunnies in the preliminary final.

PENRITH v PARRAMATTA

This has all the hallmarks of developing into a smash 'em up derby. Like I said before, a real wild west shootout, with the Eels ready and willing to pick a fight.

Brad Arthur's men will come out from the opening whistle and try to rattle the Panthers with their intensity. They'll be physical in defence and look to intimidate. If Penrith is still a little unsettled and feeling the pressure after the surprise loss to Souths last weekend, the Eels will look to exploit that by trying to keep things as uncomfortable as possible.

I thought the Eels props Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo were enormous against the Knights but they are going to have to reproduce it here. Mitch Moses is another one who has to back up a really strong performance against Newcastle by doing it all again. I'm intrigued by how Penrith will handle the pressure they find themselves in now. I still think they can win the competition the hard way but they obviously have to respond here and the coolness of Nathan Cleary will no doubt help their cause.

I'm expecting Penrith to weather an early storm from the Eels, find the rhythm that was missing against Souths and set up a mouth-watering showdown against the Storm. But not before they will know they have been in an absolute dogfight.