On Sunday the South Sydney Rabbitohs will meet the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in the 2014 NRL Grand Final at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium. Here’s 10 key questions we may have answers to at the end of this highly-anticipated match.
1) Will Lote Tuqiri go round again? The ageless winger has done it all in rugby league, winning a premiership with the Brisbane Broncos and playing Origin for Queensland and Test footy for both Australia and Fiji before a switch to rugby union. He came back to rugby league in 2010 with the West Tigers and has been outstanding on the flanks for Souths this season. The 35-year old has yet to decide if he will play on again next year, but could announce his retirement if the Rabbitohs go on and win the big prize.
2) Will the Bulldogs niggle backfire? Canterbury are a strong, powerful team that love to intimidate and smash their opposition. Their semi-final win over the Panthers was marked by niggling tactics and several off-the-ball incidents. They are big on sledging and mind games, and this may have gotten under Penrith’s skin. Bulldogs’ five-eighth Josh Reynolds is their chief niggler and he always plays close to the line, but can go over it as the Broncos found out earlier this year when he was sin-binned for repeated infringements. This could work to Souths’ advantage.
3) Who will win the Battle of Britain? Four Burgess brothers against Liverpool’s James Graham, it’s a mouth-watering clash for British footy fans. Rarely has such a big game in Australia featured as many British players, particularly ones with such key roles to play on the field. The main focus is Graham, tipped as a future England and Bulldogs captain, up against Sam Burgess. Both are fierce competitors, hard men who won’t give an inch. Both are match-winners and this promises to be an absorbing one-on-one-battle. Keep an eye out when the two big forwards run at each other, expect fireworks.
4) Is Des Hasler a modern-day coaching great? Des Hasler has been a first-grade coach for just 11 years and has amazingly already reached four NRL grand finals, winning one of the three so far. The former international halfback and hooker helped resurrect Manly over the past decade, leading them to back-to-back deciders in 2007 and 2008, as well as in 2011, with the Sea Eagles winning the 2008 and 2011 grand finals and Melbourne were later stripped of the 2007 title. His success has continued at Canterbury, coaching the Dogs to the 2012 grand final in his first season in charge and now to the 2014 final. Wayne Bennett has won seven grand finals, Jack Gibson five and Tim Sheens four, but Hasler is the future and has time on his side to join that illustrious trio.
5) Will Sam Burgess return to rugby league one day? The 2014 grand final marks Sam Burgess’ last game of rugby league before he defects to rugby union. His departure is a big blow to our code, as he will soon join Bath on a three-year deal. His contract ends at the end of the 2017 season, when the former Bradford backrower will be 28. Time is on his side to make a rugby league return, to either the NRL or Super League, but a title with Souths could leave him with little unfinished business left in the greatest game of all.
6) How good is Alex Johnston? He’s only 19 but Johnston has bagged 20 tries in just 17 games this season. He was pipped for the NRL’s Rookie of the Year award by Tigers’ half Luke Brooks, but Johnston is a real talent. The talented young flyer is being considered for Australia’s squad for the Four Nations this year, after he passed on the opportunity to play for Papua New Guinea. A fullback by trade, Johnston is destined for a great career.
7) How much will the two teams miss their starting hookers? Isaac Luke is banned and Michael Ennis is unavailable due to injury. Both hookers are crucial figures for their side, both strong defenders, experienced players who are also leaders and big contributors in attack. Just how Souths and the Bulldogs adjust without their rakes will be fascinating. The Rabbitohs will likely call on Apisai Koroisau, and Canterbury either Moses Mbye or Damien Cole, unless both teams pull a surprise and move their five-eighths Luke Keary and Josh Reynolds into the number nine shirt.
8) Is South Sydney’s history a help or a hindrance? It’s been 43 years since South Sydney reached a grand final, when they defeated St George. The last time they went close was in 1989 when they won the minor premiership. Since then it’s been season after season of failure, disappointment and despair. The club has been turned around after Russell Crowe took over and they have been contenders for the past three seasons before falling just one game short. The weight of pressure and expectation from their long-suffering fanbase is huge, and it could prove to be either a distraction or actually provide inspiration to help them along on Sunday.
9) Who will win the battle of the forwards? Souths have the quartet of Burgess’ along with Queensland Origin duo Ben Te’o and Chris McQueen. It’s a huge pack of mobile tough-nuts. But the Bulldogs have an equally strong forward unit with James Graham, Kiwi monsters Frank Pritchard, Greg Eastwood and Sam Kaisano, not to mention Aiden Tolman and giant youngster David Klemmer. Oh, and they can also call on the ‘T-Rex’, Tony Williams, as well. They won’t be scared and both teams love to win the yardage battle up the middle. The side that gets the upper hand in the pack will win on Sunday.
10) Can the Bulldogs pull off a big upset? They finished seventh on the ladder and won just two of their last eight regular season matches. They beat Melbourne in the first round of the semi-finals, had to go to extra-time and golden point to get past Manly and had a six-point win over Penrith. They have still yet to find their best form and will be without their long-time captain Michael Ennis. On the other side of the coin the Rabbitohs have been red-hot and had a week off after defeating the Sea Eagles. The majority of rugby league fans are supporting Souths, the fairytale story, placing the Dogs as firm underdogs. But that is where they like it, with Des Hasler’s team flying under the radar and all the pressure being on their opponents. Dont’ write them off.