NRL: Last hurdle likely to be too high for eager Bunnies

By Michael Brown

Kieran Foran has had another great season with Manly and symbolises the side's uncompromising attitude. Photo / Getty Images
Kieran Foran has had another great season with Manly and symbolises the side's uncompromising attitude. Photo / Getty Images

Russell Crowe famously gave the Roosters the gladiatorial thumbs down in 2009, asking his side to finish them off as they romped to a convincing win, but it's hard to see Crowe's Rabbitohs winning the big battle this year.

The Bunnies are vulnerable and could miss out on the grand final.

Yes, they have one of the best chances to end their 42-year search for a premiership title, having assembled a good squad with firepower and depth. Yes, they have the weekend off to rest and recharge and, yes, the bookies are convinced they will play in the grand final.

But they remain unconvincing, and will continue to be until they finally win another title.

They are still the most successful club, having won 20 titles, but their history is a burden. On top of that, most of their fans don't know what it's like to win or even be in contention and that brings its own pressures.

As one Souths fan put it this week, "I'm permanently pessimistic but hoping to be surprised."

It doesn't help that they have dropped four of their last nine games, including defeats to the Dragons, Cowboys, Storm and Roosters, and there's a feeling they got lucky against the Storm last weekend.

Their game plan is a simple one - send their big brutes up the middle to bash the opposition, then hope the incomparable Greg Inglis comes up with something special.

But they need a little more than that. It's hard to see them scoring loads of points, which means their defence has to be spot-on.

The tea leaves point to a Roosters-Sea Eagles grand final. They played out an epic 4-0 game last weekend, with the Roosters earning the week off, in a game of grand final quality.

They are both tough teams, with the best defensive records of the regular season, and are relentless in their approach. They're also in top form - the Roosters have won 10 of their last 12 and Manly eight of their last 11.

The Roosters look almost unstoppable in their march to the grand final, and will welcome back the damaging Jared Waerea-Hargreaves from suspension next weekend against either the Storm or Knights.

The Sea Eagles still have to get past the Sharks tonight before they have a crack against the Rabbitohs next weekend and will still be sore from the bruising game against the Roosters.

But they have a tough forward pack and one of the best backlines of the modern era. Their left edge is now the equal of their much-vaunted right edge and they have possibly the best halves and centres combinations in the game.

Kieran Foran symbolises their uncompromising attitude, and the Kiwis five-eighth has had another terrific season, but Manly's chances hinge much more on Brett Stewart's hamstrings.

When Stewart plays, they generally win - they have won 13 of the 17 games he has played this season but lost six of the eight he has missed.

Melbourne can't be totally discounted because of the presence of the Big Three, but they lack the depth of other sides and there are no guarantees they will get past Newcastle tomorrow night.

It would be fitting if the top four sides from the regular season won through to next weekend's preliminary finals because they have clearly been the best sides all year - but sentiment and favouritism are characteristics respected only in the movies.

Even Russell Crowe might appreciate that.

- NZ Herald

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