Souths beat Roosters to make NRL decider
27 September, 2014, 3:15 pm
Update: 3:15PM South Sydney coach Michael Maguire placed the champagne on ice after watching his Rabbitohs end the Sydney Roosters’ NRL title defence to power into their first grand final in 43 years on Friday night.
Finals bunnies no more, the Rabbitohs will take on either Penrith or Canterbury in Sunday week’s premiership decider after recovering from an early 12-point deficit to post a commanding 32-22 victory at ANZ Stadium.
The thumping win – after holding the premiers try-less for 71 minutes – softened the painful memories of bitter preliminary finals losses to Canterbury and Manly in 2012 and 2013 and left the league’s most successful club just 80 minutes away from a record 21st title.
“The last few years were tough, but we’ve got a different group and we’re very tight and it showed tonight,” said jubilant Souths captain John Sutton.
But while urging long-suffering fans to enjoy their first grand final week in more than four decades, Maguire said his players needed no reminding to hold off celebrating just yet.
“For us as players and staff, it’s easy to keep a lid on it because we haven’t achieved yet,” Maguire said.
Souths’ stirring win denied their century-old rivals a shot at becoming the first team since Brisbane in 1992-93 to secure back-to-back titles in a united competition.
It also ended the stellar NRL careers of the Roosters’ record-setting captain Anthony Minichiello and code-hopping superstar Sonny Bill Williams.
But the victory earned veteran winger Lote Tuqiri and rugby-bound forward enforcers Sam Burgess and Ben Te’o a dream opportunity to farewell the code in the ultimate fashion.
After being stripped of two titles for Melbourne’s salary-cap rorting, Greg Inglis is also eight days away from earning his “first” premiership ring after the champion fullback’s second-half double clinched victory in front of 52,592 fans.
Thirteen years after their re-entry to the competition following a lengthy and emotional court battle with the league, Souths will be hot favourites against the Panthers or Bulldogs to end their long title drought.
But they may have to chase grand final glory without Issac Luke after the livewire hooker was placed on report for a first-half dangerous tackle on Williams.
The New Zealand Test star has 55 carry-over points from his last appearance at the judiciary and will be sweating on the match review panel charge sheet on Monday.
“I don’t normally make comment, but I don’t think there was too much in it,” Maguire said.
Like Rabbits caught in the headlights, Souths presented more like road kill than premiership favourites in a spectacular opening to the match.
Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce left Inglis and back-rower Kyle Turner clutching at air with some brilliant footwork for the premiers’ opening try in the fifth minute.
Surpassing Luke Ricketson as the Roosters’ most-capped player, Minichiello opened his 302nd appearance for the club with an eighth-minute leap above Inglis three minutes later to have the tri-colours flying.
But there will be no fairytale record seventh grand final for the 34-year-old former world player of the year after the Rabbitohs dominated the remainder of the match.
Souths’ oldest player, 35-year-old Lote Tuqiri, and youngest, 19-year-old first-season flyer Alex Johnston sparked the revival with classic wingers tries to have the final locked up at 12-all at halftime.
It was one-way traffic after the break as back-rower Ben Te’o, making an inspired comeback from a month-long suspension, and Inglis put the Roosters to the sword with tries in the 44th, 52nd and 65th minutes.
Aidan Guerra and Minichiello crossed for four-pointers in the final two minutes but they were little more than consolation efforts from the fallen premiers.