The top two sides on the NRL ladder meet at the SCG in a Friday night blockbuster as South Sydney Rabbitohs play host to Manly Sea Eagles. The scheduling of this encounter is perfect timing with both sides on a winning run and playing some of their best football of the season.
In the eyes of many this game is shaping as a potential grand final dress rehearsal. It is exactly the fixture the NRL needs after recent headlines highlighting low attendances at games in Sydney. Hopefully the switch of venue to the SCG will allow for a good crowd to hang around in the city after work.
South Sydney are building into good form after an inconsistent first half of the season. They are still as solid as ever through the middle, but there are signs that they are able to add a bit of flair to go with it. Alex Johnston has been a star in 2014, evidenced by his hat trick in Cairns against the Knights. Johnston’s seamless progression into first grade has kept record try scorer Nathan Merritt out of the side for most of the year.
Michael Maguire’s men will aim to show that they are the real deal as a premiership contender, and dismiss Wayne Bennett’s comments that they are too predictable. It is a pretty bizarre comment when the side you are coaching has just let in 50 points against a supposedly predictable outfit. The Rabbitohs will also want to fire a warning shot at the Sea Eagles to show that they have stepped up a notch from the side that collapsed in last year’s preliminary final.
Manly just keep ticking along, and have now won seven of their last eight games. As we discussed last week the issues they may be having off the pitch are having no impact whatsoever on their performances.
If the rumours of key men departing at seasons end are true then 2014 could be Manly’s last shot at another premiership for a while. The core of the current squad has played together for a long time, and these established combinations are proving key to their current dominance in the NRL.
The Sea Eagles are clearly the benchmark side in 2014, and they deserve their lead at the top of the ladder. It is hard to not see them making it all the way to the decider again this year, but it is equally hard to pick a most likely opponent from the rest of the pack. A win for Souths on Friday night will see them stake a major claim to that status, while also making the run to the Minor Premiership a lot more uncomfortable than Manly would have liked.
Friday 8th August, Sydney Cricket Ground 19:45