Griffin: Key factors to decide Rabbitohs, Manly
South Sydney were belted off the park by relentless rivals the Sydney Roosters in the opening week of finals, while an injury ravaged Manly outfit put Cronulla to the sword at Brookvale Oval.
The pair meet in Friday night's elimination final and Anthony Griffin has the lowdown on what will make or break the clash for both teams.
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HOW THEY PLAY
Both teams have very similar stats. They both average 3.5 tries a game, four linebreaks a game and have made 10.5 errors a game. Souths until last week have been stronger defensively.
Manly finished the regular season conceding more than 30 points in their last two games and lost strike weapon Tom Trbojevic.
Manly's props have been outstanding. Watch for Marty Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake to drive forward and try to put a dent in the big Souths pack. South Sydney will also embrace the forward battle in an attempt to unleash Damien Cook and Cody Walker through the middle of the field.
Adam Reynolds and Daly Cherry-Evans are two of the best tactical kickers in the game so the last plays from both sides will build pressure. There has only been a point between these two in both games this year.
Manly are defying all logic and are full of belief. The Rabbitohs have a list capable of beating anyone if they can get through this game.
Belief: the Sea Eagles defied all logic in week one. With the players they had missing nobody gave them a chance - except themselves and that's all that matters.
They will welcome back Taupau who along with Fonua-Blake are the most potent front-row pairing in the league. Between them they average almost 300 metres a game. Cherry-Evans has kicked five 40/20s (No.1 in the NRL) and has 13 kick try assists (fourth in the NRL).
His combinations with Moses Suli on the right side and Jake Trbojevic, Dylan Walker and Brendan Elliot down the middle will give Souths plenty of challenges to defend. Api Koroisau and Manase Fainu are both great schemers out of dummy half.
They will ask plenty of questions of the Rabbitohs big men and will be looking for late offloads off Taupau and Fonua- Blake.
Manly will need their inexperienced fringe players to lift again. Edge back-rowers Corey Waddell and Jack Gosiewski have been outstanding, but they will need to go to another level against the Bunnies. Rookie middle forwards Sean Keppie, Haumole Olakau'atu and journeyman Lloyd Perrett will face a full-strength South Sydney pack.
Without Tom Trbojevic there are still question marks on their attack. Cronulla gifted them some soft points through the middle last week.
Their right edge has been a problem defensively. Melbourne and Parramatta opened them up repeatedly in the last two games of the regular season.
Whatever it takes! Live in the moment - there are no guarantees when your next opportunity is going be. They have an opportunity to do something very special together.
Manly have the defence to trouble Souths. Melbourne and Canberra were kept to 10 and 14 points respectively on two top-four away clashes. Both games against Souths have come down to field goals. High completion rate, build pressure on last play with our kicking game, and inspire each with defensive effort and intent.
IF I WERE THE SEA EAGLES
I'd be jumping out of my skin.
Get this next 80 minutes right and we are one win from a grand final. Get our forwards ready for the first 15 minutes. Souths are coming off a big loss and have their leader Sam Burgess returning. If we can win the early physical battle and score first - whenever that might be, Souths will get nervous.
Kick to our left-hand side of the field - early if possible and keep turning the big Rabbitohs pack around. This will force Adam Doueihi to collect the ball on his non-preferred side and restrict Souths' opportunity to shift to Sam Burgess and James Roberts coming out of trouble.
It will also make it harder for Cherry-Evans to be targeted. In possession, our playmakers push on the ball and look to feed off the play the balls and offloads of Taupau and Fonua-Blake. Walker and Elliot need to follow Cherry-Evans, Koroisau or Fainu and look for running opportunities down the middle third of the field - especially when Cameron Murray is off the field.
On last play inside Souths 20m, be prepared to run. Souths can be passive on last play, so with aggressive execution this might be our best chance.
Back to full strength and plenty of finals experience.
The Rabbitohs have Origin and international players in the right positions. Cook, Reynolds and Walker in the spine - James Roberts and Dane Gagai in the centres.
The Burgess brothers and Cam Murray lead a pack along with retiring premiership captain John Sutton and they have the luxury of Origin forward Ethan Lowe coming off the bench.
They have been in the top four for the entire season after winning 10 out of their first 11 games. They have defeated premiership favourites the Roosters twice and although convincingly beaten by the Chooks last week they have the most experienced and successful coach in Wayne Bennett to get them up for this sudden death final.
Reynolds at 85 per cent is the No.2 ranked goal kicker in the NRL and is also ranked No.2 for restarts in the opposition 20m. Cook and Walker have contributed to more than 40 try assists and line-break assists. They are the most lethal combination in the league. The left edge of Sutton, Walker and Gagai will be a headache for Manly's shaky right edge defence.
Their form has been patchy. After a brilliant start to the season they won only six of their last 13 games and were down 26-nil at halftime in last week's final. They have struggled with injuries and suspensions but now are as close to full strength as they can be.
There have been constant changes to their line-up, highlighted last week with the positional changes of Roberts, Johnston and Doueihi. Their starts have been a problem in the last two games. Manly will play without fear and their little men could worry the big Souths forwards if they get a run of possession.
It's time to go. After finding some form in their last three games they lost Sam Burgess and Gagai and got whacked last week. Now with everyone back on deck they have to respond. They have the big match experience and class to take care of Manly.
They climbed off the floor a month ago and are a live chance in the competition if they can get to the preliminary final. Start fast and physical - go after the Manly front rowers and keep your foot on their throat all night. Be clean with the ball and disciplined and keep turning up in defence until the job is done. Our best beats their best if we have the desire to stay alive.
IF I WERE THE RABBITOHS
I would put a target on Taupau and Fonua-Blake and challenge my pack to go after them. Get our line speed and first contact aggressive right from the first set.
Hit, stick and lock them up. Every metre we restrict them - every offload we stop - every play the ball we slow down will take something away from Manly. Get our marker work right on their hookers and don't take any dummies off Trbojevic, Cherry-Evans and Walker.
Pressure Cherry-Evans on last play and get the ball to our left side as early in the set as possible and make him and Suli tackle. Open up our right side of Reynolds, Burgess and Roberts and get them as much early ball as possible. Kick in behind Jorge Taufua for Campbell Graham or pass over his head on a narrower side.
All the while sweating on a play the ball from Murray or Burgess for Cook and Walker to take off on through the middle. On last play defend the run and be prepared for anything from Cherry-Evans or the hookers.