NRL Finals Week 3: Raiders v Rabbitohs Preview & Betting Tips
So often the underdog, can Canberra handle the pressure of favouritism and a desperate crowd or will the Bunnies cause a famous boilover?
Canberra Raiders v South Sydney Rabbitohs – Canberra Stadium – 7:50pm
Canberra’s 2019 campaign has been marked by turning expectations on their heads. Take for example the way they changed the entire complexion of the finals by shocking Minor Premiers Melbourne 12-10 in week one, giving them their best shot at reaching a Grand Final for their first time in 25 years.
The Raiders had the unwanted reputation of not winning the tight games in recent years - that’s also gone out the window with Ricky Stuart’s side putting the shackles on the Storm to keep within striking distance and when their trademark hard-hitting defence jarred the ball free from Josh Addo-Carr inside the final four minutes, John Bateman scored to catapult the Green Machine into a home preliminary final.
Canberra has the confidence now of knowing they’re able to squeeze out a win under intense pressure while still boasting the talent capable of rattling off quickfire tries. Josh Papalii is now showcasing his full ability which until now he’s never quite managed to do consistently. “Big Papa” is the Raiders’ heartbeat and embraced a showdown with Melbourne’s monster pack – and came out on top.
The week off would have done wonders for the Raiders’ forwards after how draining their Storm final was, allowing them to take stock and get their heads around the golden opportunity presenting itself. The time off might have given centre Joey Leilua the opportunity to also comprehend the most memorable performance of his 9 year NRL career.
Leilua somehow copped an ember inside his eye from pre-game pyro to sideline him for kickoff. While physios frantically worked on ensuring the fragment was safely removed and there was no damage to the Samoan international’s sight, bench utility Bailey Simonsson remarkably scored the game’s opening try, before taking over from fellow centre Nick Cotric following an HIA. The effortless way Leilua flicked passed to Bateman for the game-winning try capped a performance seemingly belonging to a 12th Man CD but also demonstrates no longer are the Raiders shying away from pressure.
The Green Machine is on a roll with their backs up and now face their biggest challenge for a generation – can they survive the heavy expectations on them as strong favourites?
Beware the Bunnies – written off by plenty and a never-ending injury toll, Souths outlasted Manly 34-26 to book a date with the Raiders for a shot at only their second Grand Final since 1971. There’s plenty of controversy surrounding Jake Trbojevic’s game-changing sin bin which saw Souths score twice to seal a late comeback win yet the fact the Rabbitohs were still in the contest shows there’s fighting spirit Redfern way. It helps when you have Cameron Murray in career-best form – it’s amazing to think Murray is arguably the current biggest attacking threat in a stacked pack including Damien Cook and Sam Burgess but the lock was unstoppable last week.
After being contained by the Roosters in the opening final, Murray was on a roll against Manly with two tries, an assist and 141 run metres including some crucial carries to get Souths out of trouble. Murray’s dual-threat in the red zone via kick chases and angled runs are invaluable for Souths considering how leaky their defence is proving. Dane Gagai missed the Roosters defeat but the star centre was unfortunately given a bath by rampaging Manly centre Moses Suli, missing four tackles and becoming a go-to target for Manly’s right-edge attack.
With how loaded the Raiders’ backs are, Gagai can’t afford to find himself beaten as easily and often like last week. Veteran John Sutton is ending his career on a high, the retiring backrower has now created a try in both 2019 finals and scored to help the Bunnies level late last week. Souths have failed to hit the heights they reached in their stirring round 25 victory over the Roosters and face criticism over whether their run is already done – Jamie Soward even rated them below Manly in his power rankings this weekend.
Yet they have a victory in Canberra this season and are littered with Premiership-winning experience. Coach Wayne Bennett may not have known his side were winning at halftime but score gaffes aside the master coach knows what it takes to win preliminary finals and will have his side primed for an ambush this Friday night.
• Canberra has lost their last three matches at home.
• Souths have a recent edge over Canberra, having won 16-12 at Canberra Stadium in May. But Wayne Bennett has some finals misfortune to overcome – in his last four finals, his sides have conceded 134 points with last week’s 26 points the fewest in that run.
• Jarrod Croker has three tries in his last four Rabbitohs games.
Best bet: Raiders -6.5 - $1.78* (Unibet)
Value bet: Jarrod Croker anytime try scorer - $2.70* (Sportsbet)