Sydney Roosters coaching staff had begun studying video of Canberra while Rabbitohs officials were preparing to book flights to Melbourne until the Warriors upset defeat of the Raiders created the best chance of a grand final between the game’s oldest rivals for more than 80 years.
The second-placed Roosters and third-placed Rabbitohs meet in Friday night’s opening finals match at the SCG and regardless of the outcome the 1908 foundation clubs will be on track for their first grand final clash since 1935.
The match is just the fourth time that Roosters and Rabbitohs have played each other in a finals fixture since then, including last year’s preliminary final before a record 44,380 crowd at Allianz Stadium, and the only time the loser has a second chance.
As a result, the two teams will be on opposite sides of the finals draw and could meet in an “old firm” premiership decider that would be the most hyped grand final in memory given the history and rivalry of the clubs.
Seating in allocated “Rabbitohs supporters” bays at the SCG quickly sold out ahead of tickets going on sale to the general public on Tuesday.
“It’s the oldest, biggest and best rivalry in the game. There is no better,” said NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler, who captained the Roosters to the 2002 premiership and later coached the club.
“If it does happen it will be an absolute belter. It will be mad. As a game, we are probably due for it to happen.”
After South Sydney’s 16-10 triumph against the Roosters last Thursday night, it had been widely assumed that the Rabbitohs would finish fourth and travel to Melbourne to play the minor premiers, while the Roosters would start their campaign against Canberra.
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Players, coaches and officials from both clubs were already preparing for such a scenario.
However, a 76th minute try by Blake Green at GIO Stadium on Saturday got the Warriors home and consigned the Raiders to a fourth-place finish, turning the NRL finals draw on its head.
“You couldn’t have scripted it any better,” Fittler said. “The Raiders beat the Storm in Melbourne three weeks ago, Manly versus the Sharks has its own rivalry, the Eels playing the Broncos at the new stadium in Parramatta.”
However, the biggest finals clash will be between the Rabbitohs, who are striving for their 22nd premiership after ending a 43-year drought in 2014, and the Roosters, who are aiming to become the first team to go back-to-back since Brisbane in 1992-93.
Before Souths' 32-22 preliminary final win over the Roosters in 2014, the two clubs had not met during the play-offs since the 1938 semi-final at the SCG – their last finals clash at the hallowed ground, which was won 19-10 by the Roosters.
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The Rabbitohs and Roosters have previously met in five grand finals, including the first in 1908, won 14-12 by Souths.
They also played each other in the 1923 (Roosters 15-12), 1928 (Rabbitohs 26-5), 1931 (Rabbitohs 12-7) and 1935 (Roosters 19-3) grand finals but have not done so since.
“Regardless of who is in the grand final it is going to be big but I think a lot of people would like to see that,” Souths captain Sam Burgess said.
Burgess described the rivalry between the two neighbouring clubs as “old school rugby league”.
“We just saw it on Thursday night just gone, it was a pretty spectacular game, both teams had a fair crack and it will be much the same on Friday,” Burgess said.
"It’s been a long time since there has been finals football played at the SCG and with two iconic clubs, it is going to be a big night.”
The victor will be just one win from a place in the grand final, while the loser will host the winner of either the Manly-Cronulla or Parramatta-Brisbane elimination finals.
Match: Roosters v Rabbitohs
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
The make-up of Week 2 finals matches depends on the result of the Storm-Raiders qualifying final, with the highest finishing loser playing the lowest-placed winner and the second highest finishing loser meeting the second lowest-placed winner.
Roosters captain Boyd Cordner said he was expecting Friday night’s match against Souths to be “just as big” as last year’s finals clash at Allianz Stadium, which was the last sporting event at the venue before it was knocked down.
“With the history between the two teams, it always makes for a good game and I think there will be a massive crowd there,” Cordner said. “The finals game last year was pretty tight and it went down the to the wire and we are expecting no different.
“As a club we always look forward to that game against South Sydney and to play them back-to-back, how good is that.”
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.