Digging With The Mole

The Rugby League Week Mole gives us all the ins and outs ahead of the NRL Preliminary Finals.

SOUTH Sydney face the prospect of being branded with one of the most dreaded tags in rugby league if they lose to the Roosters in tonight’s massive local derby out at Homebush.

The critics are certain to label the Rabbitohs as ‘chokers’ if they fall a game short of their first grand final since 1971 for the third straight year.

The Rabbitohs are slight $1.76 favourites on sportingbet.com.au tonight, conceding a skinny 1.5 points start to their rivals.

Souths probably deserve that narrow favouritism – but punters need to weigh up whether the massive pressure on the Rabbitohs’ shoulders cancels out any advantage.

To me, the Roosters have the arrogant swagger of being the reigning premiers – and that is worth points on the board.

Souths will be shattered if they again fail to make the big one – and the way I see it, they have all the pressure riding on them.

There are certain to be plenty of nerves in both camps – but when the whips start cracking in the second half, the Roosters will have that knowledge that they did it all last season, whereas Souths have that self doubt that 40-odd years without a premiership brings.

A massive rumour swept through the game yesterday that Souths would lose superstar fullback Greg Inglis, who has been carrying a hip injury.

But my spies in the Souths camp assure me Inglis is certain to play after the week’s break and while he isn’t 100 per cent, he is fit enough to play 80 minutes.

Souths believe they have the fire power in the forwards – headed by the dynamic Burgess brothers – to blow the Roosters off the park.

And the Rabbitohs’ pack will be boosted by the return from suspension of back-rower Ben Te’o, who will give them more strike power on the edges.

The Roosters also have a power forward returning from suspension – young gun Dylan Napa – and he is expected to replace Frenchman Remi Casty.

It’s probably the biggest game apart from a grand final Sydney has seen in decades – and I’m tipping the Roosters – but only by a whisker.

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THE premiership’s two quiet achievers meet in the other qualifier tomorrow night with the bookies finding little between the teams here as well.

Sportingbet.com.au has the Bulldogs at $1.73, with the Panthers at $2.15, with Canterbury conceding two points start.

Both teams have ‘flown under the radar’ to use a favourite quote of Bulldogs coach Des Hasler – but by late Saturday one will be in the grand final.

All season the critics have been waiting for the Panthers to fall and they have thrived on the underdog tag.

It was a similar story back in 2003, when the Panthers kept defying the experts and scored a stunning grand final win over the Roosters.

But I think the fairytale will end tomorrow night – the Bulldogs are seasoned finals campaigners and have the size and toughness up front to put a dent in the injury-weakened Panthers.

Bulldogs halfback Trent Hodkinson has been on light duties all week with a knee problem but is a certain starter and his kicking game will be crucial in what I see to be an eight to 10 point Bulldogs win.

Happy punting!