Renewed focus ... Souths' ball-playing forward Sam Burgess crosses for a try in Saturday night's semi-final win against Canberra. Souths meet the Bulldogs in a preliminary final on Saturday. Photo: Brendan Esposito
SENTIMENTAL favourites they may be, but South Sydney are endeavouring to put head before heart as they attempt to reach a first grand final in more than four decades.
While an anticipated crowd of 60,000 is set to make Saturday night's all-Sydney preliminary final blockbuster against Canterbury an electric occasion, the Rabbitohs are steeling themselves to cut out the emotion-charged moments of impulsiveness that hurt them in the first round of the semi-finals against Melbourne.
Buoyed by Saturday night's 38-16 elimination final win over Canberra, Michael Maguire's team will take to a ground both they and the minor premiers, the Bulldogs, call home, but are intent on not letting the atmosphere at ANZ Stadium and the club's narrative be obstacles.
Souths have not featured in a grand final since 1971 and if they are to finally do so again this year, amid great expectations, they believe they must keep their emotions in check.
"I think we learnt a good lesson down in Melbourne," said Sam Burgess, their England international front-rower. "We got very emotionally attached to that game and I think we went away from what worked well for us all year, which was working together. On the weekend we put more of a team performance together.
"When I say the emotion of the game, it's to not get caught up in it. You've got to enjoy the moment obviously, and certainly it can help you get that extra bit out of your game. But you can't get carried away and go off and do things and solve things individually.''
Five-eighth John Sutton agrees. The 27-year-old enjoyed his first win in a semi-final on Saturday, eight years after making his NRL debut in the red and green. The prospect of a grand final appearance is a tantalising one for him but he is determined that the mistakes of Melbourne, when a spate of impetuously conceded penalties set the tone for a disappointing defeat, will not cruel them again.
"We [need to] probably just tone it down a bit," Sutton said. "Hopefully we get all our Souths fans out there to get behind us, but I thought our emotions caught up with us a little bit against Melbourne and we didn't go too well there.
"It probably just put us in our place a little bit. Madge [Maguire] got up us and we took everything on board and came up with the win [on Saturday] night."
Burgess was also keen to talk down any potential repeat run-in with his England teammate James Graham, who he came close to squaring off against when the sides met at ANZ Stadium in June.
That night Burgess charged at Graham after the referee's whistle had stopped play, following heavy contact, by turning in the Bulldogs's direction again with fists clenched. It is the kind of instinctive but potentially disastrous moment that Burgess appears to be rallying against.
"I think a lot more got made of it than what it actually was,'' he said. ''I didn't hear a whistle and he did. That's all it was.''