South Sydney fans can dare to dream of a 21st premiership after the club's first finals win in 25 years set up a mouth-watering clash with the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium next Saturday night. The match - for a place in the grand final - is a promoter's dream as the most succesful club in premiership history attempts to qualify for their first grand final in 41 years against the Des Hasler-coached minor premiers. Having left Manly after last year's grand final, Hasler will also by vying for his own place in history; no coach has ever won back-to-back premierships with different clubs. But the focus will be on Souths after the club was kicked out of the competition by News Ltd and the NRL in 2000 and was only reinstated after a costly, two-year legal battle. It has taken a decade for the club to rebuild but after getting to within one win of a grand final, the Rabbitohs will have many of the 80,000 people who marched from Redfern to Sydney Town Hall in 2000 behind them.
After last weekend's disappointing 24-6 loss to Melbourne, the Rabbitohs showed few signs of the nerves they displayed in the opening finals match and dominated from the outset. Led by five-eighth John Sutton and halfback Adam Reynolds, Souths shot to a 14-0 lead after 23 minutes but they then let Canberra back into the match and only went to the break ahead 20-10 after a 37th minute Sam Burgess try. The Rabbitohs were rarely threatened in the second half and piled on another three tries.
WHAT THE GAME MEANS FOR RAIDERS
After six consecutive victories, Canberra's hopes of a fairytale grand-final win are over and the premiership will now be claimed by one of the top four teams. Given the way the Raiders played in the first half of the season, they should be happy with what they achieved and can look forward to next year.
WHAT THE GAME MEANS FOR THE RABBITOHS
The win was Souths' first in a finals match since September 5, 1987, when the side, coached by George Piggins, beat Balmain 15-12 in the preliminary minor semi. The Rabbitohs have since featured in just two finals series - 1989 and 2007 - and exited both times without a win.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The hype will be electric as two of the biggest Sydney clubs prepare to square off for a place in the grand final. The crowd for the clash at ANZ Stadium is expected to double last night's attendance of 35,874. There will again be speculation about the fitness of Nathan Merritt (shoulder) and Jason Clark (ankle), late withdrawals yesterday.