It will take the University Pirates a performance of herculean proportions to defeat South Darwin in this afternoon’s NT Rugby Union Preliminary Final at Rugby Park from 5.00pm.
The Rabbitohs have had the measure of the Pirates in three encounters between the two clubs this season.
Their most recent clash was a fortnight ago in a match that Souths were always in control of to win 24-15.
The two sides arrive at today’s sudden death fixture via different paths.
In last week’s Major Semi Final Souths went down 30-29 against Casuarina in a thrilling eight try spectacle where the lead changed several times and the Rabbitohs were denied victory in injury time by a long range penalty goal attempt that missed by the barest of margins.
University in contrast made heavy weather of a dour Semi Final against Palmerston with a seven point win against a side they had averaged 30 point victories during the regular season.
University is a team that starts a match switched on and positive and have been rewarded with early leads against Souths and Casuarina during the season.
The Pirates have been guilty of not capitalising on those early advantages and letting opponents quickly back into matches.
In order to progress to next Saturday’s Grand Final University will need to get early points and then defend with 100 per cent commitment to shut down South’s potent offensive backline.
Souths adopted a very expansive approach in last week’s match against the Cougars, often using the entire width of the pitch in fast, draw and pass, free flowing Rugby.
Souths play an open unstructured style of game while University’s structure seems to lack flexibility.
Ebullient ball carriers like Rhys Mullholland, Thomas Hiramatsu and Henry Berns can score for Souths from anywhere on the paddock.
University is more predictable with a reliance on Robert Butcher to put Shaun Wauchope in to a gap and either score himself or link with the outside backs.
Finals can often be forward focussed affairs which is an area where Souths would likely dominate.
The Rabbitoh pack has no shortage of players willing and capable of taking the ball to the opposition and getting their side going forward with momentum while University seem to rely on Frank Jennings and Kosta Elenis to gain the hard yards.
University’s last victory over South Darwin was in the 2013 Preliminary Final which was considered somewhat of an upset despite the Pirates having finished the season as Minor Premiers.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of NT Rugby.