23rd September 2020, 15:40 | nrl

NRL Preview | Round 20

NRL Preview | Round 20

The final weekend of the regular season

England prop Tom Burgess believes South Sydney’s final round clash with back-to-back premiers Sydney Roosters will be the perfect way for the Rabbitohs to prepare for the NRL play-offs.

Souths slumped to seventh place and may have forfeited a home final after last weekend’s shock loss to Luke Thompson’s Canterbury Bulldogs but Burgess said their 112-year rivalry ensured any match between the NRL’s only remaining foundation clubs was played with finals-like intensity.

“I think it is good that we are playing them,” Burgess said. “You want to be playing against the top teams and especially teams who are in the finals.

“I think it helps when everyone is playing for something and you want to be playing against those players - the two times champions – so it’s not a bad start.”

Burgess said brother Sam, who has admitted he had been considering a comeback after retiring last year due to a shoulder injury, was helping with the Rabbitohs preparations for the finals are joining the team bubble.

“He is a natural born leader and he has always been doing that from a young age so it is just good to have him around the place," Burgess said "Even though he is not playing it is just good having off the field and on the field with training as well."

However, Tom ruled out a return by his brother, saying: "He was medically retired for a reason, so the shoulder isn't that good".​​

The Rabbitohs will know before kick-off whether a win against the Roosters will earn them a home final in Sydney as the sixth-placed Newcastle Knights play the Justin Holbrook-coached Gold Coast Titans in the earlier match on Friday.

Having qualified for the play-offs for the first time since 2013, the Knights just need to beat the Titans to ensure a home final in front of 15,000 Newcastle fans after the NSW Government announced an increase in crowd sizes to 50 per cent capacity of stadiums from October 1.

However, a loss on the Gold Coast and victory by Souths would see Wayne Bennett’s men leap frog Newcastle into sixth spot and the Knights travel to Sydney next weekend to take on the Rabbitohs at the 80,000 seat ANZ Stadium.

Regardless, Burgess said there would be no love lost between the Rabbitohs and Roosters and he is looking forward to renewing rivalries with New Zealand enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

“He is a leader of their pack, if you want to say that, and those match ups are what you look for,” Burgess said. “The middles have all been playing well and that is where we will be looking to take them on.”

The Roosters will be aiming to maintain third spot and a clash with Melbourne Storm in the opening weekend of the finals, as a loss would enable fourth-placed Parramatta to climb past them with a win against Wests Tigers on Saturday.

The Eels may also need to win to prevent Canberra from knocking them out of the top four if the Raiders beat Cronulla in the preceding match on Saturday.

Sharks coach Ricky Stuart has rested a number of stars including Englishmen George Williams, Elliott Whitehead and John Bateman, with former Wakefield halfback Sam Williams taking over the captaincy in his first NRL match of the season.

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy has also opted to rest players ahead of the finals as the Storm cannot beat Penrith for the minor premiership and will finish second regardless of the result of Sunday’s match against St George Illawarra.

Former Toronto Wolfpack centre Ricky Luetele will make his debut for Melbourne.

Round 20 commences with Thursday’s Queensland derby between the Cowboys and Broncos, who must win to avoid becoming the first team in Brisbane’s 33-year history to finish the season with the wooden spoon.

If the Broncos win, Canterbury - who this week confirmed former Leeds coach David Furner and ex-Hull KR mentor Craig Sandercock as Trent Barrett’s assistants in 2021 – will need to produce the upset of the season by ending Penrith’s 14-match winning streak on Saturday to avoid the spoon.

The remaining game between the Warriors and Manly on Sunday and Thursday’s Broncos-Cowboys clash will be used to trial experimental rules, including a requirement that only players listed on the team sheet as forwards can pack into scrums.