Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent, NRL.com
Bulldogs v Rabbitohs
Thursday, 7.45pm (AEST)
The local weatherman might disagree but spring has certainly come early for rugby league fans, with Thursday night's blockbuster clash between the two of the league's premiership heavyweights bringing a premature taste of September action.
Honestly, what's there not to get excited about?
There's the four-headed throng of Burgesses in one of their final games together as a quartet versus the free-wheeling set of halfbacks masquerading in front-rowers' bodies.
There's the supposed future NSW halfback versus the current history-breaking one.
And how about the hooker who loves a confrontation versus the dummy-half who'll never shy away from one? Or the two in-form centres who love a good dance with multiple defenders more than Rabs love The Block?
There are seriously more tantalising battles in this match-up then there are people on our Twitter timeline doing the ice bucket challenge right now.
And the best part? No matter the outcome, you get the feeling there's an encore on the way just a few weeks from now. It'll be like jumping on a roller-coaster and then waiting two minutes to go again!
But in our best coach-speak, let's all take a breather and move one week at a time. We shan't be too greedy.
Canterbury have clawed back into coach Des Hasler's good books with back-to-back wins – albeit unimpressive ones – over the Eels and Wests Tigers over the past fortnight. They blew the Tigers right off the park with a 30-minute torching at ANZ last week, before clocking off and counting down to this game.
The Rabbitohs' recent form has been just as confounding. Having flexed their premiership muscles in a five-game winning streak that included a riotous victory over Manly, they were exposed in the middle by a hot Cowboys team last week, again raising their big-game ability on the eve of another assault on the major (and minor) prize.
Hasler didn't touch his line-up on Tuesday afternoon, and he probably didn't need to. Rabbitohs clipboard holder Michael Maguire, on the other hand, got the bonus of getting George Burgess back from suspension.
Watch Out Bulldogs: Wait, did we say George Burgess was back? Strange, because we swear that was him churning out 168 metres off 16 carries last week. Ahh, right. They pulled that funny twin prank again? How silly of us. How could we mistake big, fun, Thomas for big, fun George? The kid's been busting out those kinds of numbers the day the Rabbitohs pulled him out of the 'reggies' to play with his brothers. What? What's that you say? He averages just 10 metres less than the 140 metres George does? Boy oh boy. We can't tell if we're seeing double or quadruple anymore.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: We're looking at you, Kirisome Auva'a. You've had quite the season on debut. You've proven quite the handful. But you know who else is a handful? That sprightly, polite, baby-faced kid you're marking on Thursday night. Yep, that one with the fluoro dancing shoes. Sure, we know the Wests Tigers aren't exactly holding out a park footy side at the moment, but 15 tackle breaks is still nothing to sneeze at, especially if it's double the amount of any other game he's played this year. But hey, since we're counting, that's now 48 in his past seven games. Have fun out there, rook.
Plays To Watch: The Bulldogs put the regular playbook on the shelf last week and targeted a Tigers left edge that had more men out of place than a Saturday morning tea party. And if they watched the tape of the Cowboys' dismantling of the Rabbitohs last week, they'll see how successful they were wrong-footing the big fellas in the middle.
Where It Will Be Won: The competition's best defence against a Canterbury attack that has posted just eight points more than the Raiders. If the Bulldogs can get to 20, they'll get a win. Where and how they get the points from, is the question.
The History: Played 148; Canterbury-Bankstown 78, South Sydney 66, drawn 4. Having being swept in both games against the foundation club last season, the Bulldogs can clinch their own sweep after taking out their Round 7 clash on Easter Monday on a Trent Hodkinson field goal. Here's an interesting tid-bit: a win would also give the Bulldogs their 79th victory over the Rabbitohs, which would be their highest count against any team in the NRL.
What Are The Odds:
Sportsbet punters are a forgiving lot – despite their loss to the Cowboys, Souths have more than double the money on them to beat the Bulldogs in the head-to-head market, and 10 times the amount on them at the line of -6.5. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee – Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Rickey MacFarlane & Russell Turner; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live, 7.30pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: A cracker of a game, a nightmare to tip. So when it's this close, you merely channel your inner Peter Sterling, scroll through the team sheet and find the best player. Doesn't take us long to find G. Inglis. Rabbitohs by two points.