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Eels v Rabbitohs preview

Eels v Rabbitohs
ANZ Stadium
Sunday, 3pm

In a ‘normal’ week during the 2013 NRL season, a match that pitches last against first would prove a lopsided affair. This round, though, the Rags v Riches clash is likely to prove anything but one-sided.

The high-flying South Sydney team meet an Eels outfit anchored to the foot of the table, battling for belief and fumbling for form – but a depleted Rabbitohs line-up gives Parramatta significant hope of springing an upset.  

Origin selection, unsavoury off-field incidents and long-term injuries ensure Souths’ team is well below par for the meeting with the Eels. Souths coach Michael Maguire has named a new-look side in the absence of the Rabbitohs’ four Origin representatives, and following George Burgess’ omission after being stood down for damaging property in Cairns last week. 

Justin Hunt comes into the Souths side at fullback to replace Greg Inglis, with Dylan Farrell earning selection on the wing in place of Nathan Merritt, a late call-up to the Blues side for Blake Ferguson. Ben Lowe and Nathan Peats replace Ben Te’o and Chris McQueen who are also on Origin duty. Thomas Burgess makes his NRL debut from the interchange bench, with Shaune Corrigan named in jersey no.18. Michael Crocker, Matt King and Beau Champion remain on Souths’ injured list. 

The Eels, meanwhile, have named the same side that lost last week against the Sharks – barring Jacob Loko, who’s been added to a five-man interchange bench.

The two teams’ form has, as their position on the ladder suggests, been completely different so far this season. The Rabbitohs, atop the competition table, have won 11 of 13 matches this season while the Eels have won just three games in 2013 and suffered four consecutive losses. 

Last week against the Titans the Rabbitohs escaped with two points in Cairns in a performance Maguire labelled unsatisfactory, while the Eels crumbled in the second half against the Sharks. As well all know, though, a week’s a long time in footy…

Watch Out Eels: This is the junior Bunnies’ opportunity to shine. Without their four Origin stars, three injured first-graders and the in-form George Burgess, the bright young talent at South Sydney has a rare opportunity to sparkle. In a winning team, the chances for the likes of Justin Hunt, Luke Keary, Josh Starling and Thomas Burgess have been few and far between. Without Inglis, Merritt, McQueen, Te’o, Crocker, Champion, King and others, this match serves as an opportunity for the next generation to impress their mentor Maguire – and put their hand up for more game time in the NRL. 

Watch Out Rabbitohs: Danger signs for Souths emerge when you look at the Eels’ record. So far in 2013, Parramatta’s victories have all come at ‘home’ – not that they possess a record worth bragging about, winning three of seven. This ‘home’ game for Parramatta, though, is actually at ANZ Stadium! 

The location and the 3pm kick-off aren’t good news for Ricky Stuart’s men, who have lost their past 10 daytime fixtures and their past 11 ANZ Stadium fixtures, too. Oh wait, this was meant to be an opportunity to talk up the Eels’ chances, right? Well (we’ll try for you Parra fanatics), the Rabbitohs are without their biggest threat in ‘GI’… it’s just their record without their flying fullback in 2012 and 2013 (five wins from six matches) has been very good, too! Sorry Eels fans…

Plays To Watch: Quite simply, the Eels need to give more ball to Ryan Morgan. Their impressive young left centre (six line-breaks and five tries) continues to look Parramatta’s most threatening offensive weapon, setting up his team’s first four-pointer – a long-range effort scored by Ken Sio – last week against the Sharks. 

The Eels’ other centre, Cheyse Blair, set up their only other try against Cronulla – surely a sign they’ll be looking to go wide and go early in this match.

Expect the Rabbitohs’ halves pairing of John Sutton and Adam Reynolds to get into a grind with their opponents – Maguire’s key instructions will be for his team, sans Inglis, Merritt and co, to play the match down their opponents’ end of the field. Those instructions will be directed right at his No.6 and No.7.

Key Match-Up: Eels No.7 Chris Sandow – himself a former Rabbitoh – comes up against the man Maguire selected to replace him. There’s no doubt Reynolds (14 try assists, six line-break assists and 51 goals) is enjoying a better season than Sandow (eight try assists, four line-breaks and 33 goals), but there’s an opportunity for the tables to be turned. If they are, the Eels’ players are in this game up to their necks. 

Where It Will Be Won: Discipline. Quite frankly the Eels don’t have it this season – and the lack of attention to detail and willingness to work is crippling any progress they make in almost every game they play. Parramatta’s 7.46 penalties conceded is their worst figure this decade and currently leaves them as the third most penalised team in 2013. Against a Rabbitohs team high on confidence, Parramatta need to do everything right to have any chance of competing – even if Souths are missing some of their best talent.

The History: Played 116; Eels 50, Rabbitohs 63, drawn 3. 
Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Henry Perenara; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Luke Potter; Video Referees – Luke Phillips & Matt Rodwell.

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Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed, 4pm. 

The Way We See It: The Rabbitohs are depleted, yes, but they still possess a fair sprinkling of talent with Sutton, Reynolds, Issac Luke, Roy Asotasi, Sam Burgess and Jeff Lima feature in their line-up. The Eels, meanwhile, just don’t have the same level of talent on their roster – but they do have the motivation with a dozen players recently placed “on notice” by coach Ricky Stuart. This could be interesting. We’ll stick our neck on the line and go for an Eels upset. Parramatta by four points.

*Statistics: NRL Stats.

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