Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
Rabbitohs v Bulldogs
Having overcome the injury concerns that stalled their premiership charge, it didn’t take South Sydney too long to get things back on track as they came home over the top of fellow premiership contenders Manly last Friday night.
Showing just why fullback Greg Inglis is so important to their cause, the Rabbitohs overcame a sluggish start to score a crucial 22-10 win that ended a run of three losses from their previous four games, with ‘GI’ scoring a try and saving two in a dominant solo performance.
More importantly though, it sent a message to old rivals the Roosters that the one-time competition leaders should once again be taken very seriously.
No doubt they will be looking to do the same again this week against the side that ended their 2012 premiership campaign in the grand final qualifier. With the finals now very much on everyone’s minds, Souths and Canterbury have seen the tables turn over the past month with the Bunnies arguably one of the top two teams to beat and the Bulldogs trying to build momentum at season’s end.
For Des Hasler’s men, 2013 has been far from a stable season and the ongoing Ben Barba contract situation – combined with his absence through injury – won’t help Canterbury’s cause in this one.
Still, they didn’t seem too concerned to be without Barba, Sam Kasiano and Greg Eastwood when they easily dispatched Canberra last Saturday and Souths will be well aware of the dangers they pose. In particular, the Josh Morris experiment at fullback proved a winner while Sam Perrett continues to find his way to the try line on the right edge.
With three weeks remaining until the finals, this is the point where all sides know exactly what they need to do to finish their year off on a high. For Souths, the minor premiership might be out of their hands but a valuable top-two finish isn’t and they can just about secure their place with a win this weekend.
For the Bulldogs, the top four is probably a step too far but they will be keen to secure fifth on the ladder and give themselves a more reasonable opportunity of making their presence felt come September.
Ben Lowe comes into the Rabbitohs’ starting side at lock in place of Jeff Lima, who has been suspended for one week for his leg twist on Anthony Watmough last week, while coach Michael Maguire has again named a seven-man bench including Dave Tyrrell, Justin Hunt and Matt King.
The Bulldogs have named an unchanged line-up with Morris handed another chance at fullback after impressing against the Raiders last week.
Souths have won 18 of their past 21 home games – but haven’t beaten the Bulldogs twice in a season since 1992.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Josh Reynolds seems to have grown another leg since making his State of Origin debut for NSW a few months back and his running game will have been highlighted by Souths coach Michael Maguire this week. Reynolds ranks third for average runs by a five-eighth this season with 8.1 per game (behind only John Sutton and Johnathan Thurston), second for line-breaks (with nine) and third for tackle-breaks (with 46). He has also contributed eight tries, 10 try assists and seven line-break assists.
Watch Out Bulldogs: Canterbury’s markers have a big task ahead of them on Friday night with South Sydney hooker Issac Luke certain to test them. The most prolific running hooker in the NRL has been one of the key reasons for the Rabbitohs’ impressive run this season. With an average 9.3 runs per game and 61 tackle-breaks, he was also one of his side’s best in the big win over Manly last week with 101 metres to his name.
Plays To Watch: The second-man ball to a flying Greg Inglis on the left edge where he loves to chime into the backline; the Issac Luke flat ball to one of his big men on the back of a George Burgess charge. Keep an eye on Canterbury to try to bash and barge their way over when close to the line. They are the most adept in the NRL at testing the opposition’s resolve from close range.
Key Match-Up: John Sutton v Josh Reynolds. Just a few months ago these two were battling for a spot on the NSW bench – now they are jostling for bragging rights heading into the finals. Sutton took his State of Origin omission hard after coming so close to a debut so no doubt he will be keen to get one back over Reynolds this week.
Where It Will Be Won: Up front where although both sides are missing key forwards – Sam Burgess for Souths and Sam Kasiano and Greg Eastwood for the Bulldogs – they still boast two of the most impressive packs in the NRL. Can Canterbury contain the Rabbitohs giants? And can the home side hold on against the ball-playing skills of their rivals?
The History: Played 146; Bulldogs 77, Rabbitohs 65, drawn 4. Canterbury have lost only five of their past 20 games against Souths and have beaten them twice as many times as any other opponent.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Jason Walsh; Video Referees – Jason Robinson & Matt Rodwell.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Rabbitohs v Bulldogs clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
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Statistics: NRL Stats
Channel 9 Live, 7.30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld).
It: It’s a shame Ben Barba won’t be there for this one because his match-up against Greg Inglis would be worth the price of admission alone. Canterbury continues to grind away and have plenty of players capable of turning the game in their favour but with some key injuries we think they are up against it this week with the Bunnies starting to find their feet again at the right time of year. Rabbitohs by 12 points.