Dan Walsh, Staff Writer, NRL.com
Rabbitohs v Bulldogs
Friday 4pm (AEST)
Des Hasler must have been frothing at the mouth before last week's trip across the ditch.
Every man and his dog knows how the mentor with the most luscious locks in rugby league land likes his teams: further under the radar than a stealth bomber wearing an invisibility cloak while employing super secret powers of deception learned at a covert CIA training camp run by Batman.
Putting 40 points on one of the best defensive teams of the modern era, followed by holding the premiers and the best attack of 2013 to a miserly eight points the week after is exactly the type of behaviour that's going to get you noticed by the NRL world, so last week's scrappy come-from-behind win against a rabble wearing Warriors jerseys would've been music to old Des's ears.
Nothing to see here folks. Who? Us? Contenders? Move it along please.
The Rabbitohs, meanwhile, have been happy to get their wins any way, any old how after dropping three of their opening four games. That they were thoroughly impressive at the foot of the mountain against the Panthers was an added bonus for Michael Maguire's men as they evened up their early season ledger to 3-3 and picked themselves up a handy away win.
With just seven missed tackles from 336 attempts against the Panthers (the least recorded ever since the statistics have been kept), the Rabbitohs have supreme confidence in their defence and it's understood those responsible for the missed tackles - Nathan Merritt, Dylan Walker, Apisai Koroisau, Sam Burgess and Chris McQueen, as well as serial offender Kirisome Auva'a (the debutant missed two) - have been spoken to and put on notice by management.
The Rabbitohs have lost a couple of key forwards in the judiciary wash up this week, with big George Burgess joining Ben Te'o in the stands for this one courtesy of a couple of one-match suspensions for tripping. Luke Burgess moves to starting prop to cover for his younger brother, while McQueen moves into the starting side, impressive youngster Auva'a gets a start in the centres and Ben Lowe and Joe Picker come on to the bench. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, will be without their co-captain Frank Pritchard, who is out for the next couple of months with a nasty pectoral injury. The in-form Pat O'Hanlon replaces the big Kiwi on the bench.
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As to be expected from an in-form Bulldogs side, they're winning their games by giving the opposition absolute Buckley's and if Souths are expecting a hand-out, they'd be well served going cap in hand elsewhere. The Dogs have committed the third least handling errors (53) in the NRL behind the Storm and the Roosters, while their defensive line has proved harder to crack than Chinese algebra this year as they lead the competition for the least missed tackles (114) - though the Rabbitohs are right behind them with 123.
And despite a rare slip up from Sam Perrett that gave Simon Mannering a try last week, the Dogs have successfully defused the most attacking kicks of any team in the competition, scuppering 45 across the first six rounds. Perrett (23) and winger Corey Thompson (10) have been as safe as houses at the back, so Adam Reynolds and John Sutton may look to target Mitch Brown with any probing kicks.Watch Out Bulldogs:
Sam Burgess - the big man has been instrumental for the Bunnies over the last three weeks, eating metres up the middle like they're a morning serve of Weet Bix - 188 against the Raiders, 200 against the Dragons and 179 against the Panthers.
Unsurprisingly he leads the competition for metres gained, averaging 181 a game (42 more on average than last year). Burgess also tops the NRL for most runs (123) and ranks third in the league for offloads (13). With younger brother George and hard-hitter Ben Te'o both ruled out with suspension, the Bulldogs can expect the big Brit to come out firing in order to minimise the effect of their absence.
Get your ticket to NRL Round 7Plays To Watch:
James Graham to pick out some poor soul in the Rabbitohs pack and throw the kitchen sink at him (Lord knows what Warriors forward Charlie Gubb did to Graham but he was a marked man last week); The Dogs to have plenty of forward thrust from the bench – with Greg Eastwood, David Klemmer, Tim Browne and O'Hanlon tipping the scales at a combined 447kg.
Rabbitohs captain John Sutton to keep the defence guessing with his passing game both before and through the line, having already registered five try assists; Souths halfback Adam Reynolds to back his long kicking game to bag a 40/20 to go alongside the two he has already kicked this year.Where It Will Be Won:
Games in recent years between these two clubs have often come down to the last 10 minutes, and with the match on the line both sides will look to their X-Factor players – Greg Inglis and Josh Reynolds. “The Grub” (Reynolds) has recent pedigree with his match-winning field goal and try saver a few weeks back against the Roosters, while Greg Inglis's hands should resemble those of a clumsy baker given the amount of games he's pulled out of the fire over the years.
If it comes down to the wire don't discount two of the smaller men on the field either, both Trent Hodkinson and Adam Reynolds have won a couple of games off the boot in past seasons, be it from the tee or a cheeky drop punt.
Free rail travel to ANZ Stadium for members and ticket holdersThe History:
Played 147; Bulldogs 77, Rabbitohs 66, drawn 4. Souths may have won their past two matches against the Dogs, but before that it's been all blue and white, with the Dogs triumphing 15 times in the 22 clashes between the clubs since the Rabbitohs re-admission to the NRL in 2002.What Are The Odds:
It looks an even match but punters don’t agree, with more than double the money bet on the Rabbitohs ($1.85) compared to the Bulldogs ($2) with Sportsbet.com.au. However, punters think the Bulldogs can get within the line of 1.5.Match Officials:
Referee – Shayne Hayne; Assistant Referee - Ben Cummins; Touch Judges – Russell Turner & Nick Beashel; Video Referees – Luke Phillips & Andrew Dunemann.
Televised: Live - Fox Sports, 4pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: It's hard to see either side giving an inch as the two most well-drilled defences in the NRL go head to head, so don't expect a high-scoring affair. With the midweek losses of key forwards George Burgess and Ben Te'o we just can't see the Rabbitohs continuing their early season resurrection (Couldn't get through an Easter weekend preview without a pun) and are backing the Dogs to get up by 4.
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