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Rabbitohs v Knights preview

Rabbitohs v Knights
Barlow Park, Cairns
Sunday, 3pm

They may be at opposite ends of the ladder but both the Rabbitohs and Knights will take winning form up to Cairns for this Sunday afternoon clash.

And while the second-placed Rabbitohs may have clinically disposed of a poor Raiders outfit on Monday night, 14th-placed Newcastle claimed a far bigger scalp last Friday with a last-gasp win over defending premiers the Roosters.

There have been too many upsets already this year for Newcastle's 16-12 win at home to even appear on the podium of biggest boilovers, but given their massive injury toll it was a remarkable performance.

Their back three went into the side with just five games of NRL experience in total – all of those coming from rookie winger Jake Mamo, with brothers Sione Mata'utia at fullback and Chanel Mata'utia on the wing making their debuts together. The trio were admirable in covering for the far more experienced Darius Boyd (absent – personal issues), Akuila Uate (knee) and James McManus (ankle).

With captain and hooker or halfback Kurt Gidley ruled out with a groin issue, they lost five-eighth and senior playmaker Jarrod Mullen to an abdominal strain halfway through the game, placing even more pressure on halfback Tyrone Roberts, who produced one of the best performances of his young career to see the Knights home.

He will have skipper Kurt Gidley back alongside him this week, returning at five-eighth in a straight swap for Mullen in the only change. Last week's rookie back three each get another run with none of their more senior counterparts returning.

The Rabbitohs may have steamrolled a woeful Raiders outfit down in Canberra on Monday but the win comes at a cost, with captain and five-eighth John Sutton (medial strain) ruled out for at least a fortnight and possibly as long as six weeks.
Origin back-rower Ben Te'o has been rubbed out for a week following his dangerous throw on Jarrod Croker, and Sam Burgess has been named despite leaving the field with a shoulder injury on Monday.

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Watch Out Rabbitohs: Pressure can do interesting things to professional sportspeople. It can be crippling, or it can help them reach new heights. Fortunately for Newcastle, young halfback Tyrone Roberts seems to be firmly in the latter camp. Against the premiers last Friday, with no other Knights playmakers within cooee of the field of play, Roberts produced a deft pass to send Beau Scott into space then supported to score the try that drew his team level, then supported a Willie Mason line break to earn a brace. But the piece de resistance, with just two minutes remaining and his side trailing by two points, was a deft grubber for Joey Leilua's match-winner. With Gidley back this week Roberts won't have as much pressure on him but should be riding a wave of confidence after last week's efforts.

Watch Out Knights: Much has been made of the vaunted Rabbitohs pack and its battery of Burgesses, but there are few players in the NRL in better form than young centre Dylan Walker. In his past four games he hasn't run for fewer than 160 metres, or broken fewer than six tackles. Overall he has 66 tackle breaks this year from 15 games, making him ninth overall, and most of the players ahead of him have played more games. Since moving from five-eighth to centre he has run over 100 metres in nine of 12 games and also has nine tries, six try assists and 10 line break assists. Those stats don't include his superb efforts in this year's City v Country fixture and at just 19 he looks to have a long representative future ahead of him.

Plays To Watch: Tackle-busting Knights centre Joey Leilua can have a bit of 'rocks-or-diamonds' about him but when he gets it right he can be a real handful. His massive charge last week led to Willie Mason's line break for Roberts' try that broke a 6-all deadlock before he scored the late match-winner. When his confidence is up he can create something out of nothing so keep an eye out for some strong early runs which could indicate he's in for a big one.

For the Rabbitohs, we get another look at the Reynolds-Keary halves combination that Maguire had originally earmarked for Round 1. With no Sutton around as a fall-back option Reynolds should take the bulk of the kicking and organising duties with Keary supporting and providing some spark.

Where It Will Be Won: Defensive sets. And more specifically, how the Knights contain the Rabbitohs.  While these sides each inflict around 34 missed tackles per week on their opponents – making them the two best tackle-busting sides in the competition – the Rabbitohs miss just 20 of their own to make them the best in the comp while the Knights miss 34 per game to make them second worst. Each of these sides also run for around 1450 metres per week but while Newcastle concede a competition third-worst 1507 metres per game, the Bunnies are letting opponents run just 1389 metres per game – making them fourth best.
 
The History: Played 35; Rabbitohs 10, Knights 25.The long-form history certainly favours the Knights, with the Bunnies winning just three of their first 22 meetings against the Novocastrians. They have all the recent momentum though with six wins in their past nine against the Knights, including the past three on the bounce – you have to go back to September 2011 for a Newcastle win over South Sydney.
This will be the second NRL game hosted by Barlow Park – the first was won by South Sydney against the Titans last year.

What Are The Odds: Two-thirds of the hold is with the Rabbitohs ($1.32) in this one, however Sportsbet is receiving more individual bets on outsiders Newcastle ($3.40). The Knights are proving three times as popular in line betting, receiving 9.5. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.

Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Henry Perenara; Touch Judges – Michael Wise & Adam Reid; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Paul Mellor.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed, 4pm.

The Way We See It: Both sides have shown some pretty decent form of late and have been hit by a few significant injuries, and the venue shouldn't really favour either side. The Knights have shocked a few tipsters of late – they've won four of their past five and the only loss in that run, at home to the Titans in the RiseForAlex Round, was also the only one of those they were widely expected to win. If they can reproduce last week's giant-killing form they're a chance again but we'll play it safe and go with the Bunnies to make it three clinical wins on the trot. Rabbitohs by 12.
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