Ben Blaschke,, NRL.com
Rabbitohs v Raiders
At a time when the Raiders desperately need some good news to put the memory of a horror few weeks behind them, the prospect of facing the table-topping Rabbitohs isn’t one they will welcome.
South Sydney’s 30-10 win over struggling Parramatta last Sunday was not only their 10th win from 12 outings this season, it was also enough to propel them three points clear of second-placed Melbourne as they look to secure their first minor premiership since 1989.
That win over the Eels was significant, too. Sure, the NRL cellar dwellers aren’t going to figure in finals discussions this year, and the absence of Jarryd Hayne was a crushing blow, but likewise Souths was without Greg Inglis, Nathan Merritt, Chris McQueen and Ben Te’o. Their absence did nothing to stop the Rabbitohs juggernaut and coach Michael Maguire will have been particularly pleased with how the rest of the squad stepped up to fill the void.
The bad news for Canberra is that Inglis, Merritt, McQueen and Te’o will all be on board this weekend (fitness permitting) and it will take a huge effort for the Green Machine to stop them.
The most impressive aspect of the Rabbitohs’ play this season is the fact that they present so many threats across the park. While fellow competition hotshots Melbourne have a particular reliance on their ‘big three’, Souths showed last week that losing a player of Inglis’ calibre only opens the door for halves John Sutton and Adam Reynolds to step up to the plate. Or hooker Issac Luke. And their pack is a genuine weapon: even with George Burgess stood down for a few weeks there always seemed to be another Burgess brother to fill the void – including the devastating running of English international Sam.
Conversely, Canberra have endured a miserable couple of weeks which began with star centre Blake Ferguson being stood down indefinitely following his big night out with Josh Dugan, didn’t get much better with prop David Shillington dumped from the Queensland squad, and ended on a low note when they threw away a late lead to lose to the Wests Tigers.
The Raiders must look at this game as an opportunity. At times this season they have looked like shrugging off the frustrating inconsistency that has plagued them for so long, only to produce a poor performance that nobody could have predicted. But as they find themselves lingering on the fringes of the top eight, there could be no better time to make a statement than against the competition benchmark.
There is no doubt Canberra has the talent to do so, either. Their pack has long ranked amongst the biggest in the Telstra Premiership, captain Terry Campese is starting to find his feet again after the best part of two years out of the game young centre Jack Wighton is one of the NRL’s best prospects.
What a shame they don’t have Ferguson there at the moment to really test the Rabbitohs’ defence.
Souths coach Michael Maguire has named his four Origin stars in the starting 13 although he has included an extra four players on an extended bench that includes Tom Burgess, Justin Hunt, Luke Keary and Josh Starling.
Brett White has been ruled out for up to three weeks with a fractured eye socket, with David Shillington moving into the starting line-up and Sam Mataora coming onto the bench. Josh Papalii has been named to return to the side after making his debut for Queensland on Wednesday night.
Greg Inglis is a threat to any team he plays but the Raiders know all too well how lethal he can be. His 16 tries from 13 previous games is the most by any player against the Green Machine and he has lost just once in that time.
A Souths win would be their 50th at ANZ Stadium from 93 games. Notably, it took 158 games to reach that same milestone at Allianz Stadium.
Winger Nathan Merritt will equal club legend John Sattler as the fifth most capped Souths player of all time with 195 games.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Souths will need to make sure they keep a straight defensive line on their kick-chases, because Raiders fullback Reece Robinson has shown repeatedly this season that he can be lethal if facing a broken line. He punished Brisbane three weeks ago with a brilliant stutter-step that began a length of the field movement and is a constant threat with the ball in hand. Since donning the No.1 jersey full time in 2013, Robinson has averaged 142 metres per game, scored five tries, made six line-breaks and added 60 tackle-breaks (fourth in the NRL).
Watch Out Raiders: It has been a big year for South Sydney’s home grown hero John Sutton this year. The five-eighth has long possessed the potential to become a real leader at the club and has finally lived up to that mantle under the guidance of coach Michael Maguire. In particular, Sutton’s running game has been a real feature in 2013. He has averaged 104 metres per game and his eight tries is only bettered by noted try scorers Nathan Merritt (10) and Greg Inglis (9). The Raiders will need to be awake to the danger.
Plays To Watch: Adam Reynolds’ short kicking game is arguably the best in the business. Boasting incredible accuracy and the ability to spot an opportunity, he is particularly adept at the cross-field chip to his open wingers and can even do so on the run when his opponents least expect it.
Where It Will Be Won: This clash brings two of the biggest packs in the NRL together and this is where Canberra will need to make their stand if they are to stop the Rabbitohs’ lethal backline having a field day. The clash of the props will be intriguing with David Shillington out to prove a point to Maroons selectors although we’re particularly keen to see fellow Queenslanders Josh Papalii and Chris McQueen go head to head just days after turning out together in State of Origin.
The History: Played 46; Raiders 27, Rabbitohs 19. Canberra have not won at ANZ Stadium since 2010 and have conceded at least 36 points in all three games played there in that time. However, since 2003 Canberra have averaged 26.6 points per game against the Bunnies – their best performance against any team.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Jason Walsh; Video Referee – Bernard Sutton & Luke Patten.
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Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm.
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The Way We See It: It’s hard to see Canberra causing Souths too many problems here – although far stranger things have happened. As it stand, the Rabbitohs are playing too well, have too many weapons across the park and too many points in them for a Raiders outfit missing some key players and struggling to find any consistency away from home. Rabbitohs by 12 points.