Rabbitohs v Raiders
OK, hands up who expected these two sides to be entering Round 4 level on the ladder with one win apiece?
In what is already a topsy-turvy season of results, that is the situation the side that were competition front-runners and a side some are still tipping for the wooden spoon find themselves in.
After swamping the premiers in Round 1 the Bunnies have been shocked by Manly and then, in one of the boilovers of the season, a very impressive Wests Tigers outfit last week.
The Burgess brothers have been making more impact on headlines than opposition forwards, with Manly's Jason King and Wests Tiger Aaron Woods taking the fire right up to the Yorkshiremen, with impressive results.
The Rabbitohs have also been hampered by a series of injuries – Chris McQueen was excellent on their left edge in Round 1 but hasn't featured since due to an ankle injury, although he has been named this week.
Five-eighth Dylan Walker, himself a replacement for the injured Luke Keary, appeared hampered in the red and green's Round 2 loss and didn't feature last week, and he has also been named to return.
However in a massive blow for the cardinal and myrtle, gun Kiwi hooker Issac Luke picked up a shoulder injury last week and could be out for as long as 10 weeks. His place in the starting side has been taken by promising Fijian rake Apisai Koroisau. The 21-year-old will be making his NRL debut although he has played four Tests for Fiji.
John Sutton has been moved from five-eighth back to lock, while the returning players force Ben Te'o and Joe Picker to the bench and Nathanial Neale to an extended interchange along with Kirisome Auva'a. Luke Burgess was dropped to NSW Cup to play for North Sydney.
The Raiders can consider themselves a little unlucky in defeat – they completed 93 per cent of their sets last week, making fewer errors and being awarded more penalties.
In the end it was some high-class Titans defence and a couple of freakish tries to in-from half Albert Kelly that denied the Green Machine, who have made two changes – workhorse lock and NRL Fantasy gun Shaun Fensom returns, pushing Paul Vaughan to the pine and Matt McIlwrick back to NSW Cup, and Bill Tupou replaces the injured Edrick Lee on the wing.
Public transport to and from ANZ Stadium for this match is free.
Also, the Rabbitohs have announced a Family Fun Day for Sunday, with $40 general admission tickets for two adults and two kids, a relay on the field between Rabbitohs and Raiders fans, an opportunity for seven lucky fans to take part in a game of touch footy against Rabbitohs legends including Mario Fenech, and other prizes and giveaways including the chance to win a trip to Perth for the club's Round 13 match against the Warriors.
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Watch Out Rabbitohs: Electric fullback Anthony Milford is showing everyone why Canberra were so desperate to keep him in the nation's capital. Milford has racked up a season-high 18 tackle-breaks in three games, running an average of 143 metres per game, with one try and two try assists. There is no doubt he is Canberra's X-factor and with a couple of Souths' own X-factors in Luke and Inglis either injured or under a cloud Milford could break this game wide open.
Watch Out Raiders: For the first time since Round 1 the Bunnies go in with both Walker and McQueen on deck and that spells danger for Canberra through the middle. The pair looked to be forming a very intuitive combination in Round 1, with some sublime short balls from Walker sending McQueen through the Roosters line at tricky angles resulting in one long line break and almost a late try (which ended up being the play on which McQueen's ankle was folded beneath him). Having these two back on deck is massive for the Rabbitohs.
Plays To Watch: The aforementioned Walker short ball to a wide-running McQueen on the left edge will be a feature, and doubly dangerous if Inglis is fully fit and able to sweep through the back of the play cleaning up scraps and getting one on one with Milford.
For Canberra the developing partnership between halves Terry Campese and Jack Wighton will see Wighton produce some more instinctive play close to the line, particularly in terms of ball running, as well as short passing and kicking.
Where It Will Be Won: The home straight. Or more generally, the second half – the Raiders have been starting on fire then getting run down badly, while the Rabbitohs have been starting way too slowly before working their way into it. The Raiders scored first in their first two games and held first-half leads in every game, but were badly outscored in the second halves of their two losses 18-nil and 18-six, and even trailed against the Knights with 15 minutes to go until they were saved by two late tries. Meanwhile the Bunnies were level with the Roosters at half time before launching a second-half blitz, narrowed the gap against the Tigers in last week's loss and looked a stronger side in a drawn second half with Manly, going down by the two-point deficit they had taken into half time. On current form you'd back the Rabbitohs to track down whatever lead Canberra can generate early so the Raiders will need to stay with them through the back end of this one.
The History: Played 48; South Sydney 21, Canberra 27. Canberra racked up some good numbers against Souths in the '80s and '90s when they had such a dominant team but Souths are coming back, having won the last five on the bounce. Souths hold a 4-3 advantage at ANZ Stadium.
What Are The Odds: The money coming in at Sportsbet.com.au suggests this one will play out as expected, with the Rabbitohs clear $1.36 favourites. There has been some punter interest in the Raiders at $3 who represent some value.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Grant Atkins; Touch Judges – Jeff Younis & Adam Reid; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Paul Mellor.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live, 2pm.
The Way We See It: Although they did scrape a win in Newcastle the Raiders aren't renowned travellers and the Bunnies will have a massive point to prove after being manhandled two weeks in a row. We don't discount Canberra by any stretch but you feel the Rabbitohs really should be able to control this one. Souths by 10 points.
*Statistics: Champion Data.
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