South Sydney’s embarrassment of riches will be the dilemma for the Titans this week
Rabbitohs v Titans
Barlow Park, Cairns
A clash of the titans, so to speak, heads north for Round 14 with ladder-leading South Sydney taking their latest home game to Barlow Park in Cairns. No doubt the temperature will take some getting used to for both sides at this time of year but with the Rabbitohs setting the pace in 2013 and the Gold Coast rapidly moving up the ladder it is the football itself that promises to be truly scorching.
This has been a stunning season from Souths to this point. Coming off a successful 2012 when they reached the finals for just the second time since 1989, Michael Maguire’s men have hit new heights this year on the back of a monstrous forward pack and lethal backline.
That’s the dilemma for the Titans this week – South Sydney’s embarrassment of riches. Take George Burgess, for example. The younger brother of Rabbitohs enforcer Sam, he made his NRL debut at the start of the year and has quickly built a cult following on the back of the barnstorming runs that have already produced five memorable tries from his 12 appearances.
Less surprising is the form of fullback Greg Inglis although even he has taken it to a new level this season. So devastating has he been with the ball in hand that there were even calls from some quarters for him to replace Billy Slater as Maroons fullback for the State of Origin opener.
And halves pairing John Sutton and Adam Reynolds continue to pull the strings, with Reynolds showing maturity beyond his years and Sutton playing the best football of his 10-year career.
The Gold Coast have probably been the quiet achievers of this year’s Telstra Premiership, having gone about their business with little fuss and gradually moved up to fifth on the ladder in the process.
After two disastrous seasons in 2011 and 2012, they desperately needed to find a solution this season and have done so from the most unlikely of sources.
Albert Kelly has had his off-field problems during stints at Parramatta, Cronulla and Newcastle but has proved a revelation since landing on the Gold Coast. The Titans looked an ageing and weary side last season but Kelly – playing alongside fellow youngster Aidan Sezer – has provided some much-needed spark.
That energy seems to have run through the entire squad, with Jamal Idris finally back to his best and their sizeable pack dominating again.
But having easily accounted for Parramatta and North Queensland in their past two outings, they will have to take it to a whole new level if they are to halt South Sydney’s run.
The Rabbitohs welcome back their State of Origin trio of Inglis, Ben Te’o and Chris McQueen this week, with Nathan Merritt moving back to the wing and Bryson Goodwin back into the centres in place of Beau Champion.
Sam Burgess is also back which means an entirely new back row from the side that beat Newcastle last start with Te’o and McQueen alongside him.
The Gold Coast also welcome back three players from Origin with Greg Bird, Nate Myles and Ashley Harrison all back in the starting 13. Their return sees Ryan James, Luke Douglas and Dave Taylor drop back to the bench with Mark Ioane, Jamie Dowling and Shane Gray out of the squad.
This will be just the third time an NRL game has been played in Cairns and the first time it hasn’t involved North Queensland.
Titans speedster Kevin Gordon needs just two more for 200 career tackle-breaks and already boasts a good record against Souths with three wins from four games.
Rabbitohs five-eighth Sutton will join club great John Sattler as the fourth most-experienced player in their history with 195 games.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Just like his performance in State of Origin I for NSW, Titans back-rower Greg Bird represents a huge danger to South Sydney’s spot at the top of the ladder. Bird has been inspirational in 2013. He averaged more metres than any other Gold Coast player with 143 and has proved a real handful with the ball in hand, adding 24 tackle-breaks and 19 offloads.
Watch Out Titans: Can the Gold Coast stop the Burgess brothers? As a team in South Sydney’s forward pack, the British boys have been brilliant this season with Sam averaging 137 metres per game and George 132. They are also averaging 30 and 21 tackles respectively and have combined for a whopping 87 tackle-breaks!
Plays To Watch: The Titans love a set play and they produced two mightily impressive ones on their left against Parramatta three weeks ago that are worth watching for. The first was a double second-man play followed by a short ball to the centre charging straight ahead. The second began with a second-man play but then fooled the opposition with an old-fashioned runaround to produce the overlap and send Brad Takairangi over for a try untouched. Keep an eye on the Gold Coast when they set themselves in attack.
Where It Will Be Won: This is all about the big men. South Sydney’s pack is as intimidating as they get – full of size, power and aggression. In fact, with the exception of Dave Tyrrell – all starting forwards are either Test or Origin stars. But if there is one side that can match them for that sort of strike it is the Titans, with four of their starting six having played for Australia – and big Dave Taylor coming off the bench!
The History: Played 8; Rabbitohs 4, Titans 4. Incredibly, only 10 points separates these two sides from all eight clashes combined. Souths will be looking to make it three in a row against the Titans and there is no doubt they love their Sunday afternoon footy, having won their past eight games.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Luke Potter; Video Referees – Chris Ward & Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 2pm.
The Way We See It: The Gold Coast have made significant strides this season and have been particularly impressive the past few weeks but they face a tough task against a South Sydney outfit back at full strength. The Rabbitohs aren’t leading the competition for no reason and they love a game of footy on a Sunday afternoon. We think they’ll prove too strong. Rabbitohs by 12 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats