Rabbitohs v Titans
The last thing that the Titans needed on Saturday night was to see the Rabbitohs get burned off at the flag drop by a Cowboys outfit desperately trying to reignite their finals aspirations and then fail to run them down in the dying stages.
Following four straight wins and a bye it was the type of game the Rabbitohs should have been right up for but, just like they did 12 months earlier, North Queensland gave the Bunnies a mid-season kick up the bum that will have fuelled South Sydney coach Michael Maguire's passion for a thorough preparation for this one.
The Rabbitohs have a losing record at ANZ Stadium so far in 2014 (3-4), the same record the Titans boast from their seven trips to the game's largest stadium since their inception in 2007.
They have to go back to 2010 for the last time they defeated South Sydney in Sydney and the Titans' task of avoiding a club-record seven-straight defeats has been made even more imposing with the loss of Origin stars Greg Bird, Nate Myles and Dave Taylor.
The Rabbitohs themselves aren't unaffected by Origin, with Greg Inglis and Ben Te'o in camp with the Maroons, but while they can keep the core of their team on the park they present a formidable challenge to any team they come up against.
In the wash-up little separated the Bunnies and Cowboys last weekend both statistically and on the scoreboard but you can bet that Maguire will spend much of this week focus on a brand of football that gives the Titans few opportunities to apply pressure, particularly in the first half.
The Titans have had two weeks to get over their one-point loss to the Dragons in Round 15 but won't have forgotten the 40-18 thumping the Rabbitohs dished out at Cbus Super Stadium back in Round 9.
Taylor's inclusion in the Maroons squad for Game Three will prevent him from lining up against his former club while James Roberts, another former Bunny, will play his third game for his new club.
Speaking of milestones for former Bunnies, Titans back-rower Mark Minichiello plays game No.250 on Monday night, he and Anthony now just one of three sets of brothers to each play at least 250 top grade games (Steve and Chris Mortimer, Steve and Kevin Walters).
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Ever since injuring his hamstring against the Raiders in Round 3, William Zillman has been forced to defend his position as the Titans' No.1 choice at fullback. David Mead's form in Zillman's absence forced the reliable custodian to come back into the side in the centres but for the past four weeks has returned to his more favoured position at the back. While his side has suffered loss after loss, Zillman has increased his involvement and has averaged a tick over 100 running metres per game. He was perhaps guilty of trying to do a little too much in Daniel Mortimer's first game for the club against the Storm in Round 15 but with two weeks of training together they should be a more potent combination on the edges. Expect him to target Rabbitohs centre Kyle Turner and his defensive combination with rookie winger Alex Johnston.
Watch Out Titans: Providing George Burgess is not a late inclusion on Monday night the Titans won't have to worry about seeing double but the job of containing twin brother Thomas is no less daunting. George has had a field day in his past two matches against the Titans but an ankle injury keeps him on the sideline and gives Thomas a second straight spot in the starting team for the first time in his NRL career. In the past four weeks he is averaging more than 126 metres per game but has only made a single tackle break in four of his five games thus far in 2014. With George missing again and coming off a disappointing loss to the Cowboys, Thomas needs to stamp himself on proceedings early and give his side the forward thrust they need to play their best football.
Plays To Watch: The propensity of these two teams to generate second-phase football is inversely proportional to their positions on the ladder. Titans coach John Cartwright said after the loss to the Dragons that their eagerness to offload is a key to an attack that has scored more points than only the Sharks thus far in 2014. On the other hand, the Rabbitohs' methodical method has seen them offload in traffic 56 less times than the Titans to be ranked 15th for the stat in the competition. For the Titans to win their offloads have to significantly disrupt the third-best defence in the competition while the Rabbitohs will drive through the middle third of the field relentlessly in order to give Koroisau, Luke, Reynolds and Sutton the platform to create.
Where It Will Be Won: The elevation of Apisai Koroisau into the starting team at the expense of Kiwi international Issac Luke is evidence enough that Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire is looking for more energy around the dummy-half area from the opening whistle. Titans No.9 Beau Falloon also drives much of the enthusiasm around the ruck and from the defensive line and loves to engage the markers before playing short to a charging forward. Falloon and Mortimer have been working closely together since the former Rooster's arrival on the Gold Coast so don't be surprised to see the nippy No.7 pushing up in support when his hooker darts out of dummy-half. The Rabbitohs will push in behind the Titans' markers all night; how they handle it and counter themselves will determine whether the visitors can cause an upset.
The History: For the second game in a row the Titans have been drawn to play two nights before an Origin fixture and a Monday night at Homebush in winter with below-strength teams will put the record low crowd between these two teams of 8,021 under severe threat. The good news for Bunnies fans who do make the effort is that their team has won the past five encounters with the Titans by a combined scoreline of 155-72. The last time the Titans defeated South Sydney in Sydney was a 19-18 victory in Round 2, 2010.
What Are The Odds:
Souths are $1.23 into $1.12 at Sportsbet.com.au. The Titans are $6.05 into $5.75, with three times the interest in the Gold Coast. Titans better backed at the 16.5 line. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee – Gavin Reynolds; Touch Judges – Adam Reid and Grant Atkins; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy and Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
The Way We See It: Despite their disjointed performance against the Cowboys last start it's hard not to see the home side running out convincing winners in this one and extending the Titans' losing streak to seven. The loss of Inglis is significant for South Sydney and the benching of Issac Luke should ensure he brings plenty of energy when he is introduced into the game. The Titans would love nothing more to turn this into an ugly, stop-start battle of attrition but even then they may not have the points in them to register a win. Rabbitohs by 14 points.