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Rabbitohs v Warriors preview

Rabbitohs v Warriors
nib Stadium, Perth
Saturday, 9.30pm (AEST)

A quick scan of the positions the Rabbitohs and Warriors occupy on the NRL ladder won’t do justice to just how appetising this clash between them is.

The stats will tell you that South Sydney are flying in fourth, and New Zealand troubled in 12th. But the reality is that two points is all that separates them and that over the past month they have both hit the type of form we expect from them, despite rough starts to 2014.

Sharing a mutual record over the past five weeks of WWLWW, the Bunnies and Warriors sit among the six most in-form sides heading into Round 13.

The team selections reflect that too, with Michael Maguire making just one change to his squad which beat the Dragons 29-10 on Monday night. Nathan Merritt is back down to NSW Cup and Alex Johnston in to start on the wing.

Andrew McFadden has named an identical line-up to that which thrashed the Knights 38-18 at Mt Smart Stadium last Sunday, with youngsters Tuimoala Lolohea and Charlie Gubb named on an extended bench.

The Warriors adjusted their usual travel schedule to allow for an extra day to acclimatise in Perth and will want to forget their two most recent visits to nib Stadium, where they led at half-time only to collapse in the second period and lose.

The Bunnies have won only two of their five home games so far this year and the Western Australian capital is unlikely to offer them too much comfort, with a huge contingent of ex-pat Kiwis tending to make it feel more like a Warriors home match.

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Watch Out Rabbitohs: The Warriors’ lethal attack continues to simmer away nicely as combinations gel and their style becomes more fluent. The club’s 50 tries over the opening twelve rounds are the most of any team in the competition. With weapons such as Sam Tomkins, Konrad Hurrell and Shaun Johnson all firing, the Warriors made four line breaks last week and are behind only the Roosters in that category, with 63 so far this season.

Prior to McFadden’s arrival as head coach the Warriors were abysmal on the road this year, conceding an average of 29 points and 32 missed tackles in three away matches. But under their new mentor the New Zealand side is much-improved and in their last four away games have leaked only 15 points, winning two of those matches against the Storm and Titans.

Watch Out Warriors: While the Bunnies looked pretty good with the ball in hand last Monday, it is defence which is the feature of their game right now. Only once this season have they conceded more than 28 points (in Round 4 against the Raiders where they lost 30-18), and they have leaked just 10 in their last 160 minutes of football. South Sydney’s 230 missed tackles also ranks as the lowest in the NRL.

Sam Burgess looks like a man determined to leave his mark on rugby league ahead of his departure to union at the end of the year and is showcasing everything that a coach wants from the modern-day forward. Against the Dragons big Sammy ran for 192 metres off 21 runs, scored a try and clocked up 38 tackles for good measure. He leads the competition in hit-ups and hasn’t had a single sub-100 metre game this season.

Get your ticket to NRL Round 13

Plays To Watch: The Manu Vatuvei high ball proved too tough for the Knights to stop last week and netted two tries for the Warriors at crucial stages of the game. Johnson and Chad Townsend are sure to send plenty of towering kicks his way once again and even if he isn’t able to bring the ball in himself, Vatuvei’s bat-back to a waiting teammate is equally deadly. It is a play the Warriors execute better than any side in the competition.

The Burgess boys, Sam, Thomas, George and Luke, are bad news for opposing teams when they get near the try-line. While their obvious attributes are size and strength, it is their determination to get to the chalk which really sets them apart. They have eight tries between them already this year and their presence will ensure plenty of stress for the Warriors when backed up against their own line.

Where It Will Be Won: The middle will be the key, with two big forward packs full of ball-playing ability going head-to-head. Both sides rolled through weaker opponents last week with relative ease, the Rabbitohs going for 1591 metres and the Warriors 1627. Whichever pack can get over the top of their counterparts and establish dominance will dictate the direction of the game and once they get rolling, both sides can involve their dynamic backlines.

The History: Played 27; Warriors 18, South Sydney 9. The Warriors win 66 per cent of the time against the Rabbitohs, a record which is among the club’s best against fellow NRL sides. But the glory days where the New Zealanders enjoyed a massive 12-game streak against Souths from 1999 to 2007 are over - the last two matches have been won by the Bunnies. These two sides have met in Perth once before, with the Rabbitohs running out 30-13 winners in Round 17 of last year.

What Are The Odds: There’s been twice as much money for the Bunnies in head to head at Sportsbet.com.au, but the Warriors have firmed from $2.95 into $2.75. Nearly three times the interest in Warriors at the line receiving 6.5 start.

Match Officials: Referee – Jared Maxwell; Assistant Referee – Dave Munro; Touch Judges – Brett Suttor & Luke Potter; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Matt Rodwell.

Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 9.30pm (AEST). 

The Way We See It: There are few more beautiful sights in rugby league than watching two big-angry forward packs go at each other for 80 minutes and that in itself is reason enough to watch this match. They are two sides in good form and at a neutral venue, which means it is always going to be hard to pick. The Warriors face a seven-hour trip to Perth and history shows that tends to take a toll late in the game. Combine that with the class Souths showed in their last outing and the scales tilt slightly in the Bunnies’ favour. Rabbitohs by four.

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