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Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers preview

Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers
ANZ Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

How quickly things change in rugby league. Just two years ago, South Sydney were strugglers and the Wests Tigers were one of the hottest teams in the competition – now the Bunnies are first on the ladder and the Tigers are last!

The Rabbitohs have proven the success story of the 2013 season – they’ve won eight of their nine matches and their form has many experts predicting glory will indeed return to South Sydney. Their premiership resurgence has been built around the career-best form of their ‘spine’ – fullback Greg Inglis, five-eighth John Sutton, halfback Adam Reynolds and hooker Issac Luke – as well as the coming of age of other squad members and the tactical nous of second-year coach Michael Maguire. And they’re only just beginning!

The Tigers, on the other hand, have been crippled by a cruel injury toll that has a host of their stars – including Braith Anasta, Chris Lawrence, Blake Ayshford, Keith Galloway and Tim Moltzen – currently sidelined. New coach Mick Potter has been left to name a second-string side for most matches this year and, by the time he gets his full complement of players back, the Tigers’ season could be all over. For his charges, who’ve won just two matches in 2013, it’s now or never to mount their own resurgence.

Rabbitohs coach Maguire has made one change to the line-up that defeated the Cowboys 28-10 last week. Justin Hunt has been selected on the wing in place of the suspended Andrew Everingham, who misses two matches after making high contact with North Queensland fullback Matt Bowen.
Tigers coach Potter, meanwhile has named Liam Fulton at five-eighth to partner Curtis Sironen in the halves after last week’s loss to Cronulla. That’s right! Superstar Benji Marshall – Mr One Million Dollars A Season – has been named on a five-man interchange bench. It’s a pull-your-finger-out-boys statement if ever we’ve seen one! As a result, Bodene Thompson has been shifted to the starting pack, with Ava Seumanufagai named on a five-man interchange bench.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: Marshall’s benching sends a huge message to all players across the Tigers’ squad – perform at your best or you’ll be having a rest! Relegating his most influential and most dangerous player could prove a masterstroke by Potter – if his players respond. Expect everyone in Potter’s team to put his best foot forward this Friday night… and expect Marshall to come onto the field one very motivated player, too. That could spell trouble for the Rabbitohs, even if they possess the third-stingiest defence (conceding an average of just 15.4 points per game) in the competition. When jobs are on the line, performances should improve.

Watch Out Wests Tigers: The Rabbitohs could well roll over the top of the Tigers before this game settles into rhythm. South Sydney make the third-most number of metres of any team in the competition (1402.9 metres) – a huge advantage over the wounded Tigers’ pussy cat-like go-forward (just 1192 metres per game). If Potter’s boys are any chance they’ll need to contain the running games of some of the most destructive players in the NRL – Sam Burgess, George Burgess, Inglis and Luke to name a few. And that’s a huge ask.

Plays To Watch: Tigers prop Aaron Woods taking the up-front challenge personally – he’ll look to lead his team through the middle and make one last push for a Blues bench spot; Rabbitohs half Adam Reynolds targeting opposition back three James Tedesco, Matt Utai and Marika Koroibete with the high ball – air raids last week resulted in three tries to the Sharks; the Tigers playing a hot-potato, ad-lib style football – it has looked their most likely source of points in recent weeks.

Key Match-Up: With the wounded Tigers decimated by injuries and with Marshall on the bench, perhaps the only match-up worth a mention is the Issac Luke v Robbie Farah duel. 

The influential No.9s control the tempo for the sides – Luke out of dummy-half with scheming runs and decisive hits; Farah with an unmatched attacking game from the play-the-ball and a kicking game arguably superior to anyone else wearing a No.9. So much rests on the already burdened shoulders of Farah (eight try assists, eight line-break assists, four try assists and 413 tackles in nine games this season). If he can dominate this wonderful one-on-one battle – and generate an inspired performance from his teammates – the Tigers could pull the Rabbits out of their hat… perhaps.

Where It Will Be Won: The second half. The Wests Tigers have been able to stay with a host of high-quality sides in the first 40 minutes of their matches this season – against the Sharks, Dragons and Storm, to name a few – before clocking off. Coach Mick Potter has said it’s simply a matter of concentration – a point that’s surely been drilled into his young charges more than two months into the 2013 competition. Conversely, the Rabbitohs have got going when the going has got tough at the back end of matches, including blowing the Broncos away in Brisbane with 18 points in 11 minutes early in the second half… after trailing at half-time! If the Tigers aim up after half-time, the possibility of an upset will increase dramatically.

The History: Played 20; Rabbitohs 11, Wests Tigers 9. At ANZ Stadium though the ledger is square – the Rabbitohs and Tigers have won three matches apiece.

Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Luke Phillips; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Grant Atkins; Video Referees – Jason Robinson & Matt Rodwell.

NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Rabbitohs v Tigers clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (NSW); Delayed 9.30pm (Qld).

The Way We See It: There’s absolutely, positively no way on earth the Wests Tigers can win here. There’s just too much form – and playing strength – on the side of the Rabbitohs in this clash. That being said though, Penrith did beat the Storm last week. Rabbitohs by plenty – we’ll say 16 points. 

*Statistics: NRL Stats.

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