Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers
If the last match between the Tigers and Rabbitohs is anything to go by then don't be surprised to see Rabbitohs firebrand Sam Burgess standing in the middle of ANZ Stadium yelling "This is Sparta!" on Friday night.
It was Round 3 when these teams last met where the Tigers prevailed 25-16. A fixture that saw five men placed on-report, three concussed, numerous scuffles and two players sent to the sin-bin in a game where the Tigers absolutely ambushed the Rabbitohs through sheer forward power.
While it's a damn shame that Chris McQueen, Aaron Woods, Greg Inglis, Robbie Farah and Ben Te'o will all miss this game due to Origin duty with their respective states, there's still enough fire power throughout both squads to ensure that these lads will be revved up for another big encounter.
While it was considered an upset back in Round 3, the Tigers have proved that it was no fluke since as they remain in the top eight at the halfway point of the year. The Rabbitohs though have bounced back to some miraculous form in the last month, winning their last three games against the Sharks, Dragons and Warriors by large margins.
In team changes, South Sydney's Origin trio Inglis, Te'o and McQueen have been replaced by Nathan Merritt, Ben Lowe and Joe Picker respectively. Alex Johnston and Bryson Goodwin have been named out wide despite their injury concerns. Sam Burgess has been shifted to the back row while Dylan Walker is out for four to six weeks with a thumb injury.
For the Tigers, Farah and Woods are replaced by Joel Luani and Ava Seumanufagai with Martin Taupau named in the starting team. Curtis Sironen replaces Liam Fulton (concussion) with Dene Halatau returning on the bench while Sitaleki Akauola and Keith Lulia make up the extended interchange.
Note NRL Junior and Officials passes will be accepted to all Round 14 games.
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Watch out Rabbitohs: The Tigers finally had that winning feeling back after their 23-20 win over Newcastle away from home last Sunday afternoon. After losing three of their previous four games the Tigers punched out a win when the momentum was truly in the opposition's favour for the better half of the game.
It was by no coincidence that the Tigers managed to get their season back on track following the return of James Tedesco. The 21-year-old fullback returned to the NRL for his first game back since reneging on his deal with the Canberra Raiders.
His combination with Luke Brooks, who pushed his try assists to 11 and line break assists to eight, proved extremely fruitful as Tedesco racked up a line-break, a try assist, two line break assists, eight tackle breaks, a try and 194 metres.
The last time these two teams played Brooks and Tedesco combined for a scintillating try which saw Brooks grubber back inside to his racing fullback. The Rabbitohs will have to be on the lookout again if they are to suppress this duo.
Watch out Tigers: The Rabbitohs are slowly, but surely, growing in attacking stature. Disappointed by the fact they didn't produce more points in their 18-nil shutout against the Sharks in Round 11, they have been impressive in their last two outings, amassing 63 points.
With John Sutton and Adam Reynolds building towards being a more cohesive halves pairing, the return of hooker Issac Luke from a shoulder injury (coincidentally suffered against the Tigers earlier in the season) has boosted the Bunnies exponentially. Luke has had his hands on the ball 86 times in each of his two games since his return.
With Apisai Koroisau on the bench, Luke's other key statistics are slightly down though this will continue to build as his confidence and fitness returns. The sharp rake is producing an average of 19 tackles and 84.5 metres since re-entering the fray as well as cleanly racking up a further two try assists and two line break assists.
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Plays To Watch: Simple sometimes just does the trick. Just ask Rabbitohs prop Dave Tyrrell who doubled the amount of tries he's scored in the NRL against the Warriors last weekend with two simplistic four pointers. Issac Luke was able to pick off Tyrrell twice with brilliant passes from dummy-half, though the hole-running from the unlikely scorer was absolutely spot on.
Pat Richards is proving to be the magic man for the Tigers this year with his miraculous kicking skills. Whether it has been his incredible kick-offs, pinpoint conversations and ridiculous field goals, Richards has proven to be the difference in more ways than one this season. Case in point: the Knights scored more tries than the Tigers last round yet thanks to Richards, Wests were able to come away with a three-point win.
Where It Will Be Won: Direction and power are key. Unfortunately for the Tigers, captain Farah and Woods play a big part in these two notions and won't be available on Friday night. While the Rabbitohs will miss Te'o, McQueen and Inglis in their own way, Reynolds, Luke and Sutton will guide them around the park, while the Burgess boys will supply forward momentum so greatly absent in Round 3. The Tigers will need to be up for the occasion again.
The History: Played 23; Rabbitohs 13, Tigers 10. When studying the form guide, the Tigers’ 25-16 win in Round 3 proved to be quite an upset. Since 2010, the Tigers have only won two from their past nine games against Souths. Adding to the nature of the upset, four of these Tigers losses have been by 13 or more points.
What Are The Odds: Head-to-head money running at almost seven to one to Souths with Sportsbet.com.au but they’ve drifted from $1.22 to $1.32. Tigers firmed from $4.10 into $3.30 following their win over the Knights on Sunday.
Match Officials: Referee - Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee - Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials - Steve Carrall & Michael Wise; Video Referees - Jared Maxwell & Henry Perenara.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live: 7:30pm.
The Way We See It: Each of these teams will be counting their losses due to injury and Origin duty. When you take into account who remains, the Rabbitohs look slightly stronger on paper. With Sam and George Burgess still brimming with pure aggression and Tigers missing their main metre-eater in Aaron Woods, they may struggle. Rabbitohs to avenge their last start defeat against the Tigers to win by 10.