Greg Prichard, NRL.com
Titans v Rabbitohs
The Rabbitohs may still be on top of the competition table after their shock loss to the Dragons last Monday night, but they have lost their hold on premiership favouritism to the second-placed Roosters. The fact superstar fullback Greg Inglis is out for anywhere up to eight weeks with a knee injury sustained playing in State of Origin III would have had had an impact on the betting as well.
The 22-18 loss to the Dragons in golden point extra time was only the third defeat of the season for the Rabbitohs. They looked to be headed for a sixth straight win when they led 18-6 well into the second half, but then the Dragons scored tries in the 70th and 73rd minutes to take it beyond normal time, and winger Brett Morris scored in the 83rd minute to win the match. It was like a punch to the gut for the Rabbitohs.
But each time the Rabbitohs have lost this season, they have reacted with a win in the following round, and the Titans will be expecting them to bounce back strongly and be determined to put the disappointment of the loss to the Dragons behind them immediately.
The Titans are in the midst of their worst losing run of the season. They have lost three straight, to the Knights (46-16), Panthers (40-18) and Sea Eagles (38-20). Coach John Cartwright appeared relatively upbeat and looking for positives after the loss to the Sea Eagles, but he must be worried as the pressure mounts on his team to string a few wins together and get back into the top eight.
The Titans are in 10th place, two competition points outside of the top eight. The middle of the table is so congested they are actually only two points from fifth. But since they won three straight from the second to fourth rounds they have been unable to get on a decent roll.
The Titans have brought Brad Takairangi in at centre, replacing Steve Michaels. Second-rower Greg Bird and prop Nate Myles return to the starting forward pack, and second-rower Mark Minichiello is promoted from the bench to start. Dave Taylor, Luke Douglas and Ben Ridge all drop to what is a six-man bench.
The Rabbitohs have named an unchanged 17.
Watch Out Titans: This one is going to be about attitude for the Rabbitohs. The Titans are going to have to be ready for their opponents to come out hard and keep the intensity up for 80 minutes after it was missing for too much of the game against the Dragons. Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire will have stuck it to his team after that game, and they will look to respond on the field.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: The Titans are doing it tough without injured backline stars William Zillman and Jamal Idris, which means the pressure is on halves Aidan Sezer and Albert Kelly to do even more to try to make things happen in attack. They won't mind that. They are the sort of players who can conjure up a try when it looks like nothing is on, and they will open the bag of tricks here.
Plays To Watch: Titans forward Bird made 19 offloads in his first 10 games this season, including at least one in each of those games, but has come up with none in his past four. He won't stay dormant in that area for much longer, particularly when the Titans badly need his guile.
Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds has a great kicking game from close to the opposition line, and five-eighth John Sutton can hoist a mighty high bomb. They are going to put Titans fullback Jordan Rankin, who is playing just his second first-grade game of the season, under a lot of pressure.
Key Match-Up: Titans hooker Matt Srama made four line-breaks in his first four games this season, but has made none in 10 games since. Rabbitohs hooker Issac Luke made no line-breaks in his first nine games, but has made four in his past eight. Both know how to sneak through – it is just a matter of picking the right time.
Where It Will be Won: The Titans, with their weakened backline, can't hope to win unless they can at least match the powerful Rabbitohs forward pack. And even then it would be difficult. Hard-heads Bird, Myles and Luke Bailey have each got to put in huge efforts for the Titans against the likes of Roy Asotasi, Ben Te'o, Chris McQueen and the Burgess brothers – Sam and George.
The History: Played 9; Rabbitohs 5, Titans 4. The Rabbitohs have won the past three clashes, including the most recent clash at this venue.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Chris Butler; Video Referees – Chris Ward & Neil Wharton.
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Televised: Live – Fox Sports, 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: This is a huge game for the Titans as they try to make a run at the finals, but the absence of Idris and Zillman hurts a lot. The Rabbitohs will be stinging from their loss to the Dragons. It may be a short turnaround for them, but they would probably prefer to get out there again as soon as possible. The Rabbitohs are going to want this one bad. Rabbitohs by 10 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.