Warriors v Rabbitohs
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 4pm (NZ Time)

It’s hard to imagine this match being crucial at this point in the year, but take it as read – the side that loses this match will look back at season’s end and see it as a significant turning point. 

Both units are on a run of wins and have some momentum as we hit Origin period. Victory here would extend the positive thoughts, while a loss would see heads drop; so now is the time to get the jump on other teams that have plenty of players missing. Any team that jags a handful of wins over the next six weeks would manoeuvre into a great position for the run to the finals – if not, they’ll be left chasing the pack all the way home.

After a sleepy start to the year it appears the Warriors have finally awoken from their hibernation. Another victory last weekend, against the Knights, made it four in a row, including three successive away wins; their fans now know this team has what it takes when they apply themselves. They have moved to a 6-4 record and are running sixth on the ladder, a great spot to make a surge forward. 

The Rabbitohs have won their past two games, one on either side of a bye. Last week’s demolition of the Wests Tigers was a huge ego boost and has them sitting 10th with a 4-5 record. A win here gives them a chance to move into the top eight but a loss could see them shunted way off the pace – they cannot afford to rest on their laurels. 

The home-side Warriors have surrendered prop Jacob Lillyman to Origin duty, seeing Ben Matulino start in their front row. In other changes, Lewis Brown will start at centre, pushing Shaun Berrigan to the bench; Aaron Heremaia returns to start at hooker, pushing Alehana Mara to the reserves and Sione Lousi, Joel Moon and Ukuma Ta’ai have been added to the bench which has to be culled from seven men.

The Rabbitohs have stuck solid with their side from last weekend for the trip across the Tasman. Nathan Merritt is set to celebrate his 150th match for the Bunnies in the top grade. 

Watch Out Warriors: Dave Taylor has to be angry. Sure, you’ve heard him trot out the lines about just trying to earn a spot back in the Queensland team and how club advisor Gorden Tallis is entitled to his opinion… blah, blah, blah. Make no mistake: Taylor wants his Origin spot back and being 18th man will just fuel the fire. Translation – the Warriors can expect a wrecking ball. 

The assumption from all the squabble-talk is that Taylor doesn’t do enough of the ‘dirty’ work, preferring instead to just pop up on the edges for the glory at the end of a set. So watch him charge into the teeth of the Warriors often, and with purpose. 

He is odds-on to run for more metres than his season average of 78 and he’ll probably add to his three line-breaks, five line-break assists and four try assists. He might even add to his two tries – he’s maybe worth a flutter in first and last tryscorer markets at odds.

Danger Sign: Taylor shines when the Rabbits are attacking close to the line. He’ll pop up on the left edge and look to get one on one with a little man. However, when he steamrolls them perhaps he could do so with a little more humility, rather than mocking the opposition as he did against the Sharks a few weeks ago.  

Watch Out Rabbitohs: Over the past month the Warriors have scored more points than any team (103), showing their attack is really starting to gel. With the recent return of Manu Vatuvei on the left wing they now have even more reason to hit their favoured side in attack, so the Bunnies better prepare for an all-out left-side assault. 

The Warriors have scored 16 tries on the left side of the field and just 10 on the right. All of those 10 have come on the right edge though as they are yet to score in the right corner. There is no particular reason for them to try to break the duck – they will instead continue left, as the Rabbitohs have leaked 19 tries on the left side compared to 12 on the right.

Danger Sign: The ball in the air may be a huge problem for the Rabbitohs. Vatuvei showed against the Knights he can easily out-muscle an opponent in the jump for the ball. Against the capable Akuila Uate he jumped, caught a cross kick and scored despite the Knights’ flyer being in good position to thwart the raid. 

Plays To Watch: Keep an eye out for players taking a crack at the goal-line from dummy-half. These sides have been among the worst in the competition at conceding tries from dummy-half, which gives each other reason to have a go should the defence be napping. 

The Warriors have conceded six tries from dummy-half this year, the Rabbitohs five. Heremaia and Issac Luke will be licking their lips.

Where It Will Be Won: One gets the feeling this match might not be a grinding-type encounter. It could well be won on second-phase and ad-lib footy. The Warriors are averaging their most offloads per game since 2006, with 14.4 – Feleti Mateo is their main man, with 33 this year to rank number one in the NRL. The Rabbitohs average fewer at 11.7 a game but with guys like John Sutton in the team they can promote the ball as well as anyone. Also, Chris Sandow was sparkling against the Tigers last week and he loves off-the-cuff play. 

The match might produce a good number of errors but countering that we are just as likely to see plenty of points, despite the fact neither team has posted massive numbers this year. If the weather is good this shapes as a real attacking shootout, where the losing team could go close to scoring 30 points. 

The History: Played 22; Warriors 15, Rabbitohs 7. Not that long ago the Rabbitohs were the Warriors’ ‘bunnies’ but in recent times they have turned the tables. The have won four of the past five against the Kiwi-based side, their sole loss by just two points at this venue last year. The overall head-to-head situation at Mt Smart is 7-4 to the Warriors but once again the Rabbitohs have won two of the past three. 

The average winning margin in the past six contests has been just 4.5 points. But despite their mini-fightback against the Warriors, the Rabbitohs still leak an average 29.6 points against them, making them the Warriors’ favourite opponent. Plus, Souths haven’t won a Round 11 fixture since 1994. That’s a loooong time.

Conclusion: This is a tough one to pick, if only because the Warriors are doing so well and one can’t help but feel their bubble is due to burst soon. They should start favourites and you should still lean towards picking them – but if the Bunnies cross the Tasman with an attitude to score some points they might just ambush them like they did the Wests Tigers. 

Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Phil Haines; Touch Judges – David Abood & Gavin Reynolds; Video Ref – Chris Ward. 

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm AEST.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.

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