Nicholas Janzen, NRL.com
Wests Tigers v Rabbitohs
Premiership pretenders up against genuine title contenders: after 24 weeks, season 2013 is nearing completion for Tigers fans – but the fun is just getting started for the Bunnies’ brigade.
In season 2013 the Wests Tigers and South Sydney have endured – and enjoyed – vastly different years.
The Wests Tigers, in their first year under coach Mick Potter, have suffered a wretched run as their position on the ladder (14th) reflects. They’ve been through seven- and six-match losing streaks and won just seven matches all season. And now they’re facing a future without their star playmaker Benji Marshall – off to rugby at the end of the season. Thankfully, last week at least showed some hope for the future, with 18-year-old rookie half Luke Brooks delivering a five-star performance in his first game in the top grade. He helped his team to a rare victory (34-18 against the Dragons), a win that ended their most recent string of losses.
For the Rabbitohs, following years of heartache and a close call in last year’s finals series, it appears as though their glory days might just have come again. With a team boasting the likes of Greg Inglis, the Burgess brothers, John Sutton, Adam Reynolds and Issac Luke, there’s no reason why the Bunnies can’t go all the way this year. The equal-first Rabbitohs have lost just five matches all season – to the Storm (twice), Sharks, Dragons and Cowboys – and were clinical enough in their clash with Canterbury last weekend… even with Reynolds and Inglis nursing foot and leg complaints. Every time the Dogs came within striking distance, the Rabbitohs hopped further ahead thanks to some brilliant ball-playing and creative, attacking rugby league.
Luke Brooks’ relegation to Holden Cup due to second-tier salary cap constraints has caused a reshuffle in the Tigers’ line-up, who also welcome back Robbie Farah. Benji Marshall - who plays his 200th game for the Tigers - shifts from centre to five-eighth, with Bodene Thompson starting in jersey No.3. Shaun Spence and Matthew Bell have been named on the bench alongside Ava Seumanufagai and Jack Buchanan.
For the Rabbitohs, coach Michael Maguire has named Sam Burgess at lock following the completion of his suspension. It means all four Burgess brothers – Sam, Luke, George and Thomas – have been named in the 19-man squad for the important clash. If they all play, it will be the first time they’ve taken the field together. Jeff Lima also returns to the side following suspension, named on a six-man interchange bench. Ben Lowe has missed out on selection.
Adam Reynolds will play his 50th NRL game this Friday night, all of which have been in the red and green of South Sydney.
Watch Out Tigers: The stats certainly don’t favour the home side here. The statisticians tell us Souths have averaged 27.7 points against the Tigers in their past 10 clashes, and the Tigers have lost seven of their past eight Allianz Stadium fixtures. They’ve also been defeated in six of seven Friday night fixtures this season. Ouch!
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Surely the biggest danger to Souths is the Benij Marshall factor. If he ‘clicks’ and finds some famous form in his second last game in the NRL, the Tigers could – just possibly – cause a huge upset here. He looked much more dangerous and controlled last week – he ran for 133 metres, set up a try, made four tackle-breaks, an offload and was credited with a line-break and a line-break assist. Back to his best? No. Warming nicely? Quite possibly.
Plays To Watch: South Sydney’s backline – it’s simply sublime. At the moment nos.1-7 seem to have a six sense about themselves – in attack they know exactly where to go and what to do… before anyone else knows what’s happening. Last week Souths’ backs ripped the Bulldogs to pieces – and with the likes of Inglis, Sutton, Reynolds, Nathan Merritt and Bryson Goodwin weaving their magic, whenever their backline has the ball it’s simply must-see rugby league.
Key Match-Up: Keith Galloway and Adam Blair against the might of Souths’ pack. Wests Tigers’ lack of forward strength has been well publicised in 2013 – the club even went searching, unsuccessfully, for a mid-season recruit in the front row – and their starting front-rowers have a massive job to do in this match. Quite simply, they’ve got to stop Souths’ biggest boppers – the Burgess boys, Roy Asotasi and Jeff Lima – and make metres themselves. No easy task.
Where It Will Be Won: Adam Reynolds. If Souths’ pint-sized playmaker is given the room to move and time to think, this game will be all-she-wrote after 10 minutes – kind of like it was when these two teams met in Round 10. Triple-threat Reynolds –dangerous when running, passing or kicking – must be watched no matter where South Sydney have the ball.
Interesting fact: the Rabbitohs score more tries from the middle ‘lane’ of the field – from any distance – than any other club. They’ve scored 26 from the channel of turf that connects goal posts to goal posts in 2013. Lesson to the Tigers – get up off the line early as a flat unit, and cut down the options for Reynolds. If they don’t he’ll find a gap – or put Inglis, Sutton, Merritt or others into space. You’ve officially been warned, Tigers.
The History: Played 21; Rabbitohs 12, Tigers 9.
Match Officials: Referees – Henry Perenara & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Jason Walsh & Dave Ryan; Video Referees – Jared Maxwell & Reece Williams.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week. 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: With just two weeks to the start of the finals series, the Rabbitohs will be ready for this one. Look for something special here as a pre-playoff warning to finals rivals… especially to the table-topping Roosters whom they meet next week. South Sydney by 30 points.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.