Dan Walsh, Staff Writer, NRL.com
Wests Tigers v Rabbitohs
Friday 7.30pm (AEDT)
Games between these sides are a bit like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. Lame Forrest Gump reference aside, these clashes over the past decade (we won’t delve into the history pre Wests-Balmain merger or we’ll still be here at kick-off) have had everything; from Nathan Merritt and Adam Reynolds breaking Tigers hearts with after-the-siren points in 2009 and 2012, to the Bunnies conceding an astonishing 194 points against the Tigers in four consecutive matches during the mid-noughties.
Fact is it’s hard to work out which versions of these sides will turn up based on the first two weekends of football this season. Will we see the clinical and ruthless Rabbitohs who put the defending premiers to the sword, or the uncertain, error-prone outfit that once again could not put Manly away when they had them beat?
And even harder to predict are the enigmatic Tigers, who followed up the worst defensive effort of Round 1 with a brilliant display of free-flowing attack led by young guns Luke Brooks and James Tedesco to score a 42-12 victory up on the Gold Coast. The future certainly looks bright in Tiger Town with these two at the helm and junior rep starts Mitch Moses and Curtis Sironen waiting in the wings, but whether that potential can be turned into a competitive performance in their first showdown with one of the NRL’s heavyweights shapes as the biggest test of these young Tigers’ careers to date.
For the Tigers, Tim Simona starts in the centres in place of Chris Lawrence who is out with a hamstring injury and Liam Fulton returns from a week out with concussion, pushing Cory Patterson to 18th man.
Souths welcome back Chris McQueen into the second row after the Queensland back-rower was rested as a precaution last week, meaning Sam Burgess moves into the front row and his brother Luke drops back to the bench. Also Joel Reddy replaces Beau Champion in the centres for his first start in the red and green.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: Performing in the NRL is all about consistency, and Tigers cubs Brooks and Tedesco need look no further than across to their opposite numbers, Adam Reynolds and the imperious Greg Inglis, for an example of how to string a run of top-notch games together.
Reynolds will be desperate to atone for his out-of-character off night with the boot last Friday that included poor last-tackle options and a rare missed conversion from in front that would have made all the difference in the two-point loss to Manly. The 2013 City Origin halfback will also be looking to get himself off the mark in the try assist column for 2014 after racking up 23 in 26 matches last year.
Meanwhile you can set your watch to a slimmer, fitter GI continuing the rich vein of form that has seen him score three tries, average 170 running metres and take an equal lead of the league for tackle busts (13) and line breaks (3) after the first two rounds.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Pat Richards has exploded back onto the NRL scene with 32 points in his first two matches since 2005, with his stats from last week reading two tries, seven goals, three line breaks and 237 running metres. And while the veteran winger hasn’t played against the Bunnies in eight seasons the last two games he did play against Souths resulted in 56-6 and 42-20 scorelines to the Tigers and he bagged a try in each.
Plays To Watch: Joe Picker anywhere near either try line in the last 10 minutes. The reserve forward who joined the Rabbitohs from the nation’s capital over the off-season almost stole the match from Manly when he was pulled up inches short by four defenders in the 78th minute. This effort came off the back of a 70th-minute effort against the Roosters when he somehow got himself between Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and a certain four-pointer with a tackle on his own line that did not go unnoticed by teammates or coach Michael Maguire.
Where It Will Be Won: Most likely in the last 20 minutes. The Tigers are backing up with just five days to recover from their pasting of the Titans in 40-degree heat north of the border and Souths will back their match fitness and the extra two days they have had between games if the result goes down to the wire. The Tigers will also need to tighten up their defence if they’re to compete with the Rabbitohs, having conceded triple the number of tries (nine to three) and missed 11 more tackles across the first two rounds.
Played 22; Rabbitohs 13, Tigers 9. It’s been all red and green since 2010 between these two, with Souths winning seven from their past eight against the Tigers. Greg Inglis will have particularly fond memories of his last tango with the Tigers at ANZ, when he bagged four tries as the Bunnies inflicted a 44-point hiding in Round 9 last year.
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What Are The Odds: The Rabbits' poor outing against Manly hasn’t stopped them being opened as the shortest-priced team of the round – priced at $1.18 with Sportsbete – but the punters, no doubt buoyed by the Tigers' trouncing of the Titans, have jumped on Mick Potter’s men with 53 per cent of all money bet on the game so far on the Tigers despite being rank $5 outsiders.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Alan Shortall; Touch Judges – Rickey MacFarlane & Jason Walsh; Video Referees – Jared Maxwell & Andrew Dunemann.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (AEDT, NSW); delayed 9.30pm (AEST, Queensland).
The Way We See It: The Rabbitohs will be stung by their loss to Manly last week and it’s hard to see the Tigers troubling them with the memory of that defeat fresh in their minds, particularly with the Tigers on the short turn-around after two hot afternoon games in a row early in the season. Given their recent record, Souths to win by plenty and Greg Inglis to add to his impressive try tally against the Tigers.
Statistics: Champion Data.