Rabbitohs v Knights
NEWCASTLE might come into this match with winning momentum but injuries are conspiring to hamper their chances against the Bunnies.
The Knights were extremely gutsy – and a little lucky – against the Sharks last Monday but with Steve Simpson (hamstring), Jarrod Mullen (ribs) and Cameron Ciraldo (broken leg) all failing to finish the match with injury, the Knights’ depth will be severely tested going forward.
The win moved them into ninth position but they have as many competition points as the fourth-placed Rabbitohs, so a win would see them leapfrog their opponents.
Adam MacDougall returns from injury to replace Keith Lulia in the centres, with Lulia reverting to the bench, Scott Dureau moves from five-eighth to halfback to replace Mullen, with Ben Rogers returned to No.6.
Chris Houston comes into the starting side for Simpson and George Ndaira takes the luckless Ciraldo’s spot on the bench.
South Sydney were brought back down to earth with a thud after Parramatta prevailed 14-8 last weekend but they do welcome back star Craig Wing for this clash on the Central Coast.
Beau Champion also returns for the Rabbitohs, slotting straight into the centres with Shaune Corrigan shifting to the wing to replace the suspended Nathan Merritt.
Wing will take his place on the bench, replacing Jamie Simpson.
Watch out Rabbitohs: He might not be the biggest name in the NRL but Knights bench man Richie Fa’aoso is proving to be a real weapon. He is averaging 100 metres gained a match – a very impressive effort for a replacement – and has also added two line breaks, a line-break assist and a try.
The Rabbitohs’ defence needs to be aware of when he hits the park and ensure they haven’t dropped their guard. If they fail to negotiate their own fatigue, Fa’aoso will split them and either grab his own points or put his team in a position to do so.
Watch out Knights: It might be early in the season but the Rabbitohs’ players and coaching staff have noticed the Knights’ troubles with defusing attacking kicks.
The Knights may have only conceded two tries from the boot at this stage but it could have been much worse as their mistake rate in cleaning up kicks has been very high.
They can expect a variety of kick-driven attacking raids from the Bunnies. Newcastle are yet to cleanly defuse a cross-field kick at all and have only managed to contain half of the bombs hoisted their way and a third of the chip kicks.
Rabbitohs halfback Chris Sandow is a scheming playmaker; you can expect he’ll use all of the above attacking kicks – and more – in an effort to prise open the Newcastle defences.
Where it will be won: Belief. Both sides may have trouble with confidence going into this match so it is imperative they truly believe they are good enough to take the points.
The Rabbitohs were knocked down a peg by Parramatta last week and may now be second-guessing how far along they really are. When the going got tough the Bunnies weren’t up to the task against the Eels and they would have seen the Knights prove their worth in a scrap against Cronulla.
The Knights, on the other hand, will be buoyed by their win but bummed by the loss of three key players. Do they really believe they can continue to perform without their chief playmaker and representative forward? If they let doubts creep into their minds they will lose focus and the Rabbitohs will pounce.
The History: Played 28; Rabbitohs 5, Knights 23. Newcastle have the wood on the Rabbitohs, winning 82 per cent of the clashes between the clubs but of the two matches between the clubs on the central coast the honours are shared.
Conclusion: The key losses to the Knights give the Rabbitohs an edge here, despite the fact half of Newcastle will probably travel down to the Central Coast for the match.
Mullen is a huge loss for the Knights and while Dureau was impressive against the Sharks he now must run the show with the erratic Rogers.
South Sydney may have lost attacking weapon Nathan Merritt but they welcome Champion and Wing to the line-up; the latter is a massive plus.
The opening rounds have been tough to negotiate in terms of accurate tipping but the safest bet is surely the Bunnies.
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Peter Kirby & Mohamad Fajajo; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.