Warriors v Rabbitohs
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 2pm NZ time (12 noon AEST)
SOUTH Sydney might be running second on the NRL table but they will start underdogs against the ninth-placed Warriors in New Zealand this Sunday.
The Bunnies have been full of enthusiasm beating the Roosters and Knights but they split those wins with a loss to the Eels, a team the Warriors disposed of fairly easily.
The Warriors also have two wins this year but differential has them outside the top eight following their loss to the Broncos last weekend.
Wins over Parramatta and Manly in the first two rounds showed enough potential to suggest they could be one of the teams to beat for this year’s title.
But they come into this clash saddened by a major knee injury to representative centre Brent Tate. His place in the side is taken by Patrick Ah Van, a man who has played on the wing in the majority of his other 39 top-grade appearances.
The little Kiwi master Stacey Jones has been selected to start at halfback after coming from the bench in the past two weeks, which pushes Nathan Fien to the pine.
Sam Rapira has once again been named to start although he could swap with Russell Packer as was the case against the Broncos.
Lewis Brown and Daniel O’Regan have been added to make up a six-man bench at this stage.
The Rabbitohs welcome back fullback Rhys Wesser from injury and winger Nathan Merritt from suspension, which sees Luke Capewell and Beau Champion miss out on the side to travel across the ditch. Shaune Corrigan moves from wing to centre with Merritt slotting in on the flank.
Watch out Warriors: South Sydney are placing plenty of emphasis on field position this season. They are going back to basics to ensure they get results.
Last weekend against the Knights they tried to be too fancy too early but once they settled down and powered forward they were able to prevail. Currently the side averages 1380 metres gained a match, which is 115 metres more than the Warriors. And they have an extra edge with metres from kicks also: the Bunnies are making 534 metres a match from the boot compared to the Warriors’ 393 metres.
Only a dismal 33 per cent of Warriors’ long kicks are finding space, compared to 65 per cent of Souths’ kicks. Stacey Jones will need to rectify this discrepancy if his side is to be in good field position to mount attacking raids.
Watch out Rabbitohs: He might be the oldest player in the NRL but Warriors prop Steve Price is no codger.
Already he is averaging a mammoth 156 metres gained a match from just over 18 carries a game – but more importantly he has produced two try assists so far this year. It’s all well and good to be a big metre-eater but if you aren’t posing questions of the defence they can easily contain your impact.
Also Price has added the slightest bit of footwork and odd offload to his play, to keep defenders guessing.
Where it will be won: Second-phase football. Both sides love popping offloads and whichever side is more prolific and producing quality second-phase play, while limiting the oppositions’ offloads, will win this contest.
The Warriors are the second most prolific offloading team in the NRL at this stage (47 offloads) while the Rabbitohs are fifth (39 offloads).
The major Souths danger man is John Sutton (eight offloads). Forward David Fa’alogo (five), prop Roy Asotasi (four) and hooker Issac Luke (four) are also potential problems for the Warriors’ defence.
The likes of Luke, Craig Wing, Chris Sandow and Rhys Wesser will be looming every time the major off-loaders hit the ball up, just hoping for the perfect pass.
For the Warriors, the offload has proven effective so far this year with young Ukuma Ta’ai scoring from a neat pass last weekend while Jesse Royal also powered over from a Steve Price pass against Manly. Lance Hohaia also benefited in the same way against the Eels.
Five-eighth Joel Moon is leading the way for the Warriors with nine offloads while Simon Mannering (seven), Price (five), Jerome Ropati (four) and Wade McKinnon (four) also need to be watched carefully.
The History: Played 19; Warriors 14, Rabbitohs 5. The Warriors have won 12 of the past 14 games between the two sides – but the Rabbitohs are actually on a two-game winning streak against the Kiwi-based boys, having won both clashes last year. At Mt Smart Stadium the teams have come together nine times with the Warriors in front 6-3.
Conclusion: The Warriors should be good enough to bounce back with a win against the Rabbitohs, especially considering the game is at home. But it’s no foregone conclusion.
Last year the Bunnies came across the Tasman in Round 13, with just one win to their name, and prevailed 35-28.
The Warriors took the Bunnies lightly on two occasions last season and Warriors coach Ivan Cleary will be doing what he can to stop any form of complacency slipping in this year.
Tip the Warriors to be safe; tip the Rabbitohs if you’re brave and feeling lucky.
Match officials: Referees – Tony De Las Heras & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Adam Devcich & Steve Carrall; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 12 noon AEST (2pm NZ time).
* Statistics: NRL Stats.