THIS has all the hallmarks of a classic game of rugby league: it’s first versus fifth, with big hits and tough defence abbreviated by passages of expansive footy likely to be the order of the day. The question to be answered is whether or not the Rabbitohs can get the hop on the Bulldogs or whether the ’Dogs can make Souths their Easter ‘Bunnies’.
Both sides have three wins, with the Rabbitohs heading the NRL pack courtesy of the top differential (+28), while the Bulldogs sit in fifth position having had two points deducted for their Round 2 interchange bungle.
Souths are upbeat after their come-from-behind victory over the Warriors on foreign soil last week. With Rhys Wesser now out for a fortnight (back) and promising centre Shaune Corrigan gone for 12 weeks with a broken leg, Luke Capewell again starts at fullback while Beau Champion has been handed the no. 4 jersey. Their bench is unchanged.
In somewhat of a surprise, the Bulldogs initially recalled Jamal Idris to their no.4 jersey before amending their team selection to retain Daryl Millard; why the about-face is anyone’s guess.
Watch out Bulldogs: They’ll need to come on strong against one of the most committed defences in the NRL. Last week the Bunnies climbed over the top of the Warriors despite a minority share of possession and having to make 11 full sets of tackles more. And they managed to keep the Warriors scoreless in the second half – and that’s happened just four times in the Kiwis’ past 66 games at HQ! Significantly Colin Best is proving impenetrable, with 13 one-on-one tackles ranking second in the NRL.
Also, while the Bulldogs have yet to make a break from dummy-half, the Rabbitohs have two to their name. Expect Issac Luke (26 dummy-half runs) and Craig Wing to push the ‘go’ button at every opportunity.
Watch out Rabbitohs: Even one line break can lead to disaster for them, given the Bulldogs have scored a staggering 11 of their 16 tries from a bust.
Also, Souths need to be extremely careful after turning over the ball – the Bulldogs have scored twice from turnovers, ranking them second in the NRL.
A minor point (which could prove major): Souths have lost their past four night games.
Where it will be won: Out wide. The stats show their stout defences pretty much cancel out each other – the Bulldogs rank fourth for effectiveness (87.5 per cent) behind NRL benchmark Melbourne (92.3 per cent), while the Rabbitohs are a hare’s breadth behind (pardon the pun) with 87.4 per cent.
And it’s each side’s left-side attack that’s most likely to do the damage; they are both at the top of the NRL list with the Bulldogs scoring eight tries down that corridor while the Rabbitohs have bagged seven.
The battle of the backs looks awesome, with Souths five-eighth John Sutton really maturing into a fine pivot in 2009. He’s managed 15 offloads so far to rank second in the comp, plus he’s added three line-break assists and a line break.
Outside Sutton, Fetuli Talanoa (seven runs, two tries, a try assist and a line break last week) has been punishing; his four line breaks ranks second in the NRL.
For the Bulldogs, Bryson Goodwin has four line breaks and four tries and is making a name for himself as a speedster.
The History: Played 136; Bulldogs 70, Rabbitohs 62, drawn 4. The Bulldogs hold the ascendancy winning six of the past eight between the clubs. The Rabbitohs hold bragging rights, having accounted for the ’Dogs 34-30 at ANZ Stadium in Round 17 last year – but it’s their only win against the Bulldogs at the venue in six encounters.
Conclusion: Both halves – Brett Kimmorley and Chris Sandow for the Rabbitohs – hold the key. The boot aside, neither has contributed much to their team’s attack; Kimmorley has added just one line-break assist and Sandow zilch in the category.
To date it’s worked fine for both sides to have their ‘generals’ simply go through the motions rather than spark plays. But the element of unpredictability could blow this game apart. If that’s the case, we reckon Sandow could be the man.
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Adam DevCich & Mohamad Fajajo; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.