Tigers v Rabbitohs Preview

Wests Tigers v Rabbitohs
Sydney Cricket Ground
Sunday 3pm

The traditional match-of–the-round games at the SCG may have originally fallen on Saturday afternoons but Sunday afternoon at the SCG is a reasonable timeslot for what shapes as an exciting blockbuster between two ‘old school’ teams this Heritage weekend.

Of course Balmain and Western Suburbs have become bedfellows in recent years but the rivalry they both shared with South Sydney lives on.

Balmain especially loved to take down the Bunnies, stemming from way back to 1909 when the Tigers claim the Rabbitohs reneged on a deal to not take the field for the premiership decider, and as such Souths claimed the premiership by forfeit.

Then there is the controversial 1969 grand final where the Tigers, as extreme underdogs, toppled the Bunnies with dubious time-wasting tactics.

Going back through the annals you see Balmain finished first and Souths second in 1915, 1916, 1917, 1920, 1924, 1939 and 1969, while Souths finished first with Balmain second in 1909. Souths won competitions ahead of Wests in 1918, 1925, 1932, 1950 while Wests won over Souths in 1952.

In 2009, the Rabbitohs and Wests Tigers are both sitting on 10 competition points with the Bunnies in seventh and the Tigers in ninth on differential. As such this game is all-important in terms of staying in or around the finals zone.

The Tigers had the bye last weekend and fell to the Bulldogs the weekend prior, making them hungry to get back into the winner’s circle.

Benji Marshall returns to the side which allows Tim Moltzen to return to fullback and sees Shannon Gallant miss out. Chris Lawrence hasn’t recovered from his ankle injury so Dene Halatau moves to centre and Daine Laurie and Rocky Trimarchi come onto a five-man bench.

South Sydney also had the bye last weekend after a loss against the Titans.

They have lost John Sutton after he broke his hand playing for City Origin; however they have a more than handy replacement in Craig Wing at five-eighth and new signing Michael Crocker at lock. Shannon McPherson has been added to a bench of five.

Watch out Wests Tigers: He’s been waiting a long time between games and may be a little rusty but Michael Crocker is a potential match winner.

The former Rooster and Storm back-rower finally returns to the playing field after months away during which time he tried to secure a UK visa to join Hull. His last game was the humiliating 40-0 grand final loss to Manly so you can imagine this enforcer has plenty of pent-up aggression just waiting to come out.

Defensively Crocker hits with the best of them and he has the ability to crack through a tackle with damaging runs. Just how much rust is in his game remains to be seen but if he is on, the Tigers could be in trouble.

Watch out Rabbitohs: Benji Marshall returns to the Tigers side bummed he led his Kiwi side to defeat in last weekend’s Test match. The elusive halfback wants nothing more than to once again get that winning feeling, which spells danger for the Rabbitohs.

Marshall is one of the NRL’s more devastating running no.7s, averaging 69 metres a match. He has four line breaks, seven line-break assists and 10 try assists. Look for him to get involved all over the park.

He loves switching the direction of the attack and targeting lazy defenders on the short side. Sometimes he has a tendency to run sideways too much but when he straightens, he can step past even the best defenders.

Where it will be won: Defence will be the key in this clash. Both sides enjoy a little bit of unstructured attacking football, which brings plenty of excitement – but it’s in defence where both teams need to be on this Sunday. So far this season the Rabbitohs have been more rock solid than their rivals, with 17.5 points per match conceded compared to the Wests Tigers’ 26.13 points per game.

The Tigers will try to get at Chris Sandow (a massive 31 per cent ineffective), Issac Luke (19 per cent ineffective) and David Kidwell (16.6 per cent ineffective) while the Rabbitohs will spot up Benji Marshall (25.3 percent ineffective), Chris Heighington (16.3 percent ineffective) and John Morris (14.1 percent ineffective).

The History: Played 12; Wests Tigers 7, Rabbitohs 5. The Wests Tigers have won six of the past seven matches between the two clubs, giving them plenty of momentum over their rivals. In the corresponding match last season, the only one between the two clubs and the SCG, the Tigers prevailed 30-10. In fact, the closest margin between the teams in the past seven matches has been 20 points, with the average victory margin being almost 31 points, so history suggests a blow-out score line.  

Conclusion: The Wests Tigers have had the wood over the Rabbitohs in recent times and this could continue if Marshall is given space to work his magic.

The fact the Rabbitohs have lost John Sutton is also a potential problem. Craig Wing is a sensational player in great form but he hasn’t been working with Chris Sandow as often as Sutton has.

Either side could easily take the points here so don’t be afraid to go with your initial instincts when determining your footy tipping. Both sides might be coming off losses but they both had good chances to win those matches, so they take some momentum into the match. Toss a coin.

Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Paul Holland; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.