The end of the short round comes with an intriguing clash between the up-and-down Rabbitohs and the struggling Raiders, who looked to have finally turned the corner last weekend but who now must continue the form without top dog Terry Campese.
Canberra gave the Warriors a nice touch-up last weekend after finally resorting to the confident, offloading style that had them play finals football in 2008 – but they did that on the back of a special Campese performance and ‘Campo’ is now in New South Wales Origin camp.
As for the home side… well, it’s hard to get a solid form line on the Rabbitohs. They were pretty impressive against the Wests Tigers even though it took a last-second field goal to win, but then they failed to put the Eels to the sword last weekend, and it’s not like the Parramatta side is in great touch.
They have managed to stay in the top eight, in eighth spot, thanks to their draw with the Eels – but if they wish to stay there they’ll need to do a number on the 14th-placed Raiders.
They lose Craig Wing to Origin duty but welcome back Chris Sandow from injury to take his place at halfback.
Michael Crocker is also out due to Origin, with Eddy Pettybourne coming into the starting line-up and Ben Lowe coming onto the bench.
For the Raiders, Campese is replaced by Josh McCrone, while lock and skipper Alan Tongue rejoins the side pushing Trevor Thurling to the bench.
Watch out Rabbitohs: Possibly the unluckiest player to miss out on New South Wales selection is Canberra centre Joel Monaghan, who just last year was on the wing for Australia in the World Cup!
Rather then mope about, chances are Monaghan will be out to prove his worth in case an opportunity presents itself later in the series. And that spells danger for the Rabbitohs.
Monaghan is gaining 85 metres a match, something he’d like to add to, and he also has six line breaks for the year. He only has three tries this season but his 31 tackle breaks prove his strength and elusiveness.
The Raiders’ halves also need to capitalise on his strength: plucking down the high balls, like he did in the loss to Melbourne recently.
Watch out Raiders: The Raiders’ kick-chase needs to be spot on this weekend, as the Rabbitohs are the second-most prolific line-breakers on kick returns. The back three of Luke Capewell, Fetuli Talanoa and Nathan Merritt are all in good form and must be watched closely by the Raiders or they will be punished.
Capewell is averaging 128 metres a match, Merritt 88 metres and Talanoa 83 metres. Capewell and Talanoa have five line breaks for the year (three of Capewell’s and two of Talanoa’s are from kick returns), while Merritt has four breaks. Merritt has seven tries, Talanoa six and Capewell two.
Where it will be won: Second-phase play – and the ability to shut it down.
Last weekend the Raiders showed just how potent they can be when they get the offloads flowing and their confidence sky high. With 143 offloads for the year, the most of any team in the NRL, the Raiders sure know how to promote the football. And if they are to be victorious they need that to continue.
The Rabbitohs are a reasonable offloading team also, with 117 for the year – but their main offload man is John Sutton, still missing due to a broken hand.
Both sets of defences need to wrap up the football to stop the ball promotion or they could be on the back foot throughout the evening. Bunnies to watch out for are Issac Luke (16 offloads), David Fa’alogo (15 offloads) and Colin Best (14 offloads), while Raiders with the ability to pop the pass often are Bronson Harrison (35 offloads), Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (18 offloads) and Joel Monaghan (10 offloads).
The History: Played 41; Rabbitohs 15, Raiders 26. The Raiders have won six of the past eight matches between the clubs, including the past three in succession, which leaves the Bunnies without a win over Canberra since 2006. At ANZ Stadium the ledger is at 2-1 in favour of the Raiders.
Conclusion: The Rabbitohs should be good enough to win this match even without their two Origin reps, as the Raiders rely heavily on Terry Campese – and he is missing.
A week ago tipping the Rabbitohs here would have been a no-brainer but a return to some form from the Canberra boys makes you at least contemplate them as an option. They have a great record against South Sydney and have the talent to win this match, so if you need an ‘upset’, this is a game to consider.
Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Gavin Morris; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.