Cowboys v Rabbitohs Preview

Travis Burns previews the match

Cowboys v Rabbitohs
Dairy Farmers Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

This game pits two sides in opposite form spirals together and on face value may appear an easy win for the Cowboys.

They have won five of their past six matches to make a move up the table to seventh and with three consecutive wins before the bye against the high-flying Knights and Dragons and against the Warriors in New Zealand, they look set to become a premiership force in 2009.

They have retained the side that disposed of the Knights, with the additions of Steve Rapira, Grant Rovelli and Ty Williams to an extended bench as cover for Origin players Johnathan Thurston and Luke O’Donnell.  

The Rabbitohs, on the other hand, have remained horribly inconsistent this season and were terrible against Canberra last Monday night.

They have now been overtaken by the Cowboys and are down in ninth, albeit just one competition point behind their weekend rivals.

In a four-match period the Rabbitohs have gained just three competition points from a win and a draw… but even those three points came in a far-from-convincing fashion.

After losing to the Titans the side managed a last-second win over the Wests Tigers but backed that up with a disappointing draw against the hapless Eels before letting Canberra run right through them.

If the Rabbitohs are serious about finals football these are games they need to win.

Luckily, here they come up against a side they have a good record against.

Coach Jason Taylor has named Issac Luke to start at hooker, with Beau Falloon going back to the bench. Origin players Michael Crocker and Craig Wing are due back in the back row. This sees David Kidwell and Eddy Pettybourne revert to the bench of six, which has Jaiman Lowe on it at the expense of Ben Lowe.

Watch out Cowboys: South Sydney makes significantly more ground with their long-kicking game compared to the Cowboys; if they bring a good kick-chase attitude with their distance they could take control of field position.

The Rabbitohs kick for an average 614 metres a match to be ranked fifth in the NRL, while the Cowboys gain just 497 metres a match to be ranked dead last. As both sides have similar kick accuracy (Souths 57.7 per cent, Cowboys 59.8 per cent), the distance is crucial.

The home side needs to put some pressure on the South Sydney kickers, and get some oomph behind their own kicks.

Watch out Rabbitohs: Statistics revealed this week on NRL.com showed the Cowboys are the sleeping giants of the competition if you look at the line-breaks-to-tries ratio.

The Cowboys have converted over half their line breaks to tries so far this season and while they are running third last in actual breaks (Souths are one side with less line breaks) they make the most of their chances.

Should they get more chances than usual, it could be a very long night for the Rabbitohs, who are converting just 31.58 per cent of their line breaks into tries.

Where it will be won: This match will be decided by defence and which team wants to get gritty and roll their sleeves up.

Neither side is particularly strong defensively; they are making 86.1 per cent of their attempted tackles to be equal 10th in the NRL. Souths have missed a lot more tackles with 389 compared to the Cowboys’ 318 but they have also been forced to make a lot more.

The Rabbitohs are making on average 331 tackles a match, while the boys from the north have had to endure just 282 a game.

What’s required is a real commitment to making effort-on-effort in the defensive line, and not having mini-lapses throughout the game like both teams have on occasions.  

The History:
Played 18; Cowboys 8, Rabbitohs 9, drawn 1. South Sydney have won four matches in a row against the Cowboys and actually hold a 6-4 advantage at the Cowboys’ home ground. The Cowboys haven’t beaten the Rabbitohs since 2006 – but the average winning margin for the Bunnies in those past four matches has been just four points.  

Conclusion: Form dictates you should tip the Cowboys on their home turf, despite the fact the Rabbitohs have a good record at the venue. The only reason to not consider the Cowboys would be if Johnathan Thurston couldn’t back up. But even then they are good enough to get the points.

South Sydney are capable of winning the contest but they’ll need to find some form quick smart and play a more committed style than they showed when humbled by the Raiders on Monday night.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Adam Devcich; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.