Knights v Rabbitohs Preview

EnergyAustralia Stadium
Monday 7pm

This clash boils down to who has freshened up and refocused the best after both sides had last week off with the bye. The Knights enter the game with surprise successive losses to the Eels and Warriors, while Souths have sustained a hat-trick of losses to the Raiders, Cowboys and Storm.

The Knights were extremely disappointing in these defeats – indeed against the Warriors (13-0) in horrendous conditions in Auckland it looked like they could have played another 80 minutes and still struggled to score a point. But that was without captain Kurt Gidley on board; obviously coach Brian Smith will have all appendages crossed that Gidley is able to back up after this week’s Origin duty.

Their backline has been tweaked over the past fortnight. Keith Lulia covers for James McManus, out with an Achilles heel injury, while Adam MacDougall has been named in the centres with Wes Naiqama dropping back to the bench. Shannon McDonnell has been named 18th man.

Meanwhile Souths will be hoping Michael Crocker backs up from Queensland duty – without his 40-minute input they will struggle – while they have named injured Blues member Craig Wing. Ben Lowe comes in for Beau Champion at centre.

The Rabbitohs should have beaten the Storm in Perth last start – they led 10-0 after 20 minutes and 22-14 with less than 20 minutes to play but wilted to let in three tries in 13 minutes at the death. Coach Jason Taylor would have impressed on his troops that they are capable of beating anyone on their day but they need to maintain their application for the full 80 minutes.

Will Monday (night) be their day?

Watch out Knights: Roy Asotasi is due a huge game. While his form has been okay it’s fair to say it’s been a long way from barnstorming, and that’s what Souths’ fans really need right now.

Asotasi is averaging 115 metres, but is making just two tackle busts a game. He’s capable of six or more, and if he provides that sort of go-forward just watch his fellow forwards follow his lead.

Watch out Rabbitohs: Coach Taylor is persisting with Chris Sandow but the halfback remains a huge liability to his team in defence – he’s missed a whopping 92 tackles (almost eight a game!). That’s 40 misses more than the NRL’s second most vulnerable defenders Travis Burns, Darren Lockyer and Brett Kimmorley.

But while that trio contribute greatly to their team’s attacks, Sandow is struggling in that department too – he’s added just two try assists for the Rabbitohs all year.

Where it will be won: Up the guts. Newcastle’s forwards have created more half- and full-breaks (40) than all other sides; expect hooker Isaac de Gois (18 offloads, 27 tackle breaks) to be instrumental in creating opportunities, with the likes of Zeb Taia (21 offloads, 47 tackle breaks) and Chris Houston (23 tackle breaks) punching holes in the bunnies’ line.

The Rabbitohs’ best chances are to feed speedsters Nathan Merritt and Fetuli Talanoa, who each have nine tries for the year. Five-eighth John Sutton (14 try assists, third in the NRL) has been the man to make things happen for this duo and much will fall on his shoulders again.

The History: Played 29; Knights 23, Rabbitohs 6. The Knights have won five of the past eight, although the Rabbitohs won last time out, a 22-12 win at Gosford in Round 3.

Conclusion: Forecast rain won’t delight either side: the Knights were woeful in the wet in New Zealand, while the Rabbitohs were totally outmuscled by the Raiders in quagmire conditions in Round 12. But the Knights coped with the Warriors’ big men adequately – while the Rabbitohs were brushed aside like rag dolls by the rampant Raiders in their watery encounter.

Newcastle coach Brian Smith will have noted that so don’t be surprised to see repeated, straight-running raids down the centre, with offloads to the likes of Gidley trailing through. (And yes, Sandow will be targeted wherever he is on the field.)

The Rabbitohs have a chance if they can sustain pressure inside their opponent’s 20-metre line, which will allow Sutton to test them out. But they haven’t got a great track record at doing so this year, so don’t bank on it.

Souths also need Wing on the field – but there has to be concerns about his fitness (dodgy hamstring) even if he does line up.

It’s likely the Knights have had their “blip on the radar” these past few weeks. Expect them to prove too strong – especially at home where they hold a devastating 14-2 record over Souths.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Peter Kirby; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.