Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers Preview

Tim Sheens on the Tigers' line-up

Royce Simmons on the Benji switch

Chris Heighington reports from training

Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers
ANZ Stadium
Saturday 5.30pm

This game is quite frankly vital to both teams and should be treated as such.
 
The season goes on the line for the Wests Tigers and while South Sydney might be three competition points ahead of their rivals, they too will be on the brink of finals oblivion should they fall in this clash.

The Rabbitohs haven’t won a match since their last encounter with the Wests Tigers back in Round 10 and are in the midst of an alleged ‘player revolt’ and also off field financial concerns.

Despite this they are clinging on to 10th spot on the ladder, three points adrift of the top eight.

They showed some glimpses of good football against the Knights last weekend but it was just way too patchy and the scoreline of 25-20 flattered them in the end after two late tries gave them some respectability.

The time has come for them to be more aggressive in defence and more patient in building their attack, or they will once again fill up the position of ‘also rans’.

Having just one finals match to their name since 1989, the Rabbitohs just haven’t been good enough in the clutch moments of seasons… this is their first 2009 clutch moment.

The Wests Tigers’ fans are now well and truly over mediocrity, after putting up with it since their 2005 premiership triumph. Now not only are they in danger of missing the finals for a fourth straight year, they are also staring down the barrel of a possible wooden spoon being just two competition points ahead of the last-placed Roosters and sitting in 15th spot.

They must treat this like a grand final after winning just one of their past eight games; and while they do have one of the ‘easier’ runs home it won’t matter if they are too far back to mount a charge.

Craig Wing returns at hooker for the Rabbitohs, which pushes Issac Luke to the bench, with the only other change being Beau Falloon missing out and David Kidwell coming onto the five-man reserves list.

The Wests Tigers have moved Benji Marshall from halfback, shifting him back to five-eighth and naming Tim Moltzen as the new no.7. This brings Shannon Gallant into the side at fullback and sees Sharks-bound John Morris move to the bench.

John Skandalis has been pushed back to the bench with Todd Payten moving from second row to prop and Danny Galea starting in the back row. The player to miss out is Alan Schirnack.

Watch out Rabbitohs: Robbie Farah is coming and he is coming hard. Not only is he hurting and fighting for his New South Wales jersey but he is well aware the Rabbitohs have struggled to defend dummy-half runners this season. The Wests Tigers have scored six tries from dummy-half to be ranked second in the stat and the Rabbitohs have conceded eight tries from the same area to be the worst in defence to the ploy. Farah is one of the best in exploiting poor defence around the ruck and if Souths give him even a sniff of a chance, he’ll take it.

Watch out Wests Tigers: Nathan Merritt was the match winner in Round 10 and his move to fullback has given him the freedom he craves to make an offensive difference. He has seven line breaks for the year and nine tries and his stats are improving with each week at the back.

Merritt is a real excitement machine when he finds space and while he’s not the most dynamic kick-returner he is the perfect player to rove around the field and inject himself where he sees fit. The Wests Tigers’ defence needs to be wary of just where he is at all times.

Where it will be won: Tries from kicks and defence against them. Both teams have shown a reliance on scoring tries from kicks this year and when you are struggling to get results it makes sense to rely heavily on what has been working. As such we are likely to see plenty of attacking kicks throughout the contest and the side that executes best and defends the ‘lottery’ better will go a long way towards winning the contest.

South Sydney have scored 15 tries from the boot this season, behind only Brisbane (16 tries) in the statistic and have shown good skill to convert chances when they present themselves. The Wests Tigers aren’t far behind with 13 tries from kicks, which ranks them equal third. But if there is a marked difference between the sides here it is the ability to stop the opposition kicking them out of the contest.

The Wests Tigers have conceded 16 tries to kicks, the third most in the league, while South Sydney have let in just five tries from kicks to be the NRL’s best. If this trend continues, the Tigers could be in for a tough night.

The history: Played 13; Rabbitohs 6, Wests Tigers 7. Who could forget the clash between the two clubs earlier this year at the SCG when Nathan Merritt piloted a last-second field-goal between the sticks for victory?

It was only the Rabbitohs’ second win out of the past eight matches between the two clubs and the Wests Tigers also have won the only two games between the teams at ANZ Stadium. In fact in those two games the combined score is Wests Tigers 80-16.
 
Conclusion: The form of both teams is well below average so there is no stand-out pick here. ANZ stadium doesn’t really give the Rabbitohs a home field advantage, so no help there… and both teams are just as desperate as the other, so no help there either. Seriously, this one is a toss of the coin. If you have a gut feeling, trust it.

Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Peter Kirby; Video Ref – Russell Smith.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.

Tim Sheens on the Tigers' line-up

Royce Simmons on the Benji switch

Chris Heighington reports from training