Is this a Rabbitohs revival, or just another false dawn?
Only time will tell if the South Sydney charge towards the top eight will continue but one thing is for sure… if they can manufacture a win against the Bulldogs this Sunday afternoon then they will have a lot more people willing to get on the bandwagon.
While a big win over the Roosters isn’t much to get excited about this season, it did allow the Bunnies to get within just one competition point of the top eight, putting the side now in 10th place and in a position to strike.
The unexpected loss by the Bulldogs at the hands of the Eels also should add confidence to the Rabbitohs, who now have a blueprint to replicate and take down the second-placed blue-and-whites.
However the Bulldogs, who may have let the chance of a minor premiership slip with the loss last week, still have the aim of finishing in the top two to secure not only a home final but a guaranteed second bite of the cherry after Week One of the finals.
Souths have predictably kept the same side from last Monday night’s drubbing of the Roosters, with the only change being the addition of Origin player Michael Crocker on the bench. Crocker is hoping to finally return from injury for this crucial encounter.
The Bulldogs only have a few minor changes themselves with David Stagg back at lock and Jarrad Hickey coming onto the bench.
Daniel Holdsworth and Brad Morrin miss out on the team for this clash.
Watch out Rabbitohs: Bulldogs fullback Luke Patten has been in striking form this season and thoroughly deserved his call up as a shadow player for Kurt Gidley in Origin III a few weeks back.
The ‘veteran’ custodian has always been safe at the back but he is deceptively elusive and a vital cog in the Bulldogs’ attacking unit. Patten is averaging 140 metres a match and is one of the hardest players to tackle in the competition, with 71 tackle breaks to his name for the year. He has seven line breaks, five line-break assists, seven try assists and four tries of his own plus 26 offloads.
While the young gun centres of Josh Morris and Jamal Idris are getting plenty of accolades, and rightfully so, Patten has gone about being the crucial link between the young and experienced.
Watch out Bulldogs: While the ’Dogs have more line breaks this season than the Bunnies (94 v 89) there are two specific areas the Bulldogs need to watch.
The Rabbitohs have nine line breaks this season from dummy-half, to be ranked second in the NRL, and they are also ranked second in breaks from kick-returns with 10. It is important that the Bulldogs push forward hard with their kick-chase and be aware around the rucks, or they could get burned by the cardinal and myrtle.
While the ’Dogs have a better kick-chase than most teams they are also poorly ranked with too many ‘poor kick-chases’ among their efforts, so they need to be on their guard come Sunday.
Where it will be won: This game looms as one of semi-final intensity and as such the key will be defence.
Both sides have the attacking nous to score points so it will be a commitment to the less-flashy parts of the game that will be the difference. Obviously the Bulldogs have been much stiffer in defence so far this season, having conceded just 320 points compared to South Sydney at 409 (which equates to 17.8 per game and 22.7 per game respectively) but the Bulldogs did show they can be cracked last weekend.
The key will be whether or not South Sydney can put up a wall at all, as even though they put 40 points on the Roosters last week they still let in 20 fairly easily.
The spot players on each side (those who can be suspect defensively) are Brett Kimmorley (ineffective 24 per cent) and Ben Roberts (ineffective 20 per cent) for the Bulldogs, and for the Bunnies Chris Sandow is an obvious target (ineffective 32 per cent).
Both hookers, Michael Ennis and Issac Luke, are also weak on occasions when it comes to tackle effectiveness up the middle and should expect plenty of traffic to head their way.
Watch for the Rabbitohs to also force big Jarrad Hickey to make tackle after tackle in his stints on the field.
The History: Played 137; Rabbitohs 62, Bulldogs 71, drawn 4. The Bulldogs took care of the Bunnies 14-12 in the wet earlier this season to make it four wins from the past five clashes between the teams. They have a commanding 6-1 advantage over South Sydney at ANZ Stadium – although the lone South Sydney win at the venue did come just last season.
Conclusion: Sure the Rabbitohs are gathering some momentum and the Bulldogs had a hiccup last week – but you still can’t help but heavily favour the ’Dogs here.
They haven’t lost back-to-back matches all season and they have a much stronger constitution than South Sydney, making them a sturdier choice.
The Rabbitohs have confidence right now, and some flair, but their defence is still far from proven. One gets the feeling the kennel will be serving Rabbit stew come Sunday night.
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Gavin Morris; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.