Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs Preview

Chris Sandow's match preview

Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs
Brookvale Oval
Saturday 5.30pm

What an awesome match this shapes up as! We have two old Sydney rivals, playing on a Saturday afternoon with everything to play for… does it get much better?

The South Sydney season goes pretty much on the line here as they need to win at least four of their remaining five games to give themselves a hope of playing in the finals.

But the reigning premiers Manly are also facing a battle of survival. They may only need to win two of five – and three to be certain – but they are currently sitting on the brink in seventh place on the ladder and a loss here could make life difficult in the run home.

It all adds up to semi-finals style intensity and as such the game deserves to put up a ‘house full’ sign (so if you haven’t already, book your seats and get primed).

Manly have to back up quickly from a tough Monday night match against the Wests Tigers where they fell by just a point, while the Rabbitohs looked to have the Bulldogs’ measure last weekend only to falter in the second half and allow the blue-and-whites to come home stronger.

Both the Rabbitohs and the Sea Eagles certainly showed the ability to play finals-style football at stages in their previous matches – but premierships go to sides who can maintain the rage for 80 minutes, not 50 or 60.

The home-side Sea Eagles have named the same 17 players who fell to the Tigers, although Glenn Hall has been selected to start in the back row with Chris Bailey reverting to the bench.

Heath L’Estrange, having served a suspension, returns on a five-man reserves list and could easily take his place in the final 17.

South Sydney coach Jason Taylor has shown faith in the side that fell to the Bulldogs, naming the same 17 and just adding young forward Dave Tyrrell as cover as an 18th man.

Watch out Sea Eagles: Did we finally see the resurgence of Chris Sandow last weekend? South Sydney fans certainly hope so.

While the young halfback wasn’t brilliant against the Bulldogs (he made some interesting decisions at crucial moments late in the match) he was much better than he has been for the majority of this season after promising so much in his rookie year last year.

Sandow ran the ball more against the Dogs and split them open on occasion. And he also showed some fight – literally punching on with Michael Ennis.

The youngster is most obviously a confidence player and if he can get started strongly against the Sea Eagles he could be the X-factor in this game. He still has problems defending but it doesn’t stop him throwing his shoulder in… just ask Luke Patten.

Watch out Rabbitohs: Could Anthony Watmough be in hotter form? Against the Wests Tigers last Monday Watmough played 80 minutes, scored two tries, made 269 metres from 23 runs, made 13 tackle breaks, nine offloads, three line breaks and 29 tackles. It was just about the perfect game – and it came in a losing side!

Watmough now has an average of 135 metres a match, has 13 line breaks for the year, six tries, three line-break assists, four try assists, 107 broken tackles and 44 offloads.

Somehow the Rabbitohs need to find a way to limit his impact – or they will be staring down the barrel of a losing scoreboard, especially if Watmough’s team-mates decide to help him out this week.

Where it will be won:
Composure in the crucial moments. South Sydney would have been right on the brink of the top eight had they had more composure when it really mattered against the Bulldogs. There was the obvious John Sutton blunder when his dumb pass resulted in a Bulldogs try but the bigger picture was when the Bulldogs lifted the tempo, the Rabbitohs panicked instead of staying calm and backing their ability to go with them.

The Sea Eagles had a similar issue against the Wests Tigers in that they lapsed in the first half to fall behind 18-0, before showing some backbone to roar back into the contest.

This game will be about being ‘in the moment’ when the moment presents itself. Whichever side manages to lift their tempo when needed will take the points here.

Manly has 91 line breaks for the year, South Sydney 92 with the Sea Eagles turning them into 32 tries and the Bunnies 33 – very similar numbers.

The Manly defence has conceded 60 points less than the Bunnies this year so they have a small advantage. Manly also have much more big-game experience and they are at home, so the lean is definitely towards them.

The History: Played 122; Sea Eagles 67, Rabbitohs 55. Manly took the Rabbitohs apart earlier this year by 24-8 at ANZ Stadium, which means they have won six of the past eight clashes between the clubs. At Brookvale Oval the ledger reads 30-19 in favour of Manly. Also, Souths haven’t won at Brookie since 2004.

Conclusion: Manly at home is the tip – but South Sydney should be leaving nothing on the field knowing full well they need to find wins if they are to extend their season. Both sides have a lot to play for but the experience of last season’s premiership win will give the Sea Eagles a huge boost and should get them over the line.

Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.