Rabbitohs v Titans Preview

Rabbitohs v Titans
ANZ Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

South Sydney’s resurgence towards the finals continues, as does the Gold Coast Titans’ surge towards a maiden finals appearance and a home semi-final.

When the Rabbitohs fell to the Bulldogs recently, despite having a good chance to win, most thought it would sound the death knell for the cardinal and myrtle but an impressive win over Manly at Brookvale has changed all that… provided they can keep the momentum going against the Titans.

With the teams in the lower half of the top eight all falling last weekend the Rabbitohs might still be officially 11th – but they are just two competition points behind the fifth-placed Panthers and a mere point behind the sixth-placed Cowboys.

It is in the realms of possibility that a win here could put them into the finals zone and give them a chance to control their own destiny over the final few weeks of the season.

But they must negotiate a Titans team who, while not playing at their best, were still able to easily account for the Warriors in New Zealand last weekend to consolidate third place on the ladder.

The win last week basically clinched history for the Titans, who will now almost certainly contest the finals, but they will be firstly out for one more win just to be absolutely convinced, and secondly out for some momentum and further victories to ensure they have home-ground and regional advantage in the playoffs.

Winning comfortably against the Warriors was a huge confidence booster for the Titans, who have notoriously struggled away from home. They welcome back prop Michael Henderson for this clash after he missed the trip to Auckland with the flu, which pushed Matthew White back to the bench and the injured Aaron Cannings out of the side.

For the Rabbitohs, Jamie Simpson returns at Chris McQueen’s expense, while inspirational prop Roy Asotasi is out for the season with a knee injury in what could turn out to be the cruellest blow. Without him the Bunnies are asking David Fa’alogo to step up into the prop forward position from lock, with Queensland Origin representative Michael Crocker coming into the no.13 jumper.

Young forward Dave Tyrrell is the lucky man added to the bench.

Watch out Rabbitohs: Titans prop Luke Bailey will see the absence of Roy Asotasi as an opportunity to really assert some dominance in the middle of the ruck.

‘Bull’ enters this game as the premier prop in the contest and will be out to show why, so the Rabbitohs’ defence needs to be vigilant and meet him head-on.

If there is a weakness to Bailey’s game it is the occasional loose carry so the Rabbitohs’ defenders should hit him around the ball-carrying area with everything they have, every time, to force an error or at the very least cut down his metres.

Bailey averages 135 metres a game and even has three tries to his name… enough to have his prop licence revoked!

Watch out Titans: Big games at the back end of the year bring out the best referees and penalties can become a little scarce; however, when they do come, it makes them more crucial.

Tony Archer knows how to manage a game better than most and will do his best to keep the match flowing, but young Gerard Sutton might not be so lenient.

Even still, if the Titans continue what has been suspect discipline at times this year, they will regret it in a crucial point of the game. The Titans have conceded 136 penalties this year, ranking them 14th in the NRL for discipline, while the Rabbitohs have given away just 102 penalties to be ranked second.

The last thing John Cartwright wants when the chips are down and the game is close is to hear the loud pitch of the referee’s whistle. He must stress discipline over and over before the side runs out.

Where it will be won: A key element will be the kicking games of both sides. This can be dissected across many angles.

For example, the Rabbitohs gain slightly more ground per match from the boot than the Titans (576 metres to 556 metres), however the Gold Coast’s kicking is more accurate at finding space, doing so 56.9 per cent of the time compared to the Bunnies’ 51.4 per cent of the time.

Then there’s the fact the Gold Coast’s kicking game has been charged down significantly more times than any other side, with 19 kicks thus far being interfered with by the opposition – showing that with a little pressure, a side can get results.

But the Bunnies, who have only had seven kicks charged down, have put 10 kicks out on the full this year (second only to the Wests Tigers), so they also can be rushed into a mistake.

The Gold Coast have scored 15 tries from kicks (equal eighth in NRL) and conceded 14 to the boot (equal seventh), while the Rabbitohs have scored an impressive 21 tries from kicks (first in NRL) and conceded just 11 (second in NRL).

If the Rabbitohs have a weakness it is defusing cross- field bombs, where they only manage to successfully defuse 48 per cent and are ranked third last, while the Titans are third last at successfully defusing regular bombs.

The side who adds a good kicking game to their game plan will go a long way here.

The History: Played 4; Rabbitohs 2, Titans 2. The Titans took out the Bunnies 22-14 at Skilled Park back in Round 8 but the Rabbitohs had won the previous two encounters, both of which were at ANZ Stadium. The Titans have yet to muster a win over the Rabbitohs away from home.

Conclusion: This should be a very entertaining clash with some exciting attack, particularly as both sides are adept at scoring long-range tries.

It really is a cracking way to open up the weekend of football and you can expect some fierce positional battles within the contest.

Young Rabbitohs halfback Chris Sandow, one of the faces of the ‘Close the Gap’ campaign, has plenty of motivation to do well not just for his team, but his people and against the club who let him go a few seasons ago.

On the other side of the fence is another proud aboriginal pairing of Scott Prince and Preston Campbell, two exemplary individuals who deserve 100 times more headlines than those who bring the game into disrepute.

If the game was on the Gold Coast you’d say the Titans for sure, but with this match slated for Sydney, the Bunnies are certainly a good chance.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Chris James; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 9.30pm (NSW & Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed 1am Sat.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.