Rabbitohs v Roosters Preview

Rabbitohs v Roosters
ANZ Stadium
Sunday 3pm

Traditional rivals coming together for the 200th time on a Sunday afternoon… does it get much better?

The Rabbitohs and the Roosters have spilt blood against each other 199 times in some of the league’s fiercest battles for over a century, creating a rivalry we all love to watch.

Both clubs are somewhat reborn in season 2010. The Rabbitohs have recruited very well and they have a new coach (or an old one, depending how you view the likeable John Lang).

The Roosters also have a new mentor in Brian Smith, some new faces, and according to their marketing campaign, a whole new attitude.

This will be the first time we see English import Sam Burgess in a fair dinkum NRL match, plus we should – barring a late pull-out – also see the return of Jason Ryles.

Anthony Minichiello is back fit again, returning to his original wing position to make way for Todd Carney, playing his first competition game ever at fullback. Then there is Dave Taylor for the Bunnies, Nate Myles at lock for the Roosters… the intrigue is everywhere!

Souths defeated Manly 42-12, lost 28-22 to the Titans and drew 26-26 with the Dragons in the pre-season trials, while the Roosters looked very good with wins over Parramatta (40-14) and the Wests Tigers (28-10) although they lost an early trial against the Warriors (26-8).

The tri-colours have named an interesting side, with Shaun Kenny-Dowall playing centre, Carney at fullback and Mitch Aubusson and Tom Symonds in the back row.

Souths have Burgess at lock, Rhys Wesser is back at fullback and Eddy Pettybourne gets to partner new recruit David Taylor in the back row.

Watch out Rabbitohs: Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce is primed for a massive year after an off-season of development under Brian Smith.

Pearce, who reportedly did some much-needed maturing over the summer, looks set to have a huge year as he pushes to become a long-term solution to not just the Roosters’ halves but to those of the New South Wales Blues. He averaged a respectable 356 kick metres in 2009 but with help from Braith Anasta and now Todd Carney, his kicking game should be more deadly.

He finished the year with 10 line-breaks – but expect there to be more this year. He’ll also do much better than 12 line-break assists, seven tries and nine try assists. It’s a breakout year for this kid – and the Rabbitohs are the first team in the way.

Watch out Roosters: Slammin’ Sam Burgess is here! The hype has been massive but now it is time to see if this big bopper from England can cut the mustard in the big league.

As a big man with plenty of skill, Burgess has a lot of potential. But Brian Smith has plenty of contacts in the English game and he would have done plenty of homework on the former Bradford Bull.

Obviously there aren’t any NRL stats on this man but we all saw him take it to the Aussies in the Four Nations. If you want to know about his Super League stats, here is some light reading: In 2009 he played 25 games for the Bulls. Burgess scored four tries, had two try assists and ran for 2922 metres (just under 117m a game) from 11 carries. He made 600 tackles (24 a game), 32 offloads, 63 tackle busts and nine line-breaks. On the bad side of the coin, he missed 65 tackles, coughed up 25 errors and conceded 17 penalties, once for a trip to the sin bin.

Where it will be won: Discipline in this game will be crucial, both in terms of ball control and with the officials. It will be a heated affair, with both teams fired up – which could spark some minor illegalities and, considering it is so early in the season, the rust won’t be fully out of the system. The side who can make the fewest handling errors and who avoids getting on the referees’ bad side will be on the way to doing an opening round victory dance.

As we have seen in the past, the first few rounds are used by referees to set standards and as such it is where you can gain yourself either a good, or poor, reputation.

The Roosters need to be cleanskins after last season, where they conceded 165 penalties to be ranked 15th. This is even more paramount, considering the Rabbitohs were the least penalised side last season with just 119 in the regular season.

The Roosters also averaged more than an extra handling error a match than the Rabbitohs in 2009, so they will want to be more respectful of the football early in 2010.

The History: Played 199; Rabbitohs 105, Roosters 89, drawn 5. Premiership match number 200 between these two outstanding clubs should draw a big crowd. While the Rabbitohs hold the overall advantage in head-to-head battles, the Roosters have a 3-1 advantage at this venue.

The Bunnies, however, won both encounters last season – including this equivalent season opener by a whopping 52-12.

Conclusion:
This is a tough one to call. Both teams will be much-improved on last season but the Rabbitohs’ pack looks like it might dominate the Roosters here, especially if Jason Ryles doesn’t overcome a quad strain in time for kick-off.

If the Bunnies take the hard metres away from the Roosters’ trio of playmakers, they should be good enough to win – but don’t discount a first-up win for Brian Smith. Their trial form has been solid and the confidence in the side is high.

Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Gavin Morris; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed from 4pm. Fox Sports 2 – Delayed from 6pm.