Rabbitohs v Titans Preview

Rabbitohs v Titans
ANZ Stadium
Friday 8.35pm (AEDT)

Neither of these purported premiership contenders came out and impressed in Round 1 – but one managed to sneak home with a win, the other was sent home with its tail between its legs. If either are to be among the finals contenders come September – and in today’s game, you need to be in from the start – then this week they’ll want to be a lot stronger.

Last week, it was defence that let both down. The Titans were rusty in the first half at home to the Warriors and were caught off guard by a team ready to prove they’re in it to win it this season. But a half-time deficit of just six points was enough for them to run down the New Zealanders, who didn’t score a point in the second half.

Hooker Nathan Friend tackled himself out of his skin, making 49 by the final whistle and he may need a similar effort against a Rabbitohs attack that knows how to break the line.

Souths may have headed into their Sunday afternoon match last week believing it was in the bag before a ball had been kicked. Last year the Roosters were easy beats, but a couple of new faces, a new coach and new attitude showed they’re set to be the force they were five years ago.

Souths were exposed around the ruck, with the Roosters doing damage early in the tackle count making 43 runs from dummy-half to gain 394 metres. Indeed, Carney, Minichiello, Kenny-Dowall and Perrett gained 351 metres this way.

The threat of that may not be so great against the Titans, however, who were less reliant on dummy-half running last year and made more ground through their hard-working forward pack. But they will have watched the tapes and identified Souths’ ruck weakness.

The Titans, too, will have to be on their game defensively, as the Rabbitohs love to chance their hand and in 2009 sat second on the try-scoring table – just one behind the West Tigers – with 102. They favour the right side, where Nathan Merritt plays, with 50 scored there last year. Indeed, it was Merritt who crossed for their two tries last week and could have probably crossed two more times.

The Titans, on the other hand, were fairly evenly spread across the park last season, but scored nearly 10 tries more through the middle than anywhere else.

Statistically in 2009, not a lot separated these two teams. Gold Coast made just more than 100 more runs and kicked only once more; Souths made just three more line-breaks, offered up two more try assists and less than 20 more offloads.

But will all that matter on Friday night? Probably not. If anything was learnt from last weekend’s games, it was that the new season has sounded and last year’s form will mean little. It’s time to adapt if you’re going to be part of it.

Watch out Titans: He was a constant threat last year, and will be the same threat this year. If the Rabbitohs want something to happen, they look for Nathan Merritt.

Last year he gained the second most metres in the team behind Luke Stuart, and he was again second with 140 metres behind Sam Burgess’s best of 144 metres last Sunday.

He scored 19 tries last year and made 17 line-breaks and against the Roosters he broke the line twice for two tries, which should have been at least three, and made five tackle-breaks. If the Titans want to keep their points-conceded down, they need to contain this man.

Watch out Rabbitohs: Does it really need to be said? Scott Prince wins games and last weekend his composure was the key to the Gold Coast running down the Warriors. When the ball is in his hands, teams need to shut him down.

Last year he kicked 259 times for a staggering 7689 metres, he offered up 20 line-break assists, nearly all through passes, and racked up 23 try assists.

When the Titans needed a spark last week they turned to Prince. He received the ball 30 times in the second half, compared to 19 in the first, offering him more opportunity to put the ball on his pinpoint boot, that has kicked at nearly 80 per cent for his career.

Where it will be won: The Titans will again look to their big men like Meyers and Bailey to hit it up the middle and break through Souths’ noted weak defence, which missed 43 tackles last week. If the Rabbitohs can tighten up around the ruck and nullify those runs – and Chris Sandow appears to have been working on his tackling deficiencies, finishing last week on top of the one-on-one tackler stats with seven – they’ll go a long way to upsetting the visitors.

The History: Played 5: Titans 3, Rabbitohs 2. The Titans have a slight overall edge, but at ANZ, the Rabbitohs are on top, having won two of the three played there.

But last year Gold Coast were victorious in both their match-ups, interestingly by the same scoreline: 22-14.

Conclusion: Souths were rattled by the ‘upset’ against the Roosters last week and will want to show they aren’t just a strong team on paper. Captain Roy Asotasi said this week it was a wake-up call of sorts; they’ll be better prepared for this game, both mentally and physically.

Gold Coast probably received a wake-up call themselves, despite getting away with the two points. They’ve improved their form on the road slightly over the years, but are still considered an easier team to play when not at Skilled Park.

It’ll be a tight match and Souths are sitting as favourites at the moment. Expect lots of points, but the Rabbitohs should just edge out Gold Coast.

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

Televised: Channel 9 – Live from 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW). Fox Sports 2 – Delayed Sat 1am.