Rabbitohs v Bulldogs Preview

Rabbitohs v Bulldogs
ANZ Stadium
Monday, 7pm

The Rabbitohs and Bulldogs both had points to prove heading into Round 3, and both made them. Few would have predicted the pasting Canterbury handed out to the Roosters, who after two rounds looked like the attacking force to be reckoned with, while Souths never looked in trouble against a hapless Cronulla on Monday night in trying conditions.

So how do they approach this Easter Monday clash?

South Sydney were perhaps hampered by the rain in an encounter that saw them make 11 errors and miss 27 tackles in Round 3, and despite Cronulla getting the first points on the board, Souths’ three tries in 10 minutes during the first stanza – and fourth just two minutes after half-time – were more than enough to put the game away.

The Rabbitohs were fired up after narrowly losing to the Titans in Round 2 in golden point extra time and hooker Issac Luke was leaving nothing to chance gaining 154 metres from 14 runs – 105 of those coming out of dummy-half. This is where Luke hurts teams, darting with speed and catching slow markers out of position to grab some quick metres or earn his side a penalty.

The much-hyped South Sydney pack has started to gather some force, too. Against Cronulla only Sam Burgess failed to crack the 100-metre mark for runs – and he wasn’t far off with 87 metres. Captain Roy Asotasi led from the front making 19 tackles and 154 metres, while fellow prop Luke Stuart was just as strong (18 tackles and 132 metres).

That said, they’ll need to put in as big a performance on Monday to keep out the ’Dogs, who have won seven of the eight matches played at ANZ.

There was plenty to find wrong in the Bulldogs’ game from Rounds 1 and 2, but they righted the ship and put in an effort so improved last Sunday it was hard to believe they were the same team that went down to the Knights and Dragons.

Their 60 points against the Roosters was enough to catapult them from 15th to seventh and the performance showed the pressure of two opening losses meant little. Many teams would take their foot off the pedal when opening up a lead as they did, but a 30-point haul in each half and continuous attacking probes to the final siren proved they still have what it takes to be considered among the threats for this year’s title.

Ben Hannant put in a mammoth effort, making 15 tackles and also 17 runs for 166 metres, almost half of those from hit-ups alone. The representative prop showed he’s as committed to the club as he’s ever been, despite the reports of his desire to move back to Queensland. Yileen Gordon was also potent off the bench, receiving the ball 15 times for 110 metres gained.

It’s the work of these forwards for both teams that will be crucial in this Monday night clash. Both like to put in the hard work in the first few tackles before spreading the ball to fast backs, and though the Bulldogs’ right side of Jamal Idris and Steve Turner bared its teeth last week, it’s on Canterbury’s left (Goodwin and Morris) and Souths’ right (Merritt and Champion) where you can expect to see a lot of action.

Watch out Bulldogs: Issac Luke has shown how slippery he is in the opening rounds and if his team-mates start to run off him there are plenty of scoring opportunities for the taking.

Last Monday he made two line-breaks and eight tackle-breaks and a number of times was left stranded, looking for support to offload, only making two for the match. The ’Dogs will need to make sure of their defence around the ruck because Luke is a player sure to capitalise on anyone found napping in that area.

Watch out Rabbitohs: Jamal Idris was far from his barnstorming self the first two weeks, but he was more than a handful for the Roosters. His size and power make him difficult to stop close to the line and if the Bulldogs can get more high bombs out towards his wing he’s another threat, with what would have to be among the biggest vertical leaps in the game.

Idris crossed for two tries last week and isn’t afraid to test the line, so Souths can’t afford to give him any room.

Where it will be won: The hookers play such an important role for both these teams for different reasons. Luke’s impact out of dummy-half has already been mentioned and his think-on-your-feet playing style is part of the reason Souths are such an unpredictable attacking team. Their halves, Chris Sandow and John Sutton, are still not quite clicking, but with Luke there making his quick runs that pressure is relieved.

Michael Ennis, on the other hand, uses his kicking game to great effect. This season he’s kicked just as much, if not more than Brett Kimmorley (from the two games they’ve played together), and he gains more metres from kicks than the halfback (459 metres to 348). Plus, most kicks are from dummy-half, allowing his team the best chance of a strong kick-chase and avoiding fallout from the downtown rule.

Whoever can shut down either of these players will have a firm control of the match.

The History: Played 138: South Sydney 62, Canterbury-Bankstown 72, drawn 4. It’s a long history between these two clubs; Canterbury won both encounters last season and have been victorious in six of the past eight.

Conclusion: Souths were sloppy towards the end of their win over the Sharks, but conditions were tough and with the match in the bag they appeared to take their foot of the gas and lose a bit of composure.

They’ll be much tighter after seeing how the Bulldogs put away the Roosters and will play safer football.

The Bulldogs won’t be taking this lightly either. They learnt in Round 1 what a lack of focus can do and will be out to post back-to-back wins and continue their crawl up the ladder.

They’ll have more strike power off the bench, with former Rabbitoh Yileen Gordon contributing well and Ben Barba turning heads, with his injection into the attack felt almost immediately each week. It’ll be an arm wrestle, but the Bulldogs’ patience will win out in the end.

Match Officials: Referees: Gavin Badger & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials: Russell Turner & Henry Perenara; Video Ref: Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live from 7pm.