Rabbitohs v Knights Preview

Rabbitohs v Knights
Bluetongue Stadium
Saturday 5.30pm

Okay South Sydney: are you for real? Did last Monday night’s belting of the Bulldogs prove you are going to live up to some of the hype from the pre-season? Or have the Bunnies’ burrow of supporters gotten excited way too early again?

And Newcastle, oh Newcastle… it now seems like forever since you produced that gutsy, scrappy and hard-fought Round 1 victory over the Bulldogs. You assured us you could deal with the loss of Danny Wicks and Chris Houston, and Kurt Gidley’s absence wasn’t going to cripple you. But alas, it appears these issues are indeed big issues, as you once again failed to play for 80 minutes and were pipped by the Panthers.

These are two teams at the crossroads. Yes, it is early in the year but the Rabbitohs must maintain momentum, especially in ‘home’ games (Gosford isn’t really that close to South Sydney though, is it?) if they are to maintain a spot in the top eight.

Their 38-16 towelling of the Bulldogs pushed them to a 2-2 record and eighth spot on the NRL ladder. A third consecutive scalp this week would start to prove the ‘real deal’ theory about this Rabbitohs unit.

They have retained the same side from last week, although Michael Crocker has been added to the bench leaving coach John Lang to cull one man before kick-off.

The Knights, now on a three-match losing streak, have plummeted to 14th on the NRL ladder with the Round 1 win their only joy. The side have competed hard but the fact remains they could have, and perhaps should have, won two of the three they have lost.

An NRL side shouldn’t surrender a 24-6 lead like they did last Sunday; those lost competition points could come back to haunt them, especially if they don’t start winning again soon.

The Knights named the same side as last weekend, however Adam MacDougall has since been ruled out, with Wes Naiqama his likely replacement and Cameron Ciraldo to join the bench.

Watch out Rabbitohs: If you wander into this match assuming the Knights’ defence is shoddy you might get a horrible surprise.

While it is true they have leaked 26.5 points a match to be ranked fourth worst in the NRL, the side has the basics of tackling down pat and is one of the most technically efficient defensive teams in the NRL.

The side, as a whole, is effectively tackling on 87.1 percent of occasions – the best rate in the NRL. Sadly for them, the 12.9 per cent of ineffective tackles are leading to breaks and tries and their poor defensive reads on occasions have allowed other teams to go through yawning holes.

What this does mean though, is that if they can rectify their alignment and scramble better, their defence is sure to improve.

Watch out Knights: While the Rabbitohs didn’t really need to resort to attacking kicks against the Bulldogs last week, they may well do so in this match after realising the Knights have conceded the most tries from kicks in the competition.

Already, six tries have been conceded to the boot for the Knights, more than a try a match in a worrying sign.

Look for Chris Sandow and John Sutton to employ the grubber kick mainly, turning the bigger Knights wingers around. The Newcastle defence has successfully defused just 50 per cent of grubber kicks, the worst rate in the NRL, and consequently they can expect more and more to come their way each week.

When it comes to running the ball, the Rabbitohs are sending traffic right. They have 10 tries so far on the right side of the field, where Beau Champion has been strong, compared to just two on the left.

Where it will be won: In every single minute of this match.

Newcastle by now must surely realise this game goes for 80 minutes, not 40, 50 or 60. How they let a 24-6 lead evaporate against the Panthers is a bit of a mystery. But it happened – just like Melbourne running them down and the Bulldogs almost doing so in week one.

Conversely, the Rabbitohs aren’t immune to lapses in games. They gave the Bulldogs a bit of a sniff last Monday before killing them off and a bounce of the ball here or there and the score line could have been much closer.

Concentration throughout is key. Minor details matter. If you nod off at marker, you will be punished. Akuila Uate scored from the play-the-ball last week and the Rabbitohs also have three dummy-half tries already this year – essentially a position no-one should score from.

Souths lead the NRL in dummy-half line-breaks with five, so any lapses around the ruck will most certainly be punished. As mentioned above, decision-making in defence also matters. The Knights have struggled so far in 2010 but the Rabbitohs are also prone to matching up on the wrong man. The team with the right attitude for the longest period of the match will prevail.

The history: Played 30: Rabbitohs 6, Knights 24. The Knights have a sensational overall record against the Rabbitohs, but have won just five of the past eight between the teams.

The sides split the two matches played in 2009, with Souths taking the game at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford. There have been three match-ups between the sides at the venue, with the Bunnies holding sway 2-1.

Conclusion: The Rabbitohs are building into form, while the Knights are lacking confidence in crucial stages of matches, so the feel is towards the Bunnies here.

But they certainly won’t get things all their own way and if they turn up expecting a win they won’t get it.

They will still need to get into the grind of the match and be prepared to roll up their sleeves, or the gritty Knights will once again get the jump. Sooner or later an early lead will result in a win for the Knights, so the Rabbitohs will want to be on the ball from the opening whistle.

With the right attitude the Rabbitohs will win comfortably, with the wrong one the Knights are a huge chance.

Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Ricky McFarlane; Video Ref – Russell Smith.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.