Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles Preview

Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles
Sunday 3pm
ANZ Stadium

What a nail-biter this should be! Both South Sydney and Manly sit on eight points after four wins and three losses this season. But while the Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs have a winning record in the 2010 season, both have been far from consistent. This match gives Manly – who were run down by the Titans last Monday night – and the Rabbitohs – who staged a remarkable comeback to defeat the Raiders in Canberra last weekend – the opportunity to consolidate on an up-and-down start to the year.

A win in this clash, against a team on equal footing thus far in the season, could just provide the momentum for either club to build solid mid-season form and give them enough impetus to march through to September.

Watch out Rabbitohs: South Sydney’s late-match revival against the Raiders last Sunday certainly gave their fans a reason to smile – Dave Taylor transformed into a human cannonball, Issac Luke shook off some first-half jitters and the entire backline hit top gear.

But the 18-point lead they conceded before half-time, which they ultimately overcame, is unlikely to be surrendered by a team of the calibre of the Sea Eagles. Quite simply, the Sea Eagles’ player roster is stronger than the Raiders’ and the likelihood of Manly giving up a lead for the second time in two weeks, after they slipped in the final 10 minutes against the Titans, is very slim. The Rabbitohs need to start in a much more convincing fashion – or risk losing an important match.

Individually, the Rabbitohs have several go-to men – Luke, Taylor and Sutton in particular – however some of those star players have deficiencies. Renowned pint-sized hitman Luke loves the tough stuff in the middle of the field, but he’s missed 40 tackles this season (the most in the NRL) for an efficiency of 74 per cent. He has also conceded the most missed tackles in a game so far this season – 12 against the Titans in Round 2. The same problem exists with halfback Chris Sandow (73 per cent), who’s missed 33 tackles. (No player at the Sea Eagles has missed more than 24 tackles so far in 2010).

It’s safe to say both Luke and Sandow will be targeted.

Watch out Sea Eagles:
Statistics show the Rabbitohs are impossible to keep down if they complete their sets of six. In fact, South Sydney haven’t lost a match this season where they’ve completed their sets at 72 per cent efficiency or higher.

And it doesn’t even matter what the opposition does – the Rabbitohs won against 28-10 against the Knights in Round 5, despite Newcastle finishing with a better completion rate.

It’s as simple as this – the Bunnies hold onto the football and they’re very difficult to contain.

Manly need to force errors out of the Rabbitohs – and if they don’t it could be all over, red rover. South Sydney rank highly in tries scored (4.1 per game – fourth), metres gained (1388 per game – second), line-breaks (5.1 per game – fourth) and tackle-breaks (36 per game – seventh). When their attack gets going, Sutton and Sandow start scheming.

Then the likes of Nathan Merritt, who has scored six tries in seven appearances, and Beau Champion, who has a one-try-each-game record so far in 2010, bob up ready to score. The Sea Eagles simply can’t let that happen. Look for battering rams Steve Matai, Anthony Watmough and Shane Rodney, among others, to come charging out of the line and put pressure on the Rabbitohs’ attack.

Also of concern for Manly coaching staff and fans would be the side’s ill-disciplined start to 2010 – the Sea Eagles lead the league after conceding 53 penalties in seven matches. (For the record, the Bulldogs have conceded the fewest, just 34 thus far in 2010.)

Where it will be won:
The battle of the no.6s will have a massive bearing as to how this match pans out.

Rabbitohs stand-off John Sutton sparked his team into action with some great vision against the Raiders in Canberra – his playmaking ability acts as the perfect foil for the inconsistent but developing Sandow, who partners Sutton at halfback. Sutton’s recorded nine try assists already this season, and is a danger running, passing and kicking.

Sea Eagles five-eighth Kieran Foran has also been in top form, too. Last week against the Titans he broke seven tackles and set up two tries in a dominant performance. So far this year he’s recorded nine try assists, five line-break assists and 19 tackle-breaks.

Both Foran and Sutton lead their team’s creativity with nine try assists from their team’s total so far of 29 – who gets on top will go a long way to determining who gets the competition points.

Conclusion: Expect an entertaining clash. Big forwards the likes of Luke, Taylor, powerful Pom Sam Burgess, Watmough, Josh Perry and Brent Kite will look to dominate for their respective teams in the middle of the ruck. Big hits are guaranteed!

TAB Sportsbet gives the Rabbitohs a 2.5 points head-start… but it could get even closer than that. Whichever team dominates the middle of the field, through the forwards, should come out victors. It’ll allow the creative halves of both teams time and room to give the ball to quick-stepping and powerful flyers like Rhys Wesser, Merritt and Colin Best for the Rabbitohs, and Michael Robertson, Tony Williams and Jamie Lyon for Manly.

That said, even if a team dominates the mid-field arm-wrestle, both sides have X-factors capable of throwing a spanner in the works. The Rabbitohs have Sandow, Wesser and Merritt who are, ahem, more than capable of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The same goes for the Sea Eagles, with the enigmatic and dynamic Lyon, Matai and Williams capable of making something out of nothing.

The history:
Played 123; Sea Eagles 67, Rabbitohs 56. The Sea Eagles have won six of the past 10 meetings. Last season they finished one apiece – the Rabbitohs won 36-22 in Round 22 at Brookvale, with Manly victors 24-8 in the Round 6 clash at ANZ.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Steve Carrall; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

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