Tigers v Rabbitohs Preview

Tigers v Rabbitohs
Sydney Cricket Ground
Sunday, 2pm

When it comes to a quintessential ‘heritage’ rugby league match, it doesn’t get much better than watching the Wests Tigers go around with the South Sydney Rabbitohs at the Sydney Cricket Ground on a Sunday afternoon.

What makes this match-up even more mouth-watering is that both sides will be desperate to get hit some form – despite both clubs sitting inside the top eight, the Tigers and the Rabbitohs are coming off losses before the bye.

And let’s hope they’re all refreshed. With livewires like Benji Marshall, John Sutton, Robbie Farah and Chris Sandow on the field and probable clear skies over Sydney, it’s a great opportunity for the playmakers to dazzle in front of what will undoubtedly be a huge crowd.

In the corresponding match last year, Nathan Merritt crushed the hearts of the Tigers army with an incredible field goal on the stroke of full time. What have they got in store for us this year?

Watch out Tigers: When the Bunnies have been “on” this year, they’ve really been on, winning three of four games in 2010 by a 13+ margin. This is due partly to the work of their dynamic hooker Issac Luke, who played a great game for New Zealand and will be looking to bring back a winning attitude to his club.

One of the top point-scorers so far this season on 54, Luke is most dangerous when he runs from dummy-half, sitting at second in the competition for both dummy-half line-breaks and dummy-half runs.

South Sydney’s other playmaker, John Sutton, can certainly sniff out a try, having a hand in 11 four-pointers so far this season. A few of these have been for centre Beau Champion, who earned his first representative jersey for City last week.

With nine tries to Champion and six to Nathan Merritt on the other side of the field, the Rabbitohs’ backline will generally find their way to the white stripe on any given day.

A real area of concern will be the Tigers’ goal line defence, which has leaked almost three quarters of points against them this year. This is good news for Souths, who have scored 80 per cent of their tries from inside the opposition’s 20-metre zone.

Both Sutton and Souths’ halfback Chris Sandow will want to do some bombing on the Tigers’ line, with only 60 per cent of bombs being defused by Wests this year.

Watch out Rabbitohs:
It’s a case of anything you can do, we can do better, with the Wests Tigers showing off their fair share of impressive attacking skills in 2010.

As they have consistently done in recent seasons, the Tigers have the uncanny ability to break the defensive line and make great metres (along with scoring great tries) in broken-field play.

Five-eighth Benji Marshall has a big hand in this, with three line-breaks himself and eight line-break assists to his name so far this season, all of them coming from passes.

Almost half of the Tigers’ tries this year have come from outside their opposition’s 20 metre zone. With ball-playing back-rowers like Gareth Ellis and Chris Heighington behind Marshall, the Tigers can score from virtually anywhere, which may trouble South Sydney, who have started their past three games slowly and with some questionable defensive efforts.

Another variable factor in the match will be the performance of Robbie Farah. Always the consummate professional, there’s even more on the line for Farah as he shows Origin selectors what he’s capable of for the last time before the New South Wales squad is picked.

With Robert Lui back into the side at halfback, Farah and Marshall will have more freedom to create spark in attack.

Souths should also be wary of the Wests Tigers’ defence. While still leaking their fair share of points, the Tigers have shown that this season they are far more likely to dig their heels in during tough periods of the game.

Where it will be won:
Neither club is known for their defence, so it will come down to how the smaller men go. The Rabbitohs can’t afford to begin the game on the back foot, and need to be aggressive if they’re going to stop the Tigers rolling forward.

The Tigers need to be solid on their line, with John Sutton and Chris Sandow creating plenty of opportunities for their backline with their varied kicking games.

It’s also important to maintain their big men, especially with the return of Roy Asotasi as Rabbitohs’ captain.

The Tigers have suffered the late withdrawal of prop Keith Galloway with a broken hand.

The history:
Played 14, Wests Tigers 8, South Sydney 6. They’ve played at the SCG twice, with the clubs claiming one apiece. The Tigers demolished the Rabbitohs the last time they met, winners 54 points to 20 at ANZ Stadium – however, Souths can claim a mental edge at the SCG, pipping the Tigers by one point on the buzzer in the corresponding clash last year.

Conclusion:
This game could go either way, and it really comes down to which versions of both teams turn up on Sunday.

The opportunity to leapfrog the loser on the ladder is up for grabs, meaning it’s not only an opportunity to win a grudge match, but a good time to win a game going into the Origin period.

Both teams are comeback specialists, so expect a tight encounter.

Match officials: Referees: Steve Lyons & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials: Steve Carrall & Grant Atkins; Video Ref: Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.