Roosters v Rabbitohs
Sydney Football Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

You can just smell it, can’t you? There is a different feeling in the air. It might not be finals time yet but this local derby feels just like a September clash.

The “niggle” between the two clubs is thicker than grandma’s cake batter. The fact they are both in the top eight, but not guaranteed to stay there, adds even more spice. And it’s at the SFS – the old home for both sides and once the premiere venue for finals.

Seriously, this match is one all footy fans should flock to. It deserves a sell-out. In fact, before you read on any further, book yourself a few tickets. Take your mates, your kids… you won’t be disappointed.

The inconsistent Roosters kept their win-loss scenario going by beating Canberra last week, pushing them into seventh on the ladder – but they are far from safe. A loss has them in danger of being outside the finals zone once more although a win could catapult them as high as fourth.

Halfback Mitchell Pearce and prop Nate Myles need to get through Origin to take their places and if they do, the reshuffle in the side would see Todd Carney go from halfback to five-eighth and Braith Anasta move from five-eighth to lock.

Frank Paul Nuuausala pushes into the second row and Joseph Leilua misses selection.

Myles’ return pushed Mose Masoe to the bench and Tom Symonds out of the team.

The Rabbitohs enjoyed the bye last week but still managed a major casualty. Hooker Issac Luke dislocated his shoulder at training and is a huge loss. They also need hulking Dave Taylor to get through Origin to turn up as named.

Currently in fifth, the side can move into the top four with a win but fall to eighth with a loss. A really heavy loss could see them even drop as low as ninth.

With Luke missing, Beau Falloon gets a chance at hooker (his second game this year) and Eddy Pettybourne returns from his broken jaw at the expense of Shannon McPherson.

As has been the case on a few occasions this season, former Maroons Origin enforcer Michael Crocker has been named as 18th man.

Watch out Roosters: The Rabbitohs are the best side in the NRL at taking advantage of turnovers, having scored eight tries this season directly from a loose ball. This is made more critical with the knowledge the Roosters have conceded six tries directly from turnovers, the worst in the NRL.

Roosters coach Brian Smith is an advocate of attacking from turnovers – it’s the first lesson he teaches when arriving at a new club – so these numbers are slightly surprising. The tri-colours must keep their wits about them when they lose the ball, or else the Bunnies may throw them in the deep fryer.

Watch out Rabbitohs: The Roosters love to attack with the boot and have scored 16 tries from kicks this season, second only to Penrith in the statistic.

The reason they will look to use it even more this Friday night is the fact the Rabbitohs have conceded 15 tries from kicks – the second most in the NRL.

Braith Anasta has five try assists from kicks, Mitchell Pearce has four and Todd Carney has three, making the side extremely dangerous. If you pressure one, another can get the job done. The bomb and cross-field bomb are Carney and Anasta’s preferred method, while Pearce is all about the grubber kick.

Where it will be won:
This match is going to come down to line-breaks and finishing, which therefore also makes scramble defence crucial.
 
The Rabbitohs have made 89 line-breaks so far this season, the most in the NRL, which is nearly six a game. The Roosters aren’t far behind with 81 line-breaks, which rank third in the competition.

Importantly, they have made 22 from within their own half – the most in the comp.

Also, the Bunnies have 37 half-breaks, the Roosters 30. When you take into account the loss of Issac Luke and with him the Rabbitohs’ threat from dummy-half, the two sides even out.

Support play will be critical. When a player makes a bust he is likely to need support so both sides need to show anticipation. Scramble defence will also need to be top-notch, so when the breaks are made, someone can shut them down. The Rabbitohs have notched 45 try-saving tackles this season, the Roosters 42.

South Sydney’s biggest line-breaking threat is Nathan Merritt (the winger has 14 for the year and needs just two more for 100 in his career) while centre Beau Champion and fullback Rhys Wesser are also doing well with 10 each.

Number one for the Roosters is centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall with 11 busts, while back-rower Mitch Aubusson is next with 10.

The history: Played 200; Roosters 90, Rabbitohs 105, drawn 5. The Roosters took out game 200 in Round 1 this year by 36-10 and the Bunnies want revenge.

Souths have won two of the past three but just three of the past eight against the tri-colours. At the SFS the Roosters hold a 19-10 advantage although the last time the two met at the venue it was a 52-12 Bunnies win.  

After 200 games the Roosters lead in total points scored – but only narrowly – 3053 to 3018.

Conclusion: The Rabbitohs are the team to beat in this one but without Luke they are decidedly weaker. If the Roosters were on a ‘win’ week in their cycle, you might be inclined to go for an upset, but even their triumph last week against the Raiders had some elements of luck – their first try was an intercept and their second one came from a poor winger error.

In saying that, once again the Rabbitohs are in a position as favourites… and when that happens, they often fail to produce. Stick to the Bunnies, but cross your fingers.

Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Daniel Eastwood; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Channel Nine – live 7.30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld); Fox Sports – delayed 11.30pm.