Well, well, well. It wasn’t so long ago that it appeared the Rabbitohs would be a top-eight side and the Warriors would be on the outside looking in – but thanks to some great Warriors defence and some close Rabbitohs losses, it is a topsy-turvy world.
That’s right – the Warriors, on the back of a hard-fought win over Melbourne, are now fifth on the ladder, while the previously high-flying Bunnies have slipped outside the finals zone to ninth after losing at the death to the Dragons.
This turn of events sets up a crucial and mouth-watering clash between the clubs as they push towards the ‘magic number’ of 28 competition points, a mark that should give them a finals look-in.
Two wins from seven games might get the Warriors in, although a negative differential would keep them in danger so three would be their minimum aim.
The Rabbitohs now need four from seven, while their positive differential could help out.
If the Bunnies can win this week they could climb as high as sixth, whereas a loss could see them slide further to 10th. The Warriors can get to third with a road win but drop as low as eighth with a slip-up.
After almost downing the Dragons, the Rabbitohs have been forced into change following revelations prop Luke Stuart is out for a long period with a broken hand.
Coach John Lang will shift Sam Burgess into the front row and move Michael Crocker into the starting back row. Jason Clark has been added to the bench.
The Warriors have only made a minor adjustment to their side from last week, with Jacob Lillyman added to a five-man bench to be trimmed on game day.
Watch out Rabbitohs: The Warriors have done plenty of good offensive work off the back of two individuals and their offloads, and this will no doubt continue in this match.
Centre Brent Tate and man mountain winger Manu Vatuvei have plenty of attacking thrust but it has been their ability to offload that has had some teams scrambling.
Vatuvei has 21 offloads this season from 11 games, while Tate has 20 from 13 games. It is important for the Rabbitohs’ defence to not only wrap these boys up, but to kill the promotion of the ball, otherwise they might be chasing points.
Watch out Warriors: The Rabbitohs have certainly found a knack for breaking the line – and the odds are the more times you break through, the more chances you will have to score points.
With 95 line-breaks already this season, or 5.6 a game, the Bunnies are streets ahead of the Warriors who have just 65 line-breaks (3.8 a game) to rank fourth last in the NRL.
Somehow the Warriors need to limit the Bunnies’ opportunities or face an uphill battle. It’s worth noting also that the Rabbitohs have made 43 half-breaks, the second most in the NRL, while the Warriors have just 10 half-breaks, the least in the competition.
Where it will be won: This will be a game based on field position. The Rabbitohs have been awesome at getting metres across the ground this year and are averaging 1415 each game, a significant increase on the Warriors and their 1303 metres each week.
BUT – and it’s big but – the Bunnies haven’t really reduced their opposition’s go-forward all that much, allowing them an average 1359 metres each week. Conversely the Warriors have kept their opponents down to 1255 metres on average, the second best in the NRL.
With prop Luke Stuart out of the side, the Rabbitohs lose a genuine go-forward man and while Mick Crocker is a magnificent player and Sam Burgess has played plenty of prop, it changes the team dynamic. The Rabbitohs pack needs to support skipper Roy Asotasi in going forward before they try too much skill work. If they can do this, and find a way to crack the Warriors, they can be successful.
The Warriors need every bit of the defensive mojo they have been using the past few weeks. If they shut down Souths they could be heading towards the top four.
The history: Played 21; Rabbitohs 6, Warriors 15. The Warriors have won five of the past eight, including a 26-24 win earlier this year, but the Rabbitohs have won three of the past four.
At ANZ Stadium the Warriors have the edge 2-1.
The Rabbitohs biggest ever-winning margin over the Warriors is just seven points, so if you fancy they’ll win, maybe tip 1-12.
Conclusion: You get the feeling South Sydney really need to win this one for their confidence going forward. Having slipped from the top eight they need some positive momentum otherwise they could find themselves in a negative mental cloud of mediocrity, a phenomenon common around the club in the past few decades.
The Warriors also have plenty to play for and proved just two weeks ago against Penrith that they can come to Sydney and get physical.
Form line suggests Warriors but lean to Souths… they might be a tad more desperate.
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Daniel Eastwood; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.