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Bulldogs v Rabbitohs
ANZ Stadium
Friday, 7.30pm

The Bulldogs have suffered 12 losses this season, but there haven’t been many games where you’ve really felt like they were truly blown off the park by their opponents.

As always, there are exceptions to this – and the last time the Bulldogs played the Rabbitohs, they were well and truly beaten in every single area.

The clash with the Rabbitohs in Round 4 was the first indication that something was truly not right with the Bulldogs this season, and if the Bunnies stick to their plan, this could be another heartbreaking loss for ’Dogs fans.

Watch out Bulldogs:
Sam Burgess was welcomed to the NRL with open arms, and it was in this corresponding game earlier in the year that he really started to shine.

Burgess scored two tries the last time he lined up against the Bulldogs, and generally terrorised their edge defence with his speed and strength. Although he is playing at prop this week, he will need to be watched with a close eye by the opposition.

South Sydney have made the most line-breaks in the NRL with 102, and have consequently scored 26 times directly from these busts. With Nathan Merritt and Fetuli Talanoa on the wings, and the strength of their centres, it isn’t wise to give away possession – which the Bulldogs will need to watch considering they are ranked fifth in the competition for conceding missed tackles.

And while they haven’t been going that badly without him, the return of Issac Luke from injury is a huge boost for the Rabbitohs. They are sorely lacking in forwards and Luke generally does a great job darting from dummy-half, making an average of 135 metres per game.

Before his lay-off, he’s scored eight tries, made 10 line-breaks and racked up six try assists. He’ll be itching to show his worth in his comeback game, and the ’Dogs need to be wary.

Watch out Rabbitohs: You’re coming up against a side that’s a little bit different than the last time you played them. Although they got blown off the park early by Parramatta, the ’Dogs had four strong games before that and eventually fought back against the Eels, even though it was a case of too little, too late.

Their bookends in Ben Hannant and Ryan Tandy are both averaging 120 metres per game, which equates to good go-forward compared to the earlier stages of the season.

In addition to this, there have also been well-documented changes the ’Dogs’ attacking structure. It’s always important to watch Ben Barba, especially considering his sneakiness has led to him having the most tries awarded by the video referee this year, with six green lights. Jamal Idris always attracts a swarm of defenders when he’s taking a hit-up in the back row, and if the ’Dogs can work on getting their support play right, there’s no telling how much damage they can inflict.

Another factor which could change the course of this game is the emotion behind it. With great Bulldogs clubman Luke Patten announcing his departure from the club at the end of the season, as well as being one career try away from notching up 100, the ’Dogs will be keen to give The General a proper send-off as the season winds down. While it would be an absolute miracle for them to make the eight from here, the ’Dogs would at least like to end the season on a positive note, which will undoubtedly include some upset wins.

Elsewhere, Souths forwards Eddy Pettybourne and Jason Clarke need to lift in the absence of injured strike weapon Dave Taylor.

Where it will be won:
It will be an important one for the forwards. Sutton and Sandow need their forward pack to roll if they’re going to have any impact, and while Ben Barba can set up or score a try from pretty much anywhere, if there’s enough defence on him, his impact can be snuffed out.

Working in the Bulldogs’ favour is the fact that Sam Burgess will be playing the game at prop due to his side’s massive injury toll, which means he won’t be as much of a threat on the edges of the ruck.

Both teams have good finishers, so field position will be vital.

The history:
Played 139; Bulldogs 72, Rabbitohs 63, drawn 4. The Bulldogs have won seven out of nine clashes with the Bunnies at ANZ Stadium, which works in their favour.
Conclusion: South Sydney have been playing too well to miss out on the top eight, which means they really have to win most of their games at this stage of the season. With a tough run home for the Rabbitohs – Tigers (h), Storm (a), Panthers (a), Eels (h) and Dragons (a) – this is the “easiest” they will have it for a long while, which means on the scale of “must-wins”, this game rates highly.

The Bulldogs, of course, will be intent on wreaking as much havoc on the competition as possible. But with so much at stake, you would have to say the Rabbitohs should bag this one.

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Matt Cecchin; Sideline officials – Jeff Younis & David Munro; Video ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed 11.30pm.
Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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