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Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers
ANZ Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

Is the world conspiring against the Rabbitohs in their quest for a finals berth this season? Certainly some Bunnies fans think so, after they lost another big name in Sam Burgess during the week. But while injuries can be hard to factor in to a finals run, the blame for trying to rip an opponent’s head off in a classic, open-and-shut case of a grapple tackle, can only fall to the Englishman.

The time for whinging and moaning is over; now it’s time for action. Forget about the casualty ward, which holds Luke Stuart (did you know the Rabbitohs have won just four of 27 matches without Stuart since re-entering the league?), Mick Crocker, Dave Taylor, Beau Falloon and the like, and focus on the job at hand – beating the Wests Tigers.

We know you can do it – we remember the 50-10 hiding you gave the Wests Tigers at the SCG back in Round 10 – problem is, so do the Tigers.

Yep, the joint-venture Tigers remember it all too well and after using the humiliation as a springboard to their current fourth spot on the ladder, they are now well placed to dish out some major revenge.

One more win for the Tigers should be enough to confirm a finals berth – but they want top four and have even suggested a minor premiership is still in reach. Just a win behind the current leaders, it isn’t out of the realms of possibility.

As for the Rabbitohs, they need three out of five to have half a hope, and four out of five to nail down a post-season berth.

Should they lose here, they will face virtual sudden death over the last month of football, not the place they want to be in, with away games against Melbourne, Penrith and St George Illawarra and a home game against the Eels.

Encouragingly Souths welcome back centre Beau Champion (in place of Jamie Simpson) while Jaiman Lowe, who celebrates his 100th NRL game, takes Burgess’ spot at prop.

Hooker Beau Falloon is out with a broken arm but is replaced by the very handy Issac Luke, a move which would have happened anyway. Craig Stapleton and Shannon McPherson are the new names on the bench.
The Wests Tigers, who were lucky to win against lowly Cronulla last week, welcome Wade McKinnon back at fullback, which sees Beau Ryan move to the wing and Mitch Brown miss out. The only other change sees prop Andrew Fifita come onto the bench for Mark Flanagan.

Watch out Rabbitohs: The Rabbitohs have the worst effective tackle percentage in the entire NRL – and here they come up against a side that has the third best!

The Bunnies are effectively shutting down their opponents on just 82.8 per cent of occasions; in other words they are either missing a tackle or allowing an offload, or just being a waste of defensive space (leaving a hole somewhere else) on 17.2 per cent of occasions, or almost two in every 10 tackles. They have 697 missed tackles for the year, which is ranked 14th in the NRL and equates to almost 37 a game.

On top of this they have 412 ineffective tackles, also ranked 14th, which equates to almost 22 each match.

In an alarming statistic, halfback Chris Sandow has missed more tackles this season (103) than 39 per cent of the entire NRL has actually made! The Wests Tigers back-rowers will pinpoint the tiny halfback all day.

Watch out Wests Tigers:
The Rabbitohs might have lost Sam Burgess this week but they do get centre Beau Champion back. While the name Champion doesn’t strike the fear that Inglis, Tonga, Cooper, Gasnier or Tahu might, it shouldn’t be far off, such is the involvement and impact the former schoolboy sensation brings to the Rabbitohs.

While Champion isn’t a centre who gets millions of touches and metres, he is deceptively elusive when he does get quality ball. He has 10 line-breaks this season to prove it.
With 14 tries, he is equal leading tryscorer for the Rabbitohs with noted ‘meat pie’ man Nathan Merritt, and with both these guys on deck the capacity for points certainly rises.
Where it will be won: The battle of the hookers. Back in the old days this would have meant who would win the ball in the contest of the scrum but in today’s game this is all about getting play moving forward and then grabbing the attacking chances when they come.

The offensive battle between Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah and Rabbitohs rake Issac Luke will be absolutely crucial. Luke is back starting and should be better for blowing out a few cobwebs against the Bulldogs. As the side’s main attacking thrust, he needs to carry his side and show why he was arguably the competition’s best player over the first half of the season.

Luke is averaging 130 metres gained – extraordinary numbers for a dummy-half player – and has 10 line-breaks this year, five from dummy-half. Also, he has added seven line-break assists, six try assists and eight tries of his own. If he can get the makeshift Rabbitohs forward pack on the front foot by engaging the markers often, he’ll have chances to shine.

Farah plays a similar style, directing traffic like an old pro and then running at the opportune moment. He averages 62 metres gained, has five line-breaks (four from dummy-half), 11 line-break assists, 14 try assists and three tries.

If either of these two men dominates, their side will be banking two competition points.

The history:
Played 15; Rabbitohs 7, Wests Tigers 8. The Wests Tigers have won five of the past eight between the clubs but were embarrassed 50-10 by the Bunnies earlier this season in their last encounter.
At ANZ Stadium the Wests Tigers hold a perfect 3-0 record against the Rabbitohs. In the past eight games, one was decided by a solitary point – although the overall average winning margin during this time is more than 27 points. A blowout could be on the cards, despite the importance of this game.
The Wests Tigers have a 4-2 record when facing a team the time after conceding 50 or more points.

Conclusion: The Wests Tigers deserve favouritism considering the depleted Bunnies squad this week, although they are coming in with some scratchy form. They were beaten by the Sea Eagles and were lucky to get the job done against Cronulla, making them less of a lock than they may seem.

If the Rabbitohs can get the chocolates it will do wonders for their confidence going into the tough games, but should they fall here, you might as well pull the curtain down on their season. This motivation alone should make you contemplate an upset.

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Jason Robinson; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & David Munro; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
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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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