Rabbitohs v Bulldogs preview

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
ANZ Stadium
Sunday 2pm

Well you can’t accuse South Sydney coach John Lang of lacking passion. The sight of his beetroot-red face after he gave his charges a half-time spray proved Lang is just as tired of poor Rabbitohs performances as the long-suffering fans are. 

After a dismal first half against the Roosters the Rabbitohs almost snatched victory with a spirited comeback, despite suffering some major injury blows, giving us all some renewed hope this week. 

Injuries to Sam Burgess, Scott Geddes and Ben Lowe meant skipper Roy Asotasi played the most minutes (73) in any game since July 2007. 

But in order to claim their first win of the season South Sydney must take on a rejuvenated Bulldogs side that knocked off the more-fancied Wests Tigers in Monday Night Football. 

Another all-Sydney affair infused with two extremely passionate supporter bases gives us a must-see match on Sunday afternoon. ANZ Stadium is a big, big ground so if you are close by get down and contribute to what should be an intense, yet exciting atmosphere. 

English star Burgess is out of the Bunnies’ side with a shoulder injury, with his spot in the second row taken by Eddy Pettybourne. Lowe is also gone from the starting side due to injury, giving Dave Tyrrell his first game for the year. 

Geddes is out for the season, meaning the Rabbitohs’ bench has two new faces in former international Michael Crocker and Chris McQueen.

Winger Nathan Merritt needs just eight points to equal Daryl Halligan as the third most-prolific points scorer at ANZ Stadium.

The Bulldogs have named the same side this week – although Josh Morris will not play at centre after scans revealed he has a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his knee. He will miss 6-8 weeks and a replacement will be named later in the week.

Currently in fifth place, the Dogs already look determined enough to find their place back in the top half of this competition, come finals time. 

Watch Out Rabbitohs: Aidan Tolman has come to the Bulldogs hell bent on proving right the pundits who labelled him an Origin-class player. Fresh out of the Melbourne production centre, Tolman proved how valuable he might be to the Dogs all year by pumping out 171 metres against the Wests Tigers and adding 46 tackles. These sorts of numbers are a coach’s dream (both real and fantasy – dream team coaches keep your eye on this guy!). Tolman is no-nonsense – he gets the job done without fanfare and doesn’t try to add flair to his game. 

Danger Sign: Watch the first three sets the Dogs have the ball. If the blonde hair is noticeable with ball in hand four or more times, he is ready to post big numbers again. 

Watch Out Bulldogs: The Rabbitohs love to bring big Dave Taylor into the game on the left edge of the ruck and they have an effective set of plays to do so. The Rabbitohs’ variation of a common left shift is to have a half get the ball and then have two decoy runners cutting back inside towards the ruck. Taylor is then the wide, flat-running option often left one-on-one with a defender – something he relishes and usually exploits. 

Should the defence squeeze in on Taylor, Chris Sandow can go out the back to John Sutton, who then either takes the line on himself (did so to score last week) or hands the ball wide to the outside backs. 

Danger Sign: If the Rabbitohs seek out Taylor, the first few times they do the move it is only a matter of time before Sutton has a crack.

Plays To Watch: Pritchard bulldozing through on the left edge; Hodkinson kicking wide to support; Barba sidestepping anything that moves; Idris running over everything that moves; Crocker on a search-and-destroy mission, Taylor emulating Pritchard on his left edge; Inglis getting ball from scrums on the short side; Sutton running himself. 

Where It Will Be Won: The influence of the No.9s. Last week Bulldogs hooker Michael Ennis got a crack at his rival Robbie Farah and came out on top. This week he must take down Kiwi star Issac Luke if his side is to go two-for-two.
 
Both Ennis and Luke are key components to their side’s attacking flow. Ennis is a real niggler – he gnaws at one spot, grating and grating until it gives way. In this case it will be at the Rabbitohs’ props and tight defenders. He’ll have traffic go at them over and over again, hoping to create a crack he can then exploit. In his case this usually happens when he jumps out from dummy-half and rather than just engage markers and the ‘A’ defender (first guy next to the ruck) he also interests the ‘B’ defender. Once he sucks them in he shifts the ball and the overlap develops. 

For Luke the first part of the premise is the same – he works over tired defenders but usually when he chances it his lightning acceleration sees him through a gap on his own and his team-mates then loom in support. 

It will come as no surprise if either of these men is man of the match in this encounter. Whoever keeps their opposing hooker quiet will be well on the way to guiding their side to the two competition points. 

The History: Played 140; Rabbitohs 63, Bulldogs 73, drawn 4. The Bulldogs have been all over the Bunnies in recent times, winning six of the past eight. As far as games at ANZ Stadium go, Canterbury have won eight of the 10 matches between the clubs at the venue. If Rabbitohs fans are looking for a silver lining, one of South Sydney’s wins was last season. 

Conclusion: This is no easy pick. The Bulldogs have winning form but they have a shorter turn-around and are without Morris, which is a huge blow. The Rabbitohs were awful in one half, yet impressive in another – but they too have injury concerns. 

Flip a coin – but gut feel here thinks the Rabbitohs will bounce back and open their 2011 account. 

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Henry Perenara; Video Ref – Tim Mander. 

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.