Bulldogs v Rabbitohs
This second of two Saturday games has all the makings of an Anzac/Easter weekend classic, just five weeks after these two sides fought out a thriller when the Bulldogs downed the Rabbitohs 29-18 in Round 2.
Last Friday night the ’Dogs snapped a two-game losing streak with a runaway win against the struggling Eels in a spiteful clash at ANZ, while the Bunnies were a lot better than the 16-0 scoreline from their Monday night battle against the Dragons would suggest.
The ’Dogs seemed to win the mental battle against Parramatta, putting them off their game, and despite each team losing two men to the sin bin the ’Dogs seemed to handle it better and turned a 14-0 deficit into a runaway 34-14 win as fullback Ben Barba ran in three tries.
The Bunnies meanwhile competed strongly with the reigning premiers and matched them in defence as the score stayed at 2-0 for most of the game. Then as the final turn neared the Dragons did what they do best under Wayne Bennett – out-waited and outlasted their opponents, scoring two late tries to seal the deal.
John Lang will be especially frustrated knowing his charges competed so strongly but just failed to win the big moments. Dave Tyrrell was denied after looking certain to score, cut down once just short of the line by Dean Young and Chris McQueen was spectacularly hauled out of the in-goal by Matt Cooper in one of the greatest one-on-one try savers you will ever see.
In contrast, Rhys Wesser bizarrely grubbered the ball dead on the first tackle when the Rabbitohs really had the Dragons under the pump, and Fetuli Talanoa’s five errors included a knock-on from a Soward kick despite no defender being within shouting distance, again when the Bunnies were looking to apply pressure.
John Lang has lost patience and wielded the axe, with both men absent from the team this week. Exciting youngster James Roberts makes his NRL debut at fullback in place of Wesser, while Chris McQueen comes into the starting side to take Talanoa’s place. Back-rower Eddy Pettybourne returns from a three-game suspension to take McQueen’s place on the bench.
Winger Nathan Merritt requires a solitary point for 500 career points.
Meanwhile the Bulldogs welcome back Josh Morris at centre in place of Tim Lafai, and Jake Foster comes onto the bench to replace Corey Payne, who will miss one week for his swinging arm on Jarryd Hayne.
The Bulldogs will have the benefit of an eight-day layoff, while the Rabbitohs are backing up just five days after a gruelling Monday night encounter.
Watch Out Bulldogs: Two words: Greg Inglis. Inglis got badly outpointed by Jamal Idris back in Round 2, and despite Idris’ growing stature in the game, a champion of Inglis’ stature won’t accept that kind of result again.
Back then Inglis was still coming back from injury after an interrupted off-season, and he took out his frustrations on the hapless Parramatta Eels a week later. He’s looked back to his dangerous best since then and will be out to settle the score. He ran for 127 metres last week in a losing team, well up on his season average of 80 metres per game. His four try assists for the season is the most at the club.
‘GI’ has only two tries in eight appearances against the Bulldogs, making them his second worst opponent, and a loss here would mean four consecutive defeats against a single team for the first time in his career. Inglis will be doing everything in his power to correct those figures.
Danger Sign: Inglis’ try assists come mostly as a result of using his size and mobility to outmuscle opponents on the run, attracting multiple defenders and fending them away before offloading to put a support runner in space. Because of his long strides it’s even harder for opposition outside backs to get a grip on him.
When Inglis gets going in space he will tuck the ball up in one arm and use the other to keep opponents away – when that happens it’s time to call for reinforcements.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Two words: Jamal Idris. The battle between these two giant centres should be a titanic one but the key isn’t just how well they mark each other – it’s how well they are marked by the opposition team as a whole.
None of the Eels had any answers to Idris last week as he chalked up eight tackle-breaks, two line-breaks, two offloads, two try assists and two tries. When he’s not going head-to-head with Inglis, the rest of the South Sydney team will need to do everything they can to rein him in.
He is reunited in the centres with Josh Morris this week, and with Barba at the back in peak form, the Bunnies could have headaches right across the park.
Idris knows he had the better of ‘GI’ last time around which will do wonders for his already booming confidence.
Danger Sign: You could almost ‘rinse and repeat’ a description of Inglis here, with Idris’ size, strength, speed and offloading ability. But don’t forget Idris is capable of a huge leap and has an uncanny knack of coming back down with the ball.
So when Kris Keating and Trent Hodkinson hoist it up high to the right corner, Inglis and co had better be ready to match it with Idris in the air.
Plays To Watch: Trent Hodkinson and Kris Keating playing both sides of the field and kicking for the corners; the Chris Sandow chip-and-chase in behind the opposition forwards; Michael Ennis getting under his opponents’ skin; towering bombs from John Sutton; dangerous edge running from Frank Pritchard and Dave Taylor terrorising opposition outside backs.
Where It Will Be Won: On the edges – and on one edge in particular. As mentioned above both Idris and Inglis will be crucial to their respective team’s fortunes, and the stats back this up.
The ’Dogs have scored 13 tries with their right-side attack, which is where Idris plays. Souths have scored 15 tries through their left-side attack, with the help of Greg Inglis, compared to seven on the right. This is the same edge that Dave Taylor favours when he runs wide to get one-on-one against the smaller backs.
Expect plenty of action on this side of the field as the Bulldogs’ right edge comes up against the big men in South Sydney’s left-hand attack.
But let’s not forget the other side of the field, where Nathan Merritt has quietly racked up five tries this season; he will be up against Bryson Goodwin. Goodwin helped cripple South Sydney’s campaign in 2010, bagging half his side’s 32 points in that crucial Round 21 game. He has a 5-1 winning record against the bunnies and has scored tries in his past four outings against them. Another try here and he can join Peter Mortimer as the only Canterbury players to score in five consecutive matches against South Sydney.
The History: Played 141; Canterbury-Bankstown 73, South Sydney 64, drawn 4.
The Bulldogs have by far the better recent record, winning six of their past eight against Souths, all of which have been played at ANZ Stadium.
Conclusion: This should be a great tussle. Souths need to take heart from their first 65 minutes last week and look to repeat the dose for 80, rather than get dispirited.
Having said that the Dogs were unstoppable from the half-hour mark onwards in their last game and look to be clicking much better as a team.
Take the Bulldogs – unless your heart is steering you towards the bunnies.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Michael Wise; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.