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Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers
ANZ Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

There is something special about games between these clubs. Someone, or one team, always pulls a blinder out of the box.

On some occasions both teams get it going and we get a thriller, like a few years back at the SCG when Nathan Merritt booted a last-ditch field goal to win.  On others, one side just goes bananas, like the Wests Tigers did earlier this season to trounce the Bunnies 30-6.

But whether it’s a close game, or a wipe-out, the match itself is always entertaining and commands attention.

When the clubs come together this weekend the stakes are certainly high. After a third of the season, both units are fair to middling at best and need to start busting out some more consistent performances.

There have been the obvious injury concerns – but you have to make do with what you have and do your best to forge forward.

The Rabbitohs sit in 10th spot on the ladder, just a win behind the seventh-placed Wests Tigers. If they could put together a massive win they could actually jump over their rivals – but perusing their casualty ward you get the sense they’d be rapt to notch any style of victory.

Rhys Wesser has been recalled at fullback, which pushes Nathan Merritt to the wing and Chris McQueen to the bench. Greg Inglis is missing from the centres with a groin injury so Shaun Corrigan gets a chance to impress.

Roy Asotasi is another on the long-term injury list; Shannan McPherson takes his place at prop.

The Tigers know a win could see them push up closer to the top four – the place to be approaching the State of Origin series. They are still on a high from their pounding of Canberra in Canberra and have named an identical side from the 49-12 hammering.  

Watch Out Rabbitohs: The recent emergence of second-rower Simon Dwyer has been impressive and he will be focused on building on his solid City Origin debut with another powerhouse performance this weekend. The underrated forward simply destroyed Souths in only his fifth starting appearance, notching career highs all over the park: runs (13), metres (161), tackles (34), tackle-breaks (seven), line-breaks (three) and tries (two). Another sparkling effort could see him become the first second-rower since Steve Menzies (1997-’98) to grab a try double in consecutive games against Souths.

Danger Sign: Dwyer has become an expert at running tight lines near the tryline on the right edge. If he gets up a head of steam close to the line he is almost odds-on to score if a nice pass is delivered; alternatively, he will attract multiple defenders and free up room for someone else to cash in.

Watch Out Wests Tigers: Souths fans will be hoping the sight of a Wests Tigers jersey can rekindle fond memories for rookie James Roberts. Prior to the first grade side’s 24-point loss back in Round 5, Roberts was dominating the curtain-raiser Toyota Cup fixture, tallying a whopping 20 points thanks to three tries and four goals.

Playing in the No.1 jersey, he also punched out three line-breaks and a soul-destroying 13 tackle-breaks. He might have shifted from fullback to wing in the past two first grade games but he can still be devastating out wide for the Bunnies.

Danger Sign: Roberts has pure speed and perhaps his time on the wing will allow him to showcase it in a controlled fashion. Look for the Rabbitohs to shift it his way early.

Plays To Watch: Ambitious (but achievable) 40/20 attempts from both sides, both from the halves and hookers; Benji Marshall drifting, dummying, stepping, bamboozling… the works; Chris Sandow trying to justify his new price tag in his first outing after his Parramatta signing.

Where It Will Be Won: Goal line defence. To take down the Wests Tigers you need to be tungsten-tough on your goal line when Benji gets close enough to really weave his magic. Marshall can get teams from anywhere on the field – but sometimes a scrambling defence can thwart points. On the goal line however, a miss means a try.

The Wests Tigers have scored 23 tries from within 0-10 metres in 2011, the most by any team in the NRL. Sadly for Rabbitohs’ fans, the Bunnies are one of the NRL’s worst teams at conceding tries from the same distance, with 17 put by them.

Also, Souths are far less potent scoring from close range, with just eight tries registered, while the Tigers muscle up well on their line, conceding just 12 tries to date.

This game will be won on the goal line. The Rabbitohs need to buck their trend and create a brick wall… or they will be staring down the barrel of a hefty loss.

The History: Played 17; Rabbitohs 8, Wests Tigers 9. The Rabbitohs have won two of the past three but the Wests Tigers have four of the past seven.

The sides met earlier this season with the Wests Tigers prevailing comfortable 30-6 winners. The teams have met four times at ANZ Stadium, with the Tigers taking home three wins to the Rabbitohs’ lone victory last year.  

Conclusion: Injuries in the Rabbitohs camp have really hurt them and the Wests Tigers’ attack seems to have clicked into gear. The numbers don’t look good for the Bunnies but they are certainly not out of this contest.

The Tigers might be a little flat coming off the bye and if the Rabbitohs can get the jump early they might force their opposition into some panic-mode football.

Lean to the Wests Tigers – but if you fancy a long shot, have a little think about the under-strength Bunnies.

Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Steve Lyons; Touch Judges – Daniel Eastwood & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Rod Lawrence.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.

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