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Panthers v Rabbitohs
Centrebet Stadium
Monday 7pm

Round 12 concludes with a critical match-up between two sides currently outside the finals zone.

With the halfway mark of the season getting very close both the Rabbitohs (4-6, 10th) and the Panthers (3-7, 12th) would have been hoping for much better openings to their seasons.

But the fact is they haven’t fired for any more than the odd match, and the lack of consistency has put them under huge pressure to make a run during the Origin period.

The Rabbitohs come off a loss to the Warriors while the Panthers fell to the Wests Tigers last weekend.

If either side doesn’t win more than they lose in the next six weeks, you can basically put a line through them for the year, so this match is of critical importance to start a positive run.

The home-side Panthers have won the past seven matches against Souths at Centrebet Stadium but they need big Petero Civoniceva and Michael Jennings to get through Origin I unscathed to take their place.

Jennings’ return pushes Adrian Purtell back to the wing and Sandor Earl to an extended reserves list. Travis Burns returns at five-eighth, meaning Masada Iosefa reverts to the bench, while Civoniceva will start at prop for Tim Grant. Yileen Gordon has been added to the seven-man bench.

The Rabbitohs are without Origin representation, although Dave Taylor was 18th man for Queensland and Greg Inglis is still injured.

Fetuli Talanoa is back on deck on the wing, with James Roberts missing out in the only change from the loss to the Warriors.

Milestone watch – Panther Matthew Bell suits up for his 100th first grade game and Rabbitohs fullback Rhys Wesser returns to his old stamping ground needing just two tries to equal Ryan Girdler for most four-pointers at Centrebet Stadium.

Watch Out Panthers: The Panthers have had a serious discipline problem and if the trends continue in this game, there is a chance they could be blown out of the contest by the referees (who coincidentally are sprinkled with three ex players). Luke Phillips is a centre man, Henry Perenara is a touchie and Paul Mellor is in the video box – making it a red-letter day for the referee cadetship program. Our point – the Panthers have conceded 80 penalties this season, the most in the NRL, while the Rabbitohs have conceded 47, third fewest in the NRL.

Danger Sign: Referees generally have a feeling-out period early where they try to set a standard. If the Panthers don’t adhere and hear the whistle early, it could be a long evening.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: The cross-field bombs will be raining down often in this match, judging by the Bunnies’ inability to defuse them so far this season.

South Sydney are cleanly bringing down just 30 per cent of the cross-field bombs hoisted against them, giving the Panthers’ kickers plenty of incentive. While they haven’t been as deadly with the boot as they were last season, we are still talking about the same players, so expect Walsh to test out the wingers and centres all night.

Danger Sign: If you see Talanoa or Merritt left on their ‘Pat Malone’ late in the tackle count and you are a Souths fan… hold your breath.

Plays To Watch: Walsh and Burns’ midfield bombs (extra to the above-mentioned cross-field ones) with Lachlan Coote chasing; Chris Sandow’s chip-and-chase for himself; Issac Luke’s darts from dummy-half and late offloads; Luke Lewis taking on the line from close with his right-foot sidestep.

Where It Will Be Won: Second-phase football will be critical. The two sides are seemingly at their best when they inject a little razzle-dazzle into their attack.

So far this season the Panthers are averaging 13.6 offloads a match while the Rabbitohs are averaging 12. But although the Panthers have an edge here it is important to note Souths are conceding 13.3 offloads a match compared to the Panthers’ 15. So perhaps they are back close to all square.

The Panthers have the double-edged sword situation of scoring the most tries in the NRL directly from an offload, but also conceding the most. They have posted six tries directly from second-phase play but conceded seven.

The Rabbitohs have scored five tries in this fashion and conceded the same number. Rabbitoh offload kings include Dave Taylor (26), John Sutton (18) and Issac Luke (17) while Trent Waterhouse is the Panthers’ main man with 32. The Bunnies should also watch Petero Civoniceva (12) and Michael Jennings (12), assuming they back up.

The History: Played 70; Panthers 31, Rabbitohs 38, drawn 1. The Panthers have won four of the past six against the Rabbitohs at all venues but are in even better shape against the Bunnies when playing at home. They have now won seven in a row against South Sydney at Centrebet Stadium. Should they make it eight it will be a club record for most consecutive home wins against an opponent. Overall at the venue the numbers are tight, with Penrith winning 17, the Rabbitohs 16 and one draw. The last two years (four games) have not seen close affairs, with the average winning margin being 27.5 points.

Conclusion: Recent history says the Panthers will win this game but it isn’t cut and dried. Both sides have shown differing form throughout the season and no-one can really be certain which version of these clubs will turn up.

The Rabbitohs are still under-strength but they were a little unlucky not to steal a result against the Warriors. If they can minimise errors, they can win here. The Panthers were also unlucky to go down to the Wests Tigers… as the home side they have the slightest of advantages.

Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Luke Phillips; Touch Judges – Daniel Eastwood & Henry Perenara; Video Ref – Paul Mellor.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.