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Rabbitohs v Storm
ANZ Stadium
Sunday 3pm

South Sydney coach John Lang’s message to his troops during the week was simple: find some consistency or kiss goodbye any hope of playing finals football.

The Rabbitohs were lethargic in their 22-10 loss to the Panthers last Monday night, their fifth defeat in their past seven outings. Twenty missed tackles in the first half was the catalyst.

Souths fans have watched ruefully as the team has unravelled following a spate of injuries to high-profile players that now sees the side sit a lowly 11th on the NRL ladder, on 10 points alongside the Panthers and the Eels. Although they are technically just one win away from the 12 points that constitute a spot in the top eight, the gap between them and the top performers is more like a chasm.

This week they come up against an opponent they’ve beaten just three times in 17 attempts – but at least they are buoyed by the return of centre Greg Inglis (at Dylan Farrell’s expense) after three games on the sideline. It marks the first time Inglis squares up against the side he was forced to depart last year following the salary cap scandal.

In other personnel changes Chris McQueen will start in the second row, with David Tyrrell benched, while Jason Clark has bumped Dean Apps off the interchange.

Meanwhile the Storm escaped with a late win (14-8) at home last week against a spirited Sharks outfit. It was their third victory in their past five games, during which time they’ve suffered shock losses at home to the Raiders and Warriors.

Coach Craig Bellamy has stuck tight with the 17 who got the job done last week.

If Souths rally here they could secure John Lang his 200th career coaching win (from 358 games). But they shouldn’t rely too heavily on Inglis – in his eight games in 2011 he’s contributed career lows in runs (8.9) and metres gained (84.8).

Watch Out Rabbitohs: The Storm make the most line-breaks in the NRL (average 5.3) – and the Rabbitohs concede the third most (3.3). Five-eighth Garreth Widdop (12), fullback Billie Slater (11) and right winger Matt Duffie (8) will be leading the charge for the visiting team.

The Rabbitohs’ right-edge defence will be the target here – Sisa Waqa bagged a double for the Storm last week and coach Bellamy would be aware the Rabbitohs have conceded 21 tries down the right side – the second most in the comp behind the Eels’ 23.   

Danger Sign: Watch for Widdop to take on the line inside the Rabbitohs’ 20-metre zone, looking to burst through or send a runner at Chris Sandow.

Watch Out Storm: Melbourne make the fourth fewest errors each game (11.3) but last week they made an uncharacteristic 16 – and it nearly cost them the contest. They can’t afford to gift possession to the Rabbitohs, who despite their defensive inefficiencies are still a potent attacking unit.

The Storm are the best side at shutting down second-phase play, conceding the fewest offloads per game (7.8) – but they’ll need to be at their best to combat the power and creativity of Dave Taylor (29 offloads – fourth most – plus 31 tackle busts).

They also need to ensure they halt the progress of wily Issac Luke, who continues to defy defenders to force plays – last week he scored an excellent try against the Panthers when seemingly held, only to grapple his way over through sheer determination.

Danger Sign: If the Rabbitohs get some attacking momentum Taylor will see plenty of ball late in sets – Matt Duffie, Cooper Cronk and Maurice Blair need to make good defensive reads down their right edge.

Where It Will Be Won: Playing to potential, and muscling up in defence. If both sides play to their best it’s hard to see the Storm getting beaten. But if they have a third ‘off’ week in succession, and the Rabbitohs hit their straps, the home side can take the visitors down.

The Rabbitohs were badly let down by half-hearted efforts from key personnel last week, notably the halves John Sutton and Chris Sandow who were error-prone and uncertain. They can’t afford a substandard effort up against Cooper Cronk and Gareth Widdop.

Defence is the key and in this department the Bunnies are the competition’s ‘bunnies’. They have three players entrenched in the top six in the all-important missed tackles statistics category: Chris Sandow is the competition’s leading offender with 64 (and eight last week), Issac Luke ranks second with 58 and Dave Taylor is sixth with 43 misses. To their credit, Luke and Taylor missed just two tackles each last week, so they certainly showed they are capable.

But the stats show these sides are poles apart: the Storm miss the fewest tackles on average each week (27) while the Rabbitohs seemingly can’t stop the rot, missing 40.5 a week.
The History: Played 17; Storm 14, Rabbitohs 3. The Storm have won seven of the past eight. The past two games were shared – and both were decided by just two points.

Conclusion: We’re not expecting miracles from Inglis; but that’s what the Bunnies require if they’re to win.

Souths have been simply too unbalanced to get excited about in 2011; here they’re up against a serious premiership contender at near full strength. No.

Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Gavin Morris; Video Referee – Paul Simpkins.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats