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Rabbitohs v Roosters
ANZ Stadium
Saturday 5.30pm

Time is fast running out for the Rabbitohs to remain a serious contender for this year’s top eight. They were competitive when losing to the Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval last Sunday but ‘competitive’ won’t cut it for them any longer. Languishing down in 12th place on 16 competition points they’ll need to win seven of their last eight games to guarantee a spot in the finals – which makes this Rivalry Round match-up against the unpredictable Roosters win-at-all-costs.

There hasn’t been a more intriguing or longer rivalry than the one between these two sides – this marks the 203rd occasion they’ve faced off.

Souths remain one of the most frustrating teams to follow. The past month has consisted of solid wins over the Titans and Broncos, followed by consecutive losses to the Sharks and Sea Eagles. They’ve now lost five of their past seven games. Last week they showed an abundance of attack but were let down by what’s been their Achilles heel all year – a soft left-edge defence. It’s crunch time for them.

Meanwhile the Roosters pulled off a mighty upset over the Panthers at the SFS last week to keep their extremely dim finals hopes alive; they need to win all of their remaining games and win them well to accrue a significant points differential, then rely on other results to fall their way, to have any chance at advancing past mid-September.

Rabbitohs coach John Lang must have been satisfied with all contributors last week – he’s named an unchanged line-up, with Shaune Corrigan joining the extended bench.

Meanwhile Roosters coach Brian Smith has tweaked his pack, with Nate Myles shifting to prop for Tom Symonds, who slots into the second row for Frank-Paul Nuuausala who moves to lock. Their only other change sees Aidan Guerra join the bench at Mose Masoe’s expense.

It’s a big week for Shaun Kenny-Dowall who plays his 100th NRL game.

Meanwhile Rabbitohs winger Nathan Merritt needs two tries to tally 50 scored at ANZ Stadium. Only Canterbury great Hazem El Masri (58) has scored more. Merritt has crossed for 12 tries against the Roosters from as many games.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: Last week in our Roosters-Panthers match preview we wrote: “The Roosters need more from centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall and will be hoping he isn’t still feeling his knee strain. SKD had an uncharacteristically quiet game against the Raiders, failing to make a tackle-break or a line-break and contributing just 82 metres. He missed five tackles, too. Last year the Kiwi was one of the most devastating runners in the NRL, ranking second overall for tackle-breaks and fourth for line-breaks. If he recaptures a shard of that form he can help shatter the Panthers.”

Well, offer more he did. SKD pecked the Panthers to pieces, running 20 times for 167 metres, with a line-break, two offloads and a game-high eight tackle busts. If he can replicate that form he’ll prove a handful even for superstar centre Greg Inglis.

Prop Jason Ryles showed there’s life in his 32-year-old frame yet with a solid 96 metres and 31 tackles in 54 minutes last week. He also managed a trademark offload. The Rabbitohs can’t afford to hang off him or he can make them pay.

Danger Sign: Sam Perrett is braced to become the club’s leading metre-eater for a third consecutive season. Winger Perrett currently averages 126 metres a game (133 last week) and this week he’s coming up against a favourite foe – he’s emerged victorious on seven of 10 occasions. If Perrett and Kenny-Dowall start making cheap gains and get the Rabbitohs’ back-pedalling it could be a long afternoon for Souths fans.

Watch Out Roosters: Greg Inglis could be on the verge of a monster performance. His 89 metres a game is slightly down on his 97-metre average for the Storm last year but the signs were there last week when he made two line-breaks and a try assist that he’s warming to his best.

And Rabbitohs hooker Issac Luke will be a handful for a Roosters pack that is often slow to readjust to rapid-fire opposition progress. Luke leads the NRL for dashes out of dummy-half (172) and has tallied the fifth-most receives (1380). He’s easily the leading hooker for territory gained, making 114 metres each outing – way ahead of next best Matt Srama’s 88 metres.

Meanwhile the Roosters have been their own worst enemies since Round 10. During that two-month period they and the Wests Tigers have made the most errors of any side (102). They may have collected the points last week but they weren’t great with their ball control, matching their season average 13 mistakes (they make the second most overall, just 0.1 error ahead of the Titans). Coach Brian Smith will be asking for improvement from prime offenders BJ Leilua (28 and second most in the comp), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (20), Todd Carney (19), Justin Carney (16) and Mitchell Pearce (15). When your playmakers and strike weapons are making too many errors, too often, it makes it hard to compete.  

Danger Sign: If Issac Luke is allowed to run freely the Roosters will be in trouble. Against the Sea Eagles he ran a whopping 17 times for 147 metres, with nine tackle-breaks. Under pressure he can make mistakes. He needs to be shadowed.

Plays To Watch: Expect plenty of cross-field bombs from both sides – the Rabbitohs have defused just 38 per cent of them all year, while the Roosters aren’t much better with a 41 per cent safety mark.

Where It Will Be Won: In the halves. We’ve highlighted the fact Roosters’ halves Pearce and Carney are making a stack of mistakes but leaving that to the side for the moment it’s their attacking duel with Chris Sandow and John Sutton that holds the key to this contest.

More than most teams, the performance of their halves is the barometer to how these teams are travelling during a match.

For the Roosters, Mitchell Pearce regained some form last week with three try assists and a sound kicking game that yielded 450 metres and kept his side on the front foot. Todd Carney was explosive at times, scored two tries and ran a game-high 170 metres – the most he’s made as a five-eighth since 2007.

Meanwhile John Sutton ran more than he has all season, making a game-high eight tackle-breaks and scoring a determined try. Chris Sandow was busy and made 92 metres.

Whichever pair dominates will leave the field being congratulated by happy team-mates.

The History: Played 202; Rabbitohs 105, Roosters 92, drawn 5. The Roosters have won six of the past eight games between the sides, including the past three. They won 40-29 in the season opener at the SFS. Worryingly for the home side the Roosters have walked away from ANZ Stadium with the competition points four of five times.

Conclusion: The unpredictability of both sides and their similar stats for key performance indicators (Roosters 3.6 line-breaks, Roosters 3.3 and Roosters 2.6 tries average to Rabbitohs’ 3.1) makes this a tough game to call. But there is a glaring difference – in missed tackles. The Rabbitohs miss a staggering 38.5, the most in the NRL, while the Roosters are middle of the road, dropping off 32 times a match. If they play true to form those six extra missed tackles will prove critical.

The Roosters by six points… but don’t stake the farm on it.

Match Officials: Referees – Brett Suttor & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & David Abood; Video Ref – Paul Mellor.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.

* Stats: NRL Stats