Rabbitohs v Warriors preview

Rabbitohs v Warriors
ANZ Stadium
Sunday 2pm

Okay Rabbitohs’ fans – you marched when expelled, you turned out in droves for the historic ownership vote… now it’s time to get off your butts once more and get out to what is a critical match for your famous club.

After snatching a thrilling one-point win over the Roosters last week the South Sydney finals dream is alive and kicking – but they are still outside the finals zone in 11th place and need to make a run now!

It is pretty apparent the team is full of confidence players and the buzz of a huge crowd and big atmosphere could be the difference between a finals-like performance and a flat one.

And they’re even stronger this week – coach John Lang has selected Rhys Wesser to return at fullback, which moves Nathan Merritt back to the wing and Shaune Corrigan back to the bench.

Jason Clark has been named to start in the second row with Dave Tyrrell back to the bench (although they were named this way last week and switched duties).

They come up against a Warriors team that seems to have stabilised somewhat with victories over the Titans and Bulldogs in recent weeks – those victories have elevated the side to sixth place.

They also know the significance of this clash: a win would allow them to stay outright sixth while a loss could shuffle them back out of the top eight. (The Wests Tigers, Panthers and Knights are all just one win behind the Warriors, waiting for the chance to strike.)

Ivan Cleary has retained the 17 players who got the job done last week, although there are some planned cosmetic changes. Jacob Lillyman is slated to start at prop (even though he hasn’t done so for a few weeks) and Ben Matulino is back to the bench. Feleti Mateo is due to start in the second row, pushing Elijah Taylor to the reserves.

Some key milestones: Rabbitoh John Sutton suits up in his 150th NRL game, while Warrior Shaun Berrigan one-ups him by running out for his 200th NRL appearance.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: The Warriors, and the entire NRL for that matter, know the Rabbitohs have the weakest goal-line defence in the competition. Having conceded a league-high 38 tries from within 0-10 metres the Rabbitohs have got serious issues. The best teams through history are the ones that can set up a wall of defence despite the opposition knocking on the door from close range.

The Bunnies are folding way too often, either by lack of strength or poor reads. If they don’t improve significantly they’ll be at long odds to be in the finals – and even if they do scrape in, they’ll probably be just making up the numbers.

Danger Sign: Look for the Warriors to take on the line from close range often, either from dummy-half, or via their halves having a crack, or even the likes of Feleti Mateo hitting it up one-off the ruck. They also may hit the props with slick reverse passes from dummy-half Aaron Heremaia.

Watch Out Warriors: Due to his poor start to the year, a certain Rabbitoh’s recent form surge has gone a little unnoticed. Fullback Rhys Wesser, back at fullback this week, certainly needs to be watched. Wesser has upped his average metres to 148 per game and has notched 11 line-breaks (equal sixth in the NRL). He has also scored five tries and made 64 tackle-breaks. Like most good fullbacks Wesser is a support maniac – he has 52 for the year. The Warriors can’t relax around the ball carrier or Wesser will slip under their guard.

Danger Sign: Another issue for the Warriors to watch out for is Chris Sandow attacking from turnovers. The Warriors’ big offloading game can tend to bring the odd mistake and Sandow loves to pounce and send the ball wide against a staggered defence.

Plays To Watch: The Warriors attacking from inside their own half; Chris Sandow’s chip-and-chase; Manu Vatuvei steamrolling rabbits; Michael Crocker crunching into the big forwards.

Where It Will Be Won: Greg Inglis. Yes, there will be much more to this match than simply one player but he really is critical to this clash. Inglis has always been a prodigious talent and he can turn a match with his brilliance. But sometimes he can ‘check out’ for sections of games.

Last week his only average performance was perhaps overlooked amid the hype of him crossing for the score-levelling try – but prior to doing so he was both lazy and weak in defence and the Roosters exploited him to great effect.

If Inglis turns up with a lax attitude the Warriors will have an area to attack and perhaps the opening needed to put them away. But if the Queensland and Australian star comes ready to play he could single-handedly lead the Rabbitohs back into finals considerations.

The History: Played 23; Rabbitohs 7, Warriors 16. The Warriors took care of the Bunnies 12-6 not so long ago in the wet in Auckland but the Rabbitohs have still won four of the past six despite being down heavily in the overall stakes. At ANZ Stadium the honours are shared two apiece from the four games, although the Rabbitohs have won the past two in a row at the venue. The Warriors haven’t beaten the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium since 2007 but do average more points at the ground (24.8) than at any other venue. The past seven games between the clubs have been decided by 10 points or less.   

Conclusion: The Rabbitohs may have won last week but they weren’t showing great form. (You could even argue the Roosters outplayed them.) The Warriors started very slowly against the Bulldogs before running rampant.

This is really the crossroads for the Rabbitohs… it’s almost win and stay alive, lose and be close to done. Only the fact it’s in Sydney makes this a toss-of-the-coin job. Fans should really try to get there and help them over the line – they’ll need every cheer they can get.

The Warriors by four points.

Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Chris James; Touch Judges – David Abood & Jason Walsh; Video Ref – Rod Lawrence.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.