Rabbitohs v Eels preview

Rabbitohs v Eels
ANZ Stadium
Monday 7pm
 
Closing out Round 22 we see two proud Sydney clubs enter the arena each having experienced a stunning second-half comeback in their last match – but from opposite ends of the spectrum.

The Rabbitohs will be absolutely ecstatic with the way they came back from the dead against the reigning premiers, running in five tries to one in an amazing second half, in what was one of the matches of the season so far.

Meanwhile the Eels continue to find new and spectacular ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Coach Stephen Kearney must be just about out of patience after his charges gave up an 18-0 lead against the Storm, who ran in four unanswered tries in the last 25 minutes last Monday at Parramatta Stadium.

It’s been a heartbreaking three weeks for Eels’ fans and players alike following on from those two golden-point losses against the Bulldogs and Panthers. In fact, since their runaway triumph at home to Cronulla in Round 11 the Eels have sung their victory song just once, after defeating the Tigers in Round 18.

Kearney can now officially put the calculator away – the Eels won’t make the eight and if anything they now look to be in a two-horse race with the Titans for the dreaded wooden spoon. It’s a title every Eels player, in particular warhorse skipper Nathan Hindmarsh, will be desperate to avoid.

Souths, however, are right in the thick of calculator territory. They’re four points adrift of the eighth-placed Wests Tigers, but if they can keep on producing the type of form they showed in the second half last week they’re in with a red-hot chance of displacing Tim Sheens’ side or Newcastle if either of those teams slip. It could come down to differential though, which currently doesn’t suit the bunnies who have a poor 84-point deficit following a disastrous thrashing at the hands of the Warriors a week earlier.

The big team news for South Sydney is the return of giant back-rower Dave Taylor from a five-week suspension. His return pushes Shaune Corrigan to the pine, where he will be joined by Dave Tyrrell who has been displaced in the starting side by Shannon McPherson’s return. Ben Lowe drops off the bench due to a foot injury.

And despite his side’s startling inability to close out games, Kearney has resisted the urge to make wholesale changes, with the only two alterations arising due to injury. The Eels have lost halfback Jeff Robson for the rest of the season with a broken cheekbone, meaning Casey McGuire starts at half, while Manase Manuokafoa joins the bench. Jordan Atkins, who was a late scratching last week, reclaims his wing spot from Chris Hicks.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: Surely the Eels can’t keep going so close without notching a win? If their confidence isn’t completely shot then maybe the fact that they’re starting to get an up-close look at 16th spot on the ladder may spark them into action.

For that to happen they’ll need their enigmatic fullback-cum-pivot Jarryd Hayne to string together a full 80-minute performance. Hayne has shown flashes of both brilliance and madness in his latest stint in the No.6 jersey – but the times the Eels have looked dangerous, Hayne has been in the thick of things.

Despite the Eels’ lowly position Hayne remains third in the NRL for line-break assists (18) and fifth for try assists (15) while his running game remains potent despite his positional switch – Hayne averages well over 100 metres per game since moving to five-eighth.

The bunnies will also be wary of Parramatta’s go-forward. Despite struggling in terms of running metres for much of the season the Eels made over 1600 metres last week. The standout by a country mile was Fuifui Moimoi, who made a colossal 242 metres from 25 runs. Moimoi is the competition’s leading prop in terms of total (2437) and average (135) metres gained, and Tim Mannah isn’t too far behind with 128 metres per game. If the blue-and-golds can get a roll on again it could give Hayne the space he needs to threaten the Rabbitohs.

Oh, and if Nathan Hindmarsh claws out 124 metres this week he’ll top 30,000 career running metres. Wow.

Danger Sign: When Moimoi inevitably takes an early hit-up watch for him to wind up from a distance and charge into the defensive line at full pace. If he carries three or four defenders back an extra five metres before pumping out a quick play-the-ball the Eels are destined for a dominant set.

Watch Out Eels: You can’t put a price on the confidence and self-belief that come with a win such as the one the bunnies pulled off last week – and halfback Chris Sandow is rarely short on confidence as it is. There would have been some approving nods from the Parramatta coaching staff watching the way their incoming halfback dismantled the premiers in the second 40 minutes of that game, but they won’t want an encore this week.

Sandow set up three of the Rabbitohs’ six tries, the first with a great run and pass from a scrum to put Wesser through a gap and two more with precision kicks. He also had a crucial catch-and-pass in the lead-up to Dylan Farrell’s 77th-minute match-winner, and threaded five from six conversions to boot. He was heavily involved throughout the half with 60 touches, and he’s also just the second player this season after Trent Hodkinson in Round 5 to kick for more metres than Jamie Soward in a game involving the Dragons, with 494 kicking metres.

Danger Sign: Sandow is one of those players who, when things are going his way, can pull off something completely unexpected. When a late Matt Cooper try put the Dragons back in front late in the game last week, Sandow’s ensuing kick-off took a nasty bounce in front of Jason Nightingale and right-angled into touch, giving South Sydney vital possession from which they conjured their match-winning try. Sandow is never afraid to go for the big plays, which is why he leads the NRL for 40/20 kicks (four) this year – if he pulls off an amazing play early on there’s every chance the cards will fall his way again.

Plays To Watch: Dave Taylor to terrorise the Eels’ outside backs with some barnstorming wide running in his comeback match; Jarryd Hayne’s massive boot to clear the Eels out of trouble; Greg Inglis to try and repeat his Round 3 monstering of the Eels’ backline; Nathan Hindmarsh to tackle himself to a standstill as he searches for his first win since joining the 300 club; confidence plays from Chris Sandow like a chip-and-chase or running the ball on the last tackle.

Where It Will Be Won: How each team deals with backing up mentally after the emotional highs and lows associated with two amazing comebacks will be crucial in deciding this one.

Both clubs recorded similar stats last week, dominating possession and field position and making remarkably few errors over the course of 80 minutes. But whereas the Eels bossed the opening stanza before getting swamped late, the Rabbitohs were the reverse: getting blitzed early before coming home with a wet sail. It’s those poor patches of their games each team will want to remedy.

While the Rabbitohs will be on an undoubted high and are still in with a chance of making the finals, how will the Eels manage to keep aiming up given they’ve been in front at the 75-minute mark the past three weeks and have been run down each time – especially now that their season is over?

The History: Played 113; Rabbitohs 60, Eels 50, drawn 3. Souths have a very slight edge in recent history with a 4-3 advantage in the past eight games played, with one draw. At ANZ Souths lead the Eels 4-2 with one draw. Souths have won their past two starts against the Eels, including that 32-18 win in Round 3 this year.

Conclusion: On the one hand it’s hard to see how the Eels can continue to go so agonisingly close without finally coming away with a win. On the other hand, it’s hard to see how they will continue to go so close following three demoralising last-gasp losses.

The Rabbitohs certainly have the confidence and momentum here although they’ve been terribly inconsistent. While the Eels are certainly capable of putting it together and finally closing out a win it’s hard to tip against form: the bunnies by 12.

Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Jason Walsh; Video Ref – Paul Mellor.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
 
* Statistics: NRL Stats.