Rabbitohs v Broncos preview

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Brisbane Broncos
NIB Stadium, Perth
Friday 6pm (Perth time)

South Sydney will be looking to stay in touch with the top eight after their stars aligned to deliver them a dominant breakthrough victory last weekend – and their return to a happy hunting ground in Perth improves their chances of achieving just that.

The Rabbitohs were simply too big, too fast, too strong and too skilful for the Panthers last Sunday, their 40-24 victory lifting considerable weight from the shoulders of rookie coach Michael Maguire after the disappointment of back-to-back losses to start 2012.

With Greg Inglis, John Sutton, Sam Burgess and Dave Taylor leading the way the Rabbitohs unleashed a barrage of points that put paid to suggestions they would struggle without the attacking nous of halfback Chris Sandow. More, his replacement in the No.7 Adam Reynolds maintained his steady climb with another polished display and, echoing Sandow’s worth, kicked eight goals from eight attempts.

Meanwhile the Broncos got the competition points against the Knights in Newcastle despite a few hiccups. The Broncos dominated the early exchanges but led just 12-4 at halftime, with their fans enduring some anxiety midway through the second half when a James McManus try bridged the gap to 12-10. Two tries in the final 16 minutes pulled them clear but coach Anthony Griffin would not have been pleased that their poor execution left them within striking distance of an otherwise overwhelmed opponent.  

In personnel changes, Souths have retained the 17 from last week but tweaked it, with Dylan Farrell and Shaune Corrigan, who played centre and wing respectively, swapping positions. Nathan Peats joins their interchange. 

Meanwhile Broncos coach Griffin has named an unchanged line-up.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: Fullback Josh Hoffman can’t be given any latitude or his blistering acceleration will hurt the bunnies. Last week Hoffman ran the Knights ragged with a game-high 18 runs for a 190-metre gain. And he absolutely destroyed Souths the last time the sides met, running a staggering 243 metres with nine tackle busts. Watch for five-eighth Corey Norman to link with the No.1 in the centre of the ruck, hoping to catch out any sleepy Rabbitohs defenders.

Justin Hodges gave the Knights a lesson in centre play last week, bamboozling his opposites to score a long-range try after busting clear courtesy of his huge right-foot sidestep. Hodges ploughed out 202 metres and provided four offloads on the night. 

Danger Sign: The Broncos have announced their intentions to be a more expansive attacking unit in 2012 when it comes to second-phase play. Last year Brisbane made the second-fewest offloads each game (9.7) but through three rounds of the new season they are making almost 13 a game (third most). Last week they made that number without their major offloader, injured lock Corey Parker. Hodges, Ben Hannant, Matt Gillett and Jharal Yow Yeh are the danger players the Rabbitohs should look out for. 

Watch Out Broncos: The Rabbitohs are rapidly racking up the line-breaks in 2012, their 5.7 a game the second most in the comp. In particular John Sutton and Greg Inglis are running the ball with confidence and they will trouble the Broncos on the left edge. Five-eighth Sutton was a thorn in the side of the Panthers last week, making two line-breaks and adding a try assist. Inglis looks to have a new lease on the game having shifted to fullback; he took advantage of the extra space last week to create havoc, running 18 times for 170 metres and steamrolling opposite number Lachlan Coote to score a powerful try. 

Issac Luke has hit the ground running in his two games to date – he leads all hookers for line-break assists (three) and is carving out 125 metres a game. Luke will threaten from dummy-half – he made a whopping 17 runs for 99 metres picking up the ball at marker last week, adding three offloads as well.  

Danger Sign: If the Broncos go to sleep at marker Luke will have them back-pedalling all night. Last time the sides met he made 15 damaging runs from dummy-half for a 152-metre gain, and in their victory in Perth (see below) he controlled proceedings brilliantly with 13 marker darts. Luke’s bursts pose a double threat because invariably a support will be trailing behind looking to get a saloon passage through the defensive line. 

In Round 2 the Cowboys showed that up-tempo footy can put a dent in the Broncos – and you can bet Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire will have a similar game plan here. 

Sam Burgess v Sam Thaiday: Burgess was of course missing through injury the last time these sides met back in Round 25 last year, so he will be keen to showcase his aggression up against the Broncos’ skipper. The big English import has been in rousing form over the opening three weeks, his 118 metres a game the third most by a starting second-rower behind Greg Bird and Tony Williams. He also has a try and four offloads and a line-break assist under his belt, plus an average 35 tackles in 76 minutes on the park.

Thaiday isn’t far behind Burgess in weekly gain, averaging 114 metres (134 last time the sides met) but he’s proving an even more involved defender, clocking up 37 tackles in 62 minutes on average. Thaiday was relentless against the Knights last weekend, making 17 hit-ups from just 21 receives. 

There’s no doubt whichever player gains the edge over the other will provide his side a valuable psychological advantage. 

Where It Will Be Won: Whichever side maintains the high defensive standards set so far in 2012 will prevail. The Rabbitohs were bordering on pathetic in defence last year, their 40 missed tackles a game the worst in the league and a major hindrance to their advancing to the top eight. But Michael Maguire seems to have been able to stop the rot, with the side missing just 27 a game on average – good enough for sixth best so far. 

Meanwhile the Broncos have built on their good record of 31 misses last year (fourth fewest) and are the benchmark watertight defence so far in 2012 with just 20 misses a game.  

The History: Played 25; Broncos 19, Rabbitohs 5, drawn 1. The Broncos have won six of the past encounters but the Rabbitohs have won the lone game played between the sides in Perth (see below). The Broncos won the most recent match-up 22-10 at Suncorp Stadium in Round 25 last year – despite uncharacteristically missing 49 tackles!

The Last Time They Met In Perth: The Rabbitohs kept their heads above water to register a gutsy 16-12 win in Perth in Round 16 last year in a game where torrential rain turned the nib Stadium surface into a giant kiddies’ wading pool in places. The game featured a bizarre try to Rhys Wesser who followed through on a projectile-like kick from Chris Sandow into the Broncos in-goal from close range – the ball appeared to have far too much weight on it to be effective yet it found its mark – a huge puddle – and stopped abruptly. Wesser’s dive brought humour, some shaking heads and four vital points to the bunnies’ cause. The try rocketed Souths to a 12-nil lead after just 12 minutes, before the Broncos got on the scoreboard when Jack Reed latched onto a Darren Lockyer cross-field bomb to score two minutes later. A Kurt Baptiste try from dummy-half late in the second stanza was the only other scoring play. Not surprisingly given the conditions each side managed just one line-break apiece. Souths were best served by their big men Dave Taylor, Ben Ross and Eddy Pettybourne who all made triple figure in metres gained, while Sandow provided the finishing touches on both their tries. Fullback Josh Hoffman was among the Broncos’ best, adding 167 metres and eight tackle busts.

Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Henry Perenara; Video Referee – Steve Clark. 

The Way We See It: The Broncos haven’t set the world on fire in their clashes to date, struggling to get over the top of the Eels, falling narrowly to the Cowboys and then only just getting the chocolates against the Knights. They’ll need a major attitude shift if they’re to avoid defeat at the hands of the Rabbitohs, who have looked much more committed to date. 

This is a tough game to pick, especially given the venue. But whichever team turns up with the required focus will prevail. We’re not confident but we’ll tip the Broncos by four points.   

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (Qld); delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 1am Sat.

Statistics: NRL Stats