Roosters v Rabbitohs preview

Sydney Roosters v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Allianz Stadium
Monday 7pm

If not for last-seconds heartbreak against the Roosters back in Round 1 South Sydney would be pressing for top rung on the NRL ladder; you can bet there will be no repeat complacency from the red and green when the teams lock horns again to conclude this week’s compelling Rivalry Round.

The Roosters, who grabbed a competition point against the Sharks after the season’s first draw last Monday night, will be approaching the rematch in do-or-die frame of mind, knowing they need to win a minimum six of their remaining eight games to possibly sneak into the finals.

Meanwhile the Rabbitohs’ comprehensive 34-14 towelling of the Knights last Sunday retained them sixth place on the ladder. They are the lowest-ranked of three sides on 24 competition points, two wins adrift of the Storm.

The logjam of contenders for the top and bottom spots in the eight guarantees that intensity and focus will be paramount over the coming weeks. Certainly the NRL could not have pitted together more closely matched foes than these fringe-Sydney CBD rivals: incredibly after 204 clashes Souths hold just a 54-points advantage on the cumulative scoreboard.

Adding more emotion to the mix it’s a huge milestone week for a star from each camp: Braith Anasta is hopeful of being fit to take the field for his 250th NRL game after missing out last week with an infected cut on his face; while Greg Inglis suits up for his 150th first grade appearance. (How old is Greg Inglis? He’s 25! He’ll likely end up with 160 games before his 26th birthday next January… incredible stuff.)   

Roosters coach Brian Smith has included Anasta in his starting line-up (for Daniel Mortimer), although he’ll need to get the all-clear from the team doctor to take his place.

Their only other change is a forced one following prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’ one-match suspension for a high shot on Ben Ross, with Lama Tasi the likely replacement up front.

Meanwhile Souths coach Michael Maguire has retained the starting 13 and four bench players who got the job done against the Titans, adding Dave Tyrrell and Ben Lowe to form an extended interchange.

Watch Out Roosters: John Sutton is ripping it up in the No.6 at present, contributing more like a rampaging back-rower than simply a catch-and-pass link man. Last week he made 48 receives for 16 runs and he continues to lead all halves for territory (1354 metres @ 85 per game). Sutton had a huge game last time they met, running 18 times and making nine tackle-breaks.

Michael Crocker is creating plenty of confusion in opposition defences this year, leading the way for decoy runs (124). While the Roosters will need to watch out for the real threat looming out the back (Inglis in particular), they can’t afford to take it for granted that Crocker is not going to end up with the ball or else he can hurt them from close range.

Danger Sign: The Roosters can’t let this week’s opposition scoot into open space or they’ll spend a long time huddled on their goal-line watching conversion attempts. The Rabbitohs make more line-breaks than any team (nearly six a game) with Inglis (14) and Dave Taylor (11) the biggest threats on the left and right sides of the field respectively. Meanwhile the Roosters concede the fifth-most line-breaks each week.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: Anthony Minichiello has certainly gone on with the job after his last-minute heroics back in Round 1 (see below). The staccato-striding veteran leads all players for runs (284 @ 18 per game) with 52 tackle-breaks to boot. He will be keen to add to his good record against Souths, having been on the winning team in 13 of 17 match-ups.

The Roosters’ prolific second-phase play could earn them a win – the tricolours make the second-most offloads (12.4 a game) and 11 members of their team have made more than 10 offloads for the year. BJ Leilua leads the way in the backs (23) while Frank-Paul Nuuausala is a threat in the forwards (21).   

Danger Sign: Any time Mitchell Pearce or Braith Anasta chip-kick wide for their centres and fringe-dwelling back-rowers – and in particular for Aidan Guerra on the left side of the field. Guerra is a master of beating the opposition to the leap; he scored this way against the bunnies and Round 1 and was at it again only last week scoring the crucial try that earned them their competition point against the Sharks.   

Mitchell Pearce v Adam Reynolds: Reynolds will be keen to show what he has to offer up against the incumbent Blues halfback, who still has his detractors after only a lukewarm recent Origin series. At his best there’s no doubting Pearce’s talent and he’s helped his side finish off 14 tries as well as guide 12 team-mates into space so far this season. Meanwhile Reynolds is showing remarkable skill and poise for a rookie; in particular his pinpoint boot has secured the Rabbitohs 10 of their 16 tries from kicks, the second-best individual effort behind Benji Marshall (13). Both Pearce and Reynolds added try assists last time they met.

Where It Will Be Won: Halting the progress out of dummy-half. Both sides love to steal plenty of territory at the play-the-ball and in their respective hookers Issac Luke and Jake Friend each team has a player skilled at identifying weaknesses and making the most of opportunities as they occur. Luke makes more runs from dummy-half than any hooker, while Friend ranks third in his position. With Luke leading the way, Souths are making the most ground per game through the middle of the field (908 metres) in 2012. Last week Luke gained more than 100 metres for the twelfth time this year; he’s currently averaging the most touches of his career (95.3) and is posting the most runs by any hooker in NRL history (15.3 per game). Meanwhile Friend helped the Roosters dominate the Rabbitohs at the ruck last match, with the tricolours making 25 runs to 20. Friend will put plenty of pressure on Adam Reynolds’ kicking game – he has made the second-most charge-downs (four).

The History: Played 204; Rabbitohs 106, Roosters 93, drawn 5. The Roosters have won five of the past eight clashes between the teams and hold a 21-10 advantage in games at Allianz Stadium.

The Last Time They Met: Two tries inside the final two minutes, including the match-winner from Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello 15 seconds from fulltime, saw the tricolours snatch a sensational 24-20 victory at ANZ Stadium in the first Monday Night Football match of 2012.

In an enthralling contest Lama Tasi was first on the scoreboard for the Roosters in the 6th minute before back-to-back tries to Rabbitohs Michael Crocker (14th minute) and Chris McQueen (20th minute) saw the red and green grab a 10-6 lead. Aidan Guerra’s try off a Daniel Mortimer cross-field chip kick enabled the Roosters to regain the lead before a Souths penalty goal locked things up at 12-all as the players headed to the sheds at halftime.

The Roosters looked cooked when Rabbitohs five-eighth John Sutton crashed over for a try that was converted by Adam Reynolds for an 18-12 lead, and a Reynolds penalty goal that afforded them an eight-point cushion in the 51st minute.

But few in the crowd would have predicted the high drama that would unfold over the closing stages. First Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves barged over under the posts with 102 seconds remaining, then from the restart the Roosters marched the length of the field on three tackles, with Minichiello receiving a dream bounce of a Boyd Cordner grubber kick to plunge over for the match-winner.

The Roosters completed their sets well (80 per cent) but were let down by 37 missed tackles. Meanwhile Souths completed their sets at 73 per cent but missed 10 tackles less than their opponents.

The Roosters’ back three of Minichiello, Justin Carney and Sam Perrett were outstanding, combining to add 446 metres towards their side’s total of 1235 metres on the night.

Souths were best served by John Sutton who ran the ball 18 times and made a game-high nine tackle-breaks.  

Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Clayton Sharpe; Video Referee – Russell Smith.

The Way We See It: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’ suspension is a huge blow to the Roosters who always seem to lift when the Kiwi enforcer rolls up his sleeves and takes on the opposition up front. They’re still a chance of fashioning an upset but the Rabbitohs are a different proposition in 2102 and are much safer to back on a form/week-to-week basis. For that reason it’s hard to find too much fault in the red and green. Souths by eight points.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats