South Sydney Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers
Battle-scarred Wests Tigers get their chance to erase the bitter memory of their golden-point loss to the Rabbitohs back in Round 5 with a crucial victory here – one that would see them stave off the ambush of stalkers eyeing their grip on eighth rung on the NRL ladder.
However they’ll have to do it the hard away, up against an opponent they haven’t beaten in their past four encounters and at a venue they’ve sung their team song just once in their past five visits.
Plus, they’ll be without a host of injured personnel including latest casualties Chris Lawrence, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Curtis Sironen, while Tim Moltzen is rated only an even-money chance of taking his place. The former three trudged off Dairy Farmers Stadium at various stages of last Monday night’s frenetic 29-16 loss to the Cowboys, while Moltzen was a late withdrawal before kick-off.
So challenging is the Tigers’ situation that coach Tim Sheens has been unable to nail down a precise line-up for this Sunday’s game.
It’s a worrying week for Tigers fans. After a halcyon period that delivered seven wins in a row the side has now lost four of their past five. A loss here could see them fall to 11th depending on other results.
Meanwhile Souths made it four wins in a row, and five out of six, when they shredded the Dragons 36-14 at ANZ Stadium last Saturday, leapfrogging Brisbane into third position on the premiership ladder. It came at a cost though – with Issac Luke sidelined through suspension for two more matches the red and green will also be without Greg Inglis after his shoulder-charge hit on Dean Young (Inglis had his charge downgraded at the judiciary on Wednesday night and will serve three games on the sidelines).
With Inglis out Souths coach Michael Maguire has pushed Nathan Merritt to fullback, with Justin Hunt to fill in on the wing in an otherwise unchanged 17. Josh Starling and Shaune Corrigan have been added to form an extended bench.
It’s a milestone afternoon for Souths co-captain Michael Crocker who needs 19 more tackles to notch 5000 in his career. Giving him, say, 50 per cent of time spent at marker defender, that’s 25 kilometres of jogging back into the defensive line! Wow.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Down on strike power and with so much on the line, expect Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall to go into overdrive attempting to create opportunities for their team-mates. Both will fancy their chances of setting up a four-pointer with an attacking kick – Souths have yielded 18 tries to the boot (fourth most). Marshall leads all players for try assists (26) but he may need to run the ball more himself in this game.
Masada Iosefa is sure to provide some impact given the decimation to the playmaking ranks – the livewire runner made two line-breaks last week, taking his tally to five from just six games. He’s made three breaks from dummy-half, too.
Right-edge runner Liam Fulton is in the best form of his career – last week he scored his fifth try of the season as well as making a try assist, line-break assist, six tackle busts and a whopping 43 tackles.
Danger Sign: Tim Sheens will be encouraging his players to play sensible football and work into good field position as often as they can – that’s because Souths have leaked 40 tries from inside 10 metres of their goal line, the second most by any team to date.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: If the Tigers don’t show some steel in their defence they could be in for a long afternoon up against one of the most potent running sides in the competition. Souths lead all teams for line busts in 2012, with nearly six every game – and the Tigers continue to miss more tackles than all sides (averaging 36.1, including 48 last Monday against the Cowboys). In particular the Tigers’ goal-line defence should be wary of rushes from dummy-half – Souths have scored an NRL-high 10 tries from pick-up runs, while the Tigers have conceded seven this way (second most).
Souths will certainly miss Greg Inglis – but in Nathan Merritt they have a points-scoring dynamo who is sure to hold the fort with style. Last week’s hat-trick of tries against the Dragons saw him become only the fourth Rabbitoh to achieve the feat seven times, and he also became the seventh player in history to score 10 tries or more in seven successive seasons (he has 11 in total).
Dave Taylor continues to be a thorn in the sides of oppositions and he’ll be a handful for Gareth Ellis to contain in just his second game back from a long lay-off. Taylor needs 31 metres to clock 10,000 running metres in his career – we bet he’ll reel that off in the first 20 minutes.
John Sutton will look to take on the Tigers from close range after scoring a try as first receiver last outing. Sutton bamboozled the Dragons last week, scoring a try, creating three others, making two line-breaks and running 117 metres.
Danger Sign: If Souths play with confidence from the outset and the crowd gets into the match early. Souths boast a 7-2 record (78 per cent successful) at home in 2012 – their best return since 1982. Plus they are scoring on average 28 points every home game, the equal third-highest amount in the club’s esteemed history.
Sam Burgess v Gareth Ellis: The British stars will be keen to renew their rivalry after each suffered injuries a quarter of the way through their last head-to-head clash. Burgess provides Souths with plenty of mongrel in attack and defence and he will be relied on to lead the way promoting second-phase play (24 offloads) given Issac Luke’s suspension. Ellis’ surging runs and stout defence will be vital given the Tigers’ personnel woes.
Where It Will Be Won: Stopping the opposition from getting away the crucial last pass. Teams have scored against the Tigers from a pass an NRL-high 23 times, while Souths have yielded 20 tries to passes (third most). Marshall is the threat for the Tigers, while Sutton, Reynolds and Taylor will do the damage for the bunnies.
The History: Played 19; Rabbitohs 10, Wests Tigers 9. The Rabbitohs have the advantage in recent meetings, winning five of the past eight clashes – including three of the past four. However the Wests Tigers hold a 3-2 winning edge in games at ANZ Stadium.
The Last Time They Met: The Rabbitohs snatched a thrilling 17-16 golden-point win over the Wests Tigers at Allianz Stadium in Round 5.
Souths scored two tries in the final four minutes to draw level after 80 minutes of regular play before fullback Greg Inglis booted the match-winning field-goal 99 seconds into extra time.
The Tigers started the game in brilliant fashion, fullback Tim Moltzen scoring with just two minutes gone after Benji Marshall created an overlap on the left edge. Amazingly that proved the only try-scoring play of the first half, with the black and whites (as they were here) heading to the sheds with a 4-nil lead at the break.
Souths got on level terms when hooker Issac Luke burrowed over from dummy-half in the 57th minute before that man Marshall weaved some more magic for the home side, sending winger Lote Tuqiri over in the left corner off a wonderful 20-metre cut-out pass for a 10-4 scoreline with 53 minutes elapsed.
Wests Tigers fans were on their feet again 11 minutes from fulltime when Blake Ayshford finished off a right-side sweep for a 12-point buffer that put them in the box seat for the win. But incredibly, Issac Luke managed to catch the Tigers’ marker defence napping for a second time in the match, crossing to make it 16-10 with four minutes left, before Andrew Everingham beat a streak of Tigers to ground a Dave Taylor grubber kick out wide to the right and send the red-and-green faithful into delirium. Their cheers grew even louder when Adam Reynolds calmly piloted over the conversion to draw level on the stroke of fulltime.
Inglis secured the win with a wobbly field-goal (his second attempt) that glanced off the left upright just centimetres above the crossbar.
Souths earned their victory on the back of some stout defence, with team members missing just 15 tackles throughout, compared to 37 by their opponents.
The Tigers dug themselves a hole with some poor discipline, conceding the penalty count 9-5.
Issac Luke was Souths’ star; he made 101 receives, busted 10 tackles and made two line-breaks. Benji Marshall, wearing the No.6 jersey, conjured two try assists for the Tigers.
Match Officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Ricky MacFarlane; Video Referee – Paul Simpkins.
The Way We See It: Even allowing for Inglis’ suspension Souths should prove too strong for the injury-ravaged Tigers. We expect the Tigers to show a heap of spirit, as they did last Monday night, but in the end fatigue and wave after wave of South Sydney brilliance will wear them down. Rabbitohs by eight points.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 6pm.
• Statistics: NRL Stats