Rabbitohs v Eels preview

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Parramatta Eels
ANZ Stadium
Sunday 3pm

You snooze, you lose – that will be the mantra coach Michael Maguire will be ramming home to his players after the back-to-back losses that have opened the door for both the Cowboys and Sharks to squeeze past the red and green into the top four should South Sydney remain off the boil over the concluding two rounds.

Meanwhile it’s do or die for the Eels in their bid to avoid the wooden spoon; another loss here would make it extremely difficult for them to offload rugby league’s most unwanted prize – and even impossible should the Panthers account for the Titans on Saturday. 

Souths’ defeats to Manly (23-6) and Cronulla (20-7) over the past fortnight have punched a few holes in their premiership credentials – worryingly despite a purple patch through the midpoint of the season they have not beaten an opponent occupying a spot in the top eight since toppling Cronulla first time around back in Round 9.

While they didn’t play poorly last week, coach Maguire would be concerned their no-nonsense style of footy failed to trouble the Sharks – they offered just one offload all evening (their season low) and managed only one line-break, way down on their season average of 5.2 that ranks them second behind the Cowboys. Similarly they struggled to one line-break against Manly in Round 23 while having eight rushed past them.

Certainly Souths fans will want to see their charges rack up a score against the competition cellar-dwellers to restore faith for the exciting weeks ahead.

They won’t get it all their way though, with Parramatta catching fire over the past month since the demise of Stephen Kearney as coach, notching three wins from their past five encounters including the scalps of Brisbane and Melbourne.

In particular high-profile recruit Chris Sandow is finally displaying the confidence and talent that most expected he’d bring to the Eels’ attack from the first game of the season. This week he has added incentive to deliver the goods, going head to head for the second time this season with new Souths scrum-base sensation Adam Reynolds after being outplayed by the rookie at this venue in Round 15 (see below).  

In a major surprise, Souths have dumped hooker Issac Luke after two low-key efforts since returning from suspension. Nathan Peats will start at hooker, with Roy Asotasi slated to start at prop and Luke Burgess benched. Jason Clark, Justin Hunt, Ben Lowe, and Dave Tyrrell around out their extended interchange.  

Eels caretaker coach Brad Arthur has made just the one change, calling up Matthew Ryan to the interchange to replace Taulima Tautai.

Souths have a 9-2 record at ANZ Stadium this year – meanwhile Parramatta have lost their past eight matches at Homebush Bay. 

Watch Out Rabbitohs: With all eyes likely to be focused on Chris Sandow there’s the danger Ben Roberts could sneak under the Rabbitohs’ guard. The former Kiwi representative is a rocks-or-diamonds player – but he’s certainly unearthed his fair share of valuable plays in 2012. Roberts (six try assists, 10 line-break assists) will use his sidestep, body swerve and offloading skills to full advantage, in particular on the left edge. His attacking grubber kicks will pose a threat too – Souths have conceded 21 tries off the boot so far. He has also clawed out three line-breaks from dummy-half.

Fuifui Moimoi is back in top form after showing plenty of grunt in recent weeks. Moimoi terrorised the Titans through the middle of the park last Sunday, adding 133 metres and setting up Chris Sandow’s long break that led to the No.7’s try. It’s been a long season for the prop, who has played 21 games so far, but he’ll fancy matching motors with the Souths pack and is sure to add to his season tally of 44 tackle busts.

Danger Sign: Parramatta will rely on shock-and-awe tactics: they simply have to blow the bunnies off the park if they are to prevail, given they cannot bank on their defence to get them the verdict – their 28 points conceded is the most in the NRL. If the Eels throw the ball about with confidence, points won’t be far away.

Watch Out Eels: Sam Burgess will be sticking his hand up to receive plenty of ball, especially in the Eels’ red zone. The Englishman troubled the Sharks last week, scoring a try from off a barnstorming burst and pirouette from close range. Burgess leads all props for average minutes (67) and ranks fourth in his position for average gain with the ball in hand (132 metres).

Greg Inglis will be licking his lips at the prospect of targeting Parramatta’s weak right-side defence which has leaked an NRL-high 55 tries so far. The Eels’ defenders need to get their reads right or else Inglis (11 try assists and eight tries) will tear them to pieces. Also, left-side winger Nathan Merrit will go looking for plenty of action – he requires 14 more runs to hit 2000 for his career.

On the other side of the park Dave Taylor (nine tries) and Andrew Everingham (14 tries) will be looking to combine at every opportunity when Adam Reynolds shifts the ball wide. 
Danger Sign: The Eels’ goal-line defence needs to be alert to the threat from Nathan Peats – Souths lead the league for tries scored from dummy-half (12).  

Adam Reynolds v Chris Sandow: What else? One of the biggest stories of 2012 has been Reynolds’ meteoric rise to the top – coinciding with the man he replaced Sandow’s somewhat hesitant start to his career at Parramatta. Although rookie of the year Reynolds’ sure-handed confidence and measured attack is certain to create headaches for the Eels, Sandow has shown enough in recent weeks, with five tries in his past four games, to suggest he’ll be primed for this return clash with his former employer. If either No.7 sparks their team early, expect the attack to flow thick and fast for the rest of the afternoon.   

Where It Will Be Won: Making the most of opportunities deep in the opposition’s half. Parramatta have leaked 49 tries inside 10 metres of their try-line – the second most by a team – while Souths have conceded 47 tries inside their red zone (third most). 

The History: Played 115; Rabbitohs 62, Eels 50, drawn 3. Souths hold sway in recent encounters, winning five of the past eight including the past four in a row. Souths notched their biggest defeat of the Eels with a 56-6 thrashing at ANZ Stadium in Round 22 last year. They hold a 6-2 advantage at the venue, with one match drawn.  

The Last Time They Met: The Rabbitohs were comfortable 24-6 winners over the Eels at ANZ Stadium in Round 15.

Souths led 12-nil at halftime following converted tries to wingers Nathan Merritt (off an Adam Reynolds chip kick to the right flank in the 16th minute) and Justin Hunt (off a skillful Greg Inglis offload in the left corner on the half hour). 

The bunnies extended their advantage to 18 points when Dylan Farrell crashed over on the left fringe just two minutes into the second stanza, before the Eels registered their only try of the game through Reni Maitua, with the Parramatta lock slicing between Adam Reynolds and Nathan Merritt off a Jarryd Hayne pass with 57 minutes gone. 

Michael Crocker completed Parramatta’s evening of pain when he caught the goal-line defence napping when charging onto an Issac Luke pass from dummy-half to score with four minutes remaining.

It was a top-notch effort by the cardinal and myrtle who missed just 14 tackles throughout and posted five line-breaks in attack.  

Parramatta weren’t all bad with the ball in hand (78 per cent completions) but struggled to find a way through South’s rigid defence; however, seven second-half errors didn’t help their cause.

Souths’ best included winger Hunt who made 126 metres and added two line-breaks, and fullback Inglis who contributed two try assists.

Parramatta were best served by fullback Hayne (158 metres), winger Ken Sio (156 metres) and captain Nathan Hindmarsh (55 tackles). 

Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Nick Beashel; Video Referees – Phil Cooley & Matt Cecchin. 

The Way We See It: It looks to us like the bunnies have retreated a little into their warren recently – not a good sign with the finals approaching. They need to get back the confident, supportive attack that wowed the league a month ago, or else they could end up in a world of self-doubt when the big games arrive. We’re expecting Maguire will have noted that and it’s likely he’ll give the side more licence to thrill. They’ve come too far to falter now. Souths by eight points – although expect the Eels to match them in the point-scoring for a good portion of the game.

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 6pm.

*Statistics: NRL Stats