Warriors v Rabbitohs
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 4pm (NZ time)
It could have been an early disaster. As it turns out, the Warriors managed to avoid the prospect of facing a rampant South Sydney on the back of a 0-4 start to the year after enjoying by far their best 40 minutes of the season against North Queensland last week – coming back from an early 12-0 deficit to steal a potentially season-saving 20-18 win.
Granted, the Warriors have a long way to go.
Having come into the Cowboys game on the back of 11 consecutive losses, they certainly can’t claim at this stage that their problems are behind them. And their performance was far from faultless, with a number of passes going astray as they struggled to get their timing right. The fact that the visitors were worse saved them.
But there were some positive signs, too. Having gone away from the relentless second-phase play last season that had previously taken them to the 2011 grand final, there was definite intent in their attack last weekend as they looked run North Queensland’s big men ragged, while Shaun Johnson’s crucial try just after half-time was exactly the play they were looking to create with their feverish passing.
They can also take plenty of heart from the fact that they managed to bring home the win despite being a man down after losing Ben Henry to concussion, leaving them out of interchanges with 12 minutes remaining. Given the feebleness of some of their collapses during that 11-game streak it was pleasing for fans to see them dig their heels in when required.
But beating an out-of-sorts North Queensland is a very different proposition to a South Sydney outfit that has steamrolled all before them in 2013.
Having fallen one game short of the grand final in 2012, the Rabbitohs look completely confident in all areas this year, with their halves combination of John Sutton and Adam Reynolds working like clockwork and fullback Greg Inglis continuing to brush defenders aside with his powerful and probing runs.
But it is their monster pack that has impressed most. Led by Sam Burgess and with his fearsome brother George making his presence felt off the bench, they are rolling along in style this season and will ask plenty of questions of the Warriors’ own big men.
Where the Cowboys regularly let the Aucklanders off the hook, South Sydney will punish them if they offer them opportunities deep in the red zone.
Still, the Warriors must look at this as an opportunity. Last Monday’s win at least managed to stop the rot; another one this week would put them well and truly back on track.
The Warriors welcome back wingers Manu Vatuvei and Glen Fisiiahi this week with the former returning from knee and ankle injuries suffered in Round 1 and the latter from bereavement leave following the death of his sister. They have been named on an extended seven-man bench alongside Sebastine Ikahihifo. Feleti Mateo is back in the starting side, with Jacob Lillyman dropping back to the bench.
Souths coach Michael Maguire continues to shuffle his pack – on paper at least – with Dave Tyrrell starting in the front row and Sam Burgess moving to lock. Michael Crocker is again 18th man with Justin Hunt and Jason Clark making up the extended seven-man bench.
In an ominous stat, the Warriors hold a 9-4 advantage over Souths at Mt Smart Stadium.
Watch Out Warriors: Dummy-half running is a central part of South Sydney’s game plan so the Warriors’ markers can expect a working over.
There is no better exponent of running from dummy-half in the NRL than Rabbitohs hooker Issac Luke, with his speed off the mark and sheer power close to the line. Luke’s 35 dummy-half runs are the most by any player this season while his 12 runs in their Round 1 win over the Roosters were the most by a player in any game in 2013.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: If last week’s performance by the Warriors was anything to go by they are gradually starting to return to a style of play similar to that which was on display during their run to the 2011 grand final – lots of second-phase play and the targeting of the opposition big men through the middle by the likes of Shaun Johnson and Kevin Locke.
The Warriors offloaded nine times against North Queensland but it was Feleti Mateo’s three offloads that were particularly pleasing given his status as one of the game’s top offloaders. Notably, Mateo didn’t produce a single offload in the Warriors’ loss to Cronulla a week earlier but they looked a lot more dangerous with him looking to promote the football.
Plays To Watch: The Warriors’ wingers can’t afford to come in too quickly against the Rabbitohs because if there is one man that has demonstrated the ability to punish them this season it is Adam Reynolds.
Reynolds’ short-kicking game is one of his great strengths and he also boasts the ability to summarise his options and adjust on the run. In fact, he has set up two almost identical tries this season with unexpected cross-field chips. The first came in the 14-12 win over Cronulla in Round 2 when the Rabbitohs put on a second-man play out to the right only for Reynolds to put the ball on the boot when he saw Andrew Everingham unmarked out wide. The second came against the Bulldogs last week with a superb set move that saw Greg Inglis switch play to the left and John Sutton turn the ball back inside for Reynolds who caught the Canterbury defence napping with his pinpoint chip for Nathan Merritt to score. Warriors beware.
Key Match-Up: Shaun Johnson v Adam Reynolds. So much hinges on the performances of these two on Sunday.
Johnson in particular is the man who can spark the Warriors to life. At his best he drives defensive lines mad with his quick stepping and ability to have the big men clutching at thin air. His second-half try against North Queensland last week was certainly a throw-back to better days across the Tasman.
Reynolds has the benefit of more match-winners alongside him but it is his composure that has pulled this side together. His ability to take control of the situation will make life difficult for the Warriors.
Where It Will Be Won: This promises to be one of the more physical clashes of the season given the size of the respective forward packs. In particular Ben Matulino, Sam Rapira and Jacob Lillyman – who has returned to the back row in recent weeks – are no shrinking violets. But whether they can contain a giant South Sydney pack that boasts the Burgess brothers, Roy Asotasi and powerful second-row duo Ben Te’o and Chris McQueen is another question altogether.
The History: Played 25; Warriors 18, Rabbitohs 7. The Warriors have won five of the past nine clashes, including four of the past five!
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Dave Munro; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Shane Rehm; Video Referee – Steve Chiddy & Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 2pm AEST.
The Way We See It: To be honest, it’s hard to see the Warriors winning this one. Despite snapping their 11-game losing streak with a surprise win over North Queensland and boasting a formidable home-ground record over this week’s opponent, Souths are a well-drilled outfit in 2013, feature weapons right across the park and are in ominous form with four wins from as many starts. That’s not to say that the Warriors don’t have the firepower to strike back but they are yet to put in anywhere near an 80-minute performance this season and that’s what they’ll need to do if they are to make it two wins in a row. We tip the Rabbitohs by 12 points.