Rabbitohs v Knights preview

Rabbitohs v Knights
ANZ Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

It seemed almost inconceivable at times during their stunning run of form in recent weeks but finally South Sydney’s bubble has burst. Monday night’s narrow loss to Cronulla in miserable conditions at Sharks Stadium was a timely reminder that nothing is certain in rugby league with a big, physical pack proving that it is indeed possible to halt the Rabbitohs’ big men.

Not that coach Michael Maguire is likely to be losing any great amount of sleep just yet with his side still sitting pretty at the top of the NRL ladder. That loss in driving rain aside, Souths have announced themselves as a genuine premiership contender this season and although their old rivals the Roosters might disagree, that can only be a wonderful thing for rugby league.

Much like the great Rabbitohs teams of the past, this current squad is full of attacking genius with halves John Sutton and Adam Reynolds, winger Nathan Merritt, hooker Issac Luke and of course fullback Greg Inglis all capitalising on the good foundation laid by their monster pack to help them to an NRL-high 277 points from their 11 starts in 2013.

This week, though, will provide an interesting insight into how Souths perform without the match-winning brilliance of Inglis who, along with back-rower Ben Te’o, is on duty with the Queensland State of Origin side. After all, the greatest strides the Bunnies made last year came once Maguire moved Inglis to the No.1 jersey.

Another fly in the ointment is the question mark hovering over Sam Burgess, who has to beat his Dangerous Contact charge at the judiciary on Wednesday evening if he is to take his place here.

Counter to those hiccups is the fact that Newcastle have been hit even harder by Origin given they are missing their own fullback Darius Boyd as well as captain Kurt Gidley. Ironically, Gidley was named in the NSW side on Sunday but ruled out on Monday while Boyd is also in doubt for Queensland after injuring his ankle in last week’s loss to the Warriors

It is going to be tough for the Knights to overcome the loss of Boyd and Gidley – particularly at a time when they are searching for answers following some wildly fluctuating performances of late. Having been belted 44-14 in Canberra three weeks ago; they turned it all around to thrash Canterbury 44-8 just seven days later but then fell 28-12 to the Warriors in New Zealand. Adding to the confusion, the Warriors themselves had suffered a record 62-6 loss to Penrith the week before downing Newcastle.

It’s a frustrating time for coach Wayne Bennett who had seen a number of players put their hand up for NSW selection over the early rounds – Kade Snowden, Willie Mason, Akuila Uate and even James McManus have impressed – only to let themselves down in the final stages.

This week they have no choice but to return to their best if they want to steal the two points, but do they have the self-belief in the wake of their past two away games?

For Souths, Nathan Merritt takes over the No.1 jersey from Inglis this week with Andrew Everingham back into the side on the wing. In the back row, Nathan Peats will start at lock with Sam Burgess into the second row alongside Ben Lowe in place of Queensland duo Te’o and McQueen. Dave Tyrrell will start in the front row as George Burgess returns to the bench while Justin Hunt and Jeff Lima are new additions to the 17.

Injuries to Gidley and Uate and Boyd’s presence in the Maroons squad has seen a number of changes to the Newcastle side with Kevin Naiqama starting at fullback and Peter Mata’utia on the wing. Travis Waddell will start at hooker with Jeremy Smith returning from suspension at lock – forcing David Fa’alogo back to the bench.

Souths have won just six of 15 games at home against the Knights but will be buoyed by the fact that Newcastle have conceded an average 25.8 points per game away in 2013.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: Kade Snowden and Willie Mason have received plenty of plaudits for the Knights this season but fellow front-rower Adam Cuthbertson has proven to be somewhat of a secret weapon coming off the bench. Newcastle isn’t a side renowned for their second-phase play but Cuthbertson is the exception to the rule with a team-high 14 offloads from nine games and 115 metres per game to his name.

Watch Out Knights: Who can halt the Burgess brothers? Their phenomenal impact for South Sydney this season has played a huge role in their success with Sam averaging 137 metres per game and George 127 metres per game. They have also added 81 tackle-breaks, six tries and 12 line-breaks between them. 

Plays To Watch: The Adam Reynolds cross-field kick to Andrew Everingham. This is a favourite play of the South Sydney halfback who boasts arguably the best short-kicking game in the NRL. Just as lethal putting the ball along the carpet as he is in the air, Reynolds’ accuracy is unmatched but Everingham is his favourite target out wide with the duo successfully combining on multiple occasions already in 2013.

Where It Will Be Won: This is all about the big men. South Sydney’s pack has been almost unstoppable so far in 2013 with their size and ability to roll across the advantage line allowing their classy backs to run riot. If Newcastle is to stand any chance of an upset this week they have little choice but to stand toe to toe with the Rabbitohs – although they certainly have the cattle to do so. Willie Mason, Kade Snowden and Adam Cuthbertson have all impressed this season while the likes of youngster Robbie Rochow have risen to a new level.

The History: Played 34; Rabbitohs 9, Knights 25.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Jason Walsh; Video Referees – Luke Phillips & Luke Patten. 

NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Rabbitohs v Knights clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.

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Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7.30pm.

The Way We See It: It’s hard to see an injury-hit Newcastle side being able to match it with Souths in this one. Sure, The Bunnies are missing some key players but their depth is good and with Merritt replacing Inglis at the back they still boast plenty of strike in the No.1 jersey. The Knights are going through a tough time of it at the moment and have little choice but to put their heads down and do their best – but we can’t see their best being enough to take the two points this week. Rabbitohs by eight points.

*Statistics: NRL Stats