Rabbitohs v Warriors preview

Rabbitohs v Warriors
nib Stadium, Perth
Sunday 4.30pm (WA time)

How remarkable that this clash looms as the match of the round. Barely a month ago, the Warriors looked anything but top-eight contenders with the Kiwi outfit sitting equal last on the NRL ladder with just two wins from their opening 10 games. Now they are one of the form teams of the competition.

In fact, their five consecutive wins is the most of any club at the moment with this Sunday’s opponents – competition leaders South Sydney – their nearest rivals with four on the trot.

The Warriors can be a frustratingly erratic team at times and coach Matthew Elliott must have been scratching his head during those early rounds wondering what he needed to do to wake this sleeping giant. Ironically, it seems his former club Penrith found the solution for him.

Their 62-6 thrashing of the Warriors in Round 10 apparently shocked the Aucklanders into action and they haven’t been beaten since with impressive victories over Newcastle, Manly, Sydney Roosters and the Broncos on two separate occasions.

Suddenly they find themselves sitting equal with eighth-placed Newcastle while their rivals look over their shoulders nervously. After all, this is the side that went all the way to the 2011 grand final and another golden run is certainly not beyond them.

South Sydney, however, provides by far their sternest test.
The Rabbitohs’ train just keeps rolling along and with a four-point buffer over nearest rival Sydney Roosters at the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder they are now odds-on to claim their first minor premiership since 1989.

The challenge for the Warriors will be trying to stop Souths from piling on the points because knowing where their multiple threats come from and doing something about them are two very different things. Rest assured Canberra would have done their homework on them last week – but that didn’t prevent Sam Burgess from charging through the middle to score their opening try, Issac Luke diving over from dummy-half or Nathan Merritt capitalising on the inside work of John Sutton and Greg Inglis.

The best way for the Warriors to cause the upset this weekend will be to fight fire with fire and if there is any side that boasts the skills to do just that it is the team from across the Tasman. Either way, it should be one highly entertaining battle.

Souths coach Michael Maguire has named an extended 20-man squad for the trip to Perth with George Burgess and Chris McQueen added after missing the win over Canberra through suspension and injury respectively.

Elliott has also named an extended squad that includes winger Manu Vatuvei and prop Russell Packer. Packer was a late withdrawal from last week’s game because of an ankle injury while Vatuvei was forced off in the second half with a leg problem. Youngsters Ngani Laumape, Suaia Matagi and Charlie Gubb will also travel as cover.

This is the fifth consecutive year that Souths have taken a game to Perth with all four previous fixtures decided by single figures. The Warriors have also played in Western Australia four times, for four losses – including a heart-breaking defeat to Manly last year when they threw away a 22-10 lead with 13 minutes remaining.

If the Warriors win this week it will be just the third time they have won six games in a row and the first time since 2002.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: One man who can cause huge problems for South Sydney’s usually solid defence is Warriors centre Konrad Hurrell. The powerful Hurrell was sensationally dropped from the NRL squad earlier in the season but since being recalled to the side back in Round 12 has been among his side’s best. He scored a crucial try against the Broncos in that first game back when he bumped off Corey Norman on his way to the line, brushed off five players on his way to the line for the match-winning try against Manly and ran the length of the field in a decisive play against Brisbane again last Sunday. He leads the Warriors for tries (seven), line-breaks (nine) and tackle-breaks (35) in 2013.

Watch Out Warriors: What to do about Greg Inglis? The Bunnies’ fullback has set the bar high this season – averaging a whopping 168 metres per game and scoring 12 tries to go with his six try assists and six line-break assists. He also leads the league for tackle-breaks with 75. The Warriors must avoid broken-play situations and shut down South Sydney’s opportunities for second-phase play.

Plays To Watch: Greg Inglis chiming into the backline on the left edge; Adam Reynolds putting in a cross-field chip or bomb to his winger – usually Andrew Everingham – while on the run; Kevin Locke darting through the middle looking to capitalise on a quick play-the-ball.

Where It Will Be Won: Win the forward battle and you open the game up for your outside men. With so much class on the fringes, that will be the goal for both sides this week with South Sydney looking to continue the domination their big men have brought this week against a Warriors outfit renowned for bringing physicality to the contest. If there is one thing the Rabbitohs can count on this week it’s that they will know they’ve been in a game of footy.

The History: Played 26; Warriors 18, Rabbitohs 8. Souths have only beaten the Warriors twice in the same season on two previous occasions in 1998 and 2008. But there is rarely a lot between the two sides with 11 of their 26 games having been decided by a converted try or less.

Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Dave Munro; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Adam Gee; Video Referee – Steve Chiddy & Reece Williams.

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

Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 6.30pm (AEST).

The Way We See It: The Warriors have made enormous strides in the past two months. From a team that could barely win a game, they’ve now won five in a row and have impressed particularly with their ability to grind out some tough wins when the game has been on the line. That won’t be so easy against Souths, however, who continue to grow in confidence and boast so many weapons that they are nigh on impossible to contain. We anticipate an exciting battle but it’s hard to see the Rabbitohs being beaten in their current form. Rabbitohs by 10 points.