Cleary respectful of rebounding Rabbitohs
In an ominous assessment, Panthers coach Ivan Cleary believes South Sydney are a top-four -calibre team despite the fact they "haven't had their way" so far in 2014.
Ahead of Friday night's clash against the competition heavyweights, Cleary said his improving Panthers were looking forward to the challenge of facing off against one of the league's premier outfits.
"Souths are a top-four side. They've proven over the last couple of years that they've been one of the better teams," he said. "Their personnel hasn't changed too much. Everyone's still trying to find their feet at the moment and we know we're in for a tough game tomorrow."
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The Rabbitohs had lost three matches on the trot but bounced back with an emphatic 26-6 victory over the Dragons last week on the strength of a forward pack that regained their vigour.
Cleary said stopping their big men – led by the Burgess brothers - was the key to their continuing an unbeaten record at home so far in 2014.
"It's no different to a lot of teams, everyone wants to try and get a bit of momentum and those guys certainly do that for them," he said.
"But usually if you can get your own house in order then you can go a long way to trying to help contain those guys. If we don't play well in our own game, then it's going to make it hard. But if we do play well, get our own things in order and in place then we give ourselves a chance to upset their rhythm a bit."
While teams have targeted a Rabbitohs pack that has struggled with discipline early this year – particularly that of forwards leader Sam Burgess - Cleary dismissed his side would follow suit.
"I guess they haven't had things their own way this year. Often when that happens, their reactions can be different. It's human nature, it's like anybody," he said.
"Again, if we play well and get our own house in order, then you can put pressure on the opposition and if you do that, then things can change a bit.
"Sam Burgess is one of the best players in the competition; I haven't studied him that hard. All I know is that he can play and if we can limit what he does, it'll help us."
With storms forecast for Friday afternoon, Cleary hinted that his side's game plan focused on the middle of the field, as well as the kicking game of in-form five-eighth Jamie Soward.
"Everyday's been like that for about three weeks. I guess you've got to expect a bit of that and play accordingly. But against [this] South Sydney team, it's going to be a pretty tight game and a lot of it's going to be played through the middle anyway," he said.
"[Jamie's kicking game] is one of the reasons why he's here. He's been kicking really well. With Pete Wallace there, we've got a bit of combination so they can bounce off each other which also helps, but it's definitely a bit part of the game – always has been – and it's a strength of ours."