South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canberra Raiders
Barlow Park, Cairns
The defending premiers will take their ANZAC weekend clash with the Raiders to Cairns in what will be the third time the club has hosted a match in tropical North Queensland.
The Bunnies will line up as they did in their last start loss in hurricane-like conditions at Shark Park. Cameron McInnes once again joins Luke Keary in the halves while Glenn Stewart will be doing more of the tough stuff in the forwards after making 62 tackles from the second row last week.
That brutal loss to the Sharks was Souths' second straight defeat, a result that takes them two points clear of the three teams at the top of the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder.
They'll be looking to rejoin the leaders with victory over a Raiders outfit which earned a memorable, record-breaking comeback victory over the Wests Tigers at Leichardt Oval last Sunday.
That was a confidence-boosting performance for the Green Machine who managed to send long-serving prop Dane Tilse off in style before his departure to join former skipper Terry Campese at Hull KR.
To cover for Tilse in the starting pack, the powerful Paul Vaughan moves into the front row, while Shaun Fensom returns from injury to retake the Raiders No.13 jersey which he has made his own.
Otherwise for Canberra, Mark Nicholls takes Luke Bateman's spot on the bench with Kyle O'Donnell and Jeremy Hawkins filling out an extended bench.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: The Raiders proved last week that they have some intimidating muscle in the forward pack. Key off-season signings Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Iosia Soliola had their best games in green while others like Shannon Boyd and Paul Vaughan were at their barnstorming best all day long. There will be no easy metres through the middle for the Burgess twins and the Bunnies pack against these big boppers. With the ball in hand they are just as frightening a prospect, and the Tigers pack found it difficult to slow their progression down the field once they got on a roll last week.
Watch Out Raiders: Despite Dylan Walker officially returning from injury last week, this will be his first opportunity to make a mark on the game with the ball in hand. He struggled in the wet conditions in Cronulla on Monday, copping mud in his eye in the opening minutes and never being able to find his rhythm, but Sunday afternoon's match in the warmth of North Queensland should be a different story. Alongside strike weapons Greg Inglis and Alex Johnston, Walker's pace and agility will trouble the Raiders' at-times shaky defence out wide.
Key Match-Up: Isaac Luke v Josh Hodgson. Both dummy-halves will be instrumental in this match. With two relatively inexperienced halves combinations that haven't had the benefit of much time together in the middle, these experienced, classy hookers will be repeatedly called upon to do playmaking work and spark attacking raids.
Hodgson's quick recovery from a foot injury sustained against the Storm was huge news for a Raiders team that has been increasingly benefiting from his improving form in the No.9 jersey. Over the past few weeks he has established himself as a key kicking option out of dummy half for the Green Machine, whilst his energy has helped his forwards get on a roll down the middle of the field. He's also been picking up his defensive output with 41 tackles against the Tigers last week. Meanwhile Isaac Luke is a tough-as-nails hooker who often leads the Bunnies with his starch in defence. He'll be needed to play a greater playmaking role to assist Luke Keary and Cameron McInnes on Sunday after struggling to make a big impact against the Sharks. Luke did have 35 tackles and 12 runs though in a hard working performance that typified his tough attitude in the brutal conditions.
The History: Played 49; Rabbitohs 21, Raiders 28. The honours were split one win apiece between these two sides in their 2014 encounters. The Bunnies defeated the Raiders by 16 points in the side's last meeting in Round 20 last year on the back of double from Souths pair Bryson Goodwin and Adam Reynolds.
What Are The Odds: Rabbitohs $1.22 v Raiders $4.00 There's been huge support for the Raiders to get the job done in handicap betting, although South Sydney have been included in a stack of Sportsbet multis at their short price. Greg Inglis is the popular pick for first try-scorer. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Alan Shortall. Touch judges: Rick MacFarlane & Belinda Sleeman. Video referees: Bernard Sutton & Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel Nine - Live from 4pm (AEDT)
The Way We See It: South Sydney are missing their creative inspiration Adam Reynolds and showed at times against the Sharks a lack of intensity and desire. It's a tough ask to expect the defending premiers to go out and match the intensity of their opponents week in-week out, but even when they don't they usually have the talent across the pitch to get the better of their opposition. Their clash with a confident Raiders outfit on Sunday afternoon looms as an interesting encounter and will surely be a much tighter affair than the bookies envision. With a little bit more class and finishing ability out wide the Rabbitohs should get the better of the Raiders, but not by much. Souths by 4.