Rabbitohs v Dragons preview
South Sydney Rabbitohs v St George Illawarra Dragons
The last time these two clubs collided, Dragons coach Paul McGregor picked up the clipboard for the very first time in an NRL.
Once the call to sack existing coach Steve Price mid-season was made, McGregor's first game as a head coach came against a Rabbitohs who were slowly building towards their first premiership victory in 43 years.
In a game which saw Josh Dugan move into the centres for the first time and Benji Marshall run out in the Red V for just the second time, the Dragons were trounced by 19 points.
But oh how things have changed.
The Rabbitohs have lost four of their past five games while the Dragons are sitting pretty on the top of the ladder after winning their past six.
While there are murmurs about an early return for South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds, coach Michael Maguire has opted to rest his star playmaker for another week and instead picked John Sutton (broken jaw) to return in place of Aaron Gray. Glenn Stewart's thumb injury has also caused a huge reshuffle in the forward pack.
The Dragons have had mixed news with Dugan not named in place of Eto Nabuli, while they have been boosted by Tyson Frizell's return from suspension in place of Will Matthews.
Watch out Rabbitohs: The Dragons have conceded 86 points at a rate of 10.75 points per game – a whole 9.5 points fewer than the Rabbitohs. At this point in 2014 the Dragons were conceding a whole 12 points more per game, you can't help but wonder what McGregor has been feeding them in Wollongong.
Watch out Dragons: Tom Burgess has managed to play lock once throughout his NRL and Super League career back in 2013. Named to play there once again in light of Stewart's injury and the huge reshuffle involved, Burgess could be out to make his brother Sam's old jersey his own. With Tyrrell and brother George taking out mortgages on the top props spots at the Rabbitohs, Burgess's 141.1 metres and 27.6 tackles would look good in the No. 13 jumper.
Key Match-Up: John Sutton v Gareth Widdop: One has been kicking the Dragons to the top of the competition ladder while the other has been missing in action since Round 2 – how they perform will be essential for their club's fortunes. Sutton makes his return this week in the halves where his experience and direction will be vital for the Rabbitohs as they look to lessen the impact of Gareth Widdop. His kicking game – especially in his attacking 20 – has been on point and a big reason why the Dragons have been pressuring teams into submission.
The History: Played 23; Rabbitohs 8, Dragons 15. History may favour the Dragons but it's the Rabbitohs who have taken great strides in recent seasons to close the gap between the two. Since 2011, the Rabbitohs have beaten the Red V five times to the Dragons two (not including the Charity Shield) which included big victories in 2014 – a 26-6 win in Round 5 and a 29-10 win in Round 12.
What are the Odds: The $3.30 offered for the Dragons when this market opened was gobbled up by some shrewd Sportsbet customers before their win over the Roosters on Anzac Day. St George Illawarra has firmed ever since and have six times the money riding on them. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: Ashley Klein. Touch Judges: Jeff Younis and Chris Sutton. Video Referees: Steve Clark and Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 (Live) – 6:30pm
The Way We See It: Somehow, someway the Rabbitohs win this. They desperately need a win and had less players involved in the representative weekend. What goes up must come down and the Dragons winning streak, while not looking likely to end anytime soon is in real danger. Rabbitohs by two.