St George Illawarra Dragons v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Sydney Cricket Grounds
What better place to take the centrepiece of the Heritage Round than the ground with arguably more rugby league heritage than any other in the country?
Footy returns to the SCG on Saturday night as the famous Red V hosts the famous cardinal and myrtle, 50 years after downing the Rabbitohs there to earn their 10th straight premiership win.
A team boasting three immortals – Reg Gasnier, Johnny Raper and Graeme Langlands – as well as a host of Test stars downed a Bunnies outfit featuring names like Bob McCarthy, Ron Coote and John Sattler in a match that set rugby league attendance records that could not be matched until the 2000 Olympics led to the creation of the then-110,000 seat stadium at Homebush.
The Dragons famously went on to win an 11th straight premiership the year after, before the young 1965 Rabbitohs players matured to take four titles of their own in five years from 1967.
This weekend's clash will feature some big names from the modern game, none bigger than Rabbitohs skipper Greg Inglis, along with his teammates Adam Reynolds, John Sutton and the Burgess twins, up against the likes of Josh Dugan, Benji Marshall and Ben Creagh.
Each side will be desperate for the two points given they have one win between them in the past five weeks. That went to the Rabbitohs in Round 16, although they've had two byes in that time as well and are reasonably comfortably placed in fifth spot on the ladder.
Meanwhile the Dragons, ladder leaders after 12 rounds, are in serious danger of dropping out of the top eight with another loss or two and will be desperate to get back in the winners' circle after five straight losses.
That task is made easier by the returns of fullback Dugan, halfback Marshall, and second rowers Joel Thompson and Tyson Frizell. That sees Charly Runciman, Drew Hutchinson, Nathan Green and Mark Ioane drop out with Justin Hunt going from fullback to wing and Will Mathews and Jake Marketo dropping to the bench.
The Rabbitohs also get Inglis back from Origin duty, shifting Alex Johnston to the wing with Joel Reddy dropping out. Cameron McInnes starts at hooker for the suspended Issac Luke and Tim Grant is back at prop moving Dave Tyrrell to the bench and Jason Clark out of the 17.
Watch out Dragons: The Dragons are statistically the worst attacking side in the competition after 18 rounds with just 42 tries this year, and while they remain the second-best defensive team they still need to be able to score enough points to win the game against a Rabbitohs outfit that has the best effective tackle percentage (91%) in the competition, as well as being the fifth-best defensive side in terms of points conceded. They'll be hoping the return of attacking weapons Dugan and Marshall will somewhat alleviate that this week.
Watch out Rabbitohs: Speaking of, the return of Marshall this week is massive. The Dragons missed his experience and direction last week, and the combination he has formed with five-eighth Gareth Widdop, if it can be rekindled behind a bolstered forward pack laying a platform, will be massive. To have the equal-second-most try assists in the competition (12) in the team that has the fewest tries is no mean feat.
Key Match-Up: Josh Dugan v Greg Inglis. The battle of the No.1s is massive here. Each is arguably the best and most important player in their side. Two of the biggest and hardest to tackle fullbacks in the NRL, each is capable of blowing a game wide open with dangerous kick returns. Dugan (172 metres per game) is gaining the second-most yardage among fullbacks while Inglis (141 metres) is no slouch either. Dugan also has the edge in tackle breaks with fourth-most overall (64) ahead of Inglis's 47 (18th). Dugan also has the edge in kicks defused (43, fifth) over Inglis (32, ninth) but Inglis is better at putting his mates through a hole, with 10 line break assists versus Dugan's two.
The History: Played 24; Dragons 15, Rabbitohs 9. Since Illawarra merged with the Dragons the Red V have had the edge over Souths, but this year's defending premiers have won six of the past seven meetings.
What Are The Odds: South Sydney have been one of the better backed sides of the round with Sportsbet punters. Seventy per cent of all money is with the Rabbitohs and they've even been well supported conceding the start in line betting. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Adam Devcich & Chris Sutton; touch judges: Brett Suttor & Steve Carrall; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell & Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live, 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: The season is delicately poised for each of these sides; a win would be both a relief and a confidence boost while a loss would be serious cause for concern heading into the final stretch, particularly for the Dragons. They'll be massively boosted by the return of four top-line players but you get the feeling the form curve of the premiers is slightly better at this stage. Rabbitohs to get the job done in a low-scoring thriller.