Schick Hydro Preview: South Sydney Rabbitohs v Newcastle Knights
They were hit with a triple injury blow last week but South Sydney will still start as clear favourites in this one, with the return of George Burgess and Luke Keary from suspension going some way to offset long-term injuries to Adam Reynolds (jaw), John Sutton (pectoral) and rookie prop Zane Musgrove (wrist).
If Newcastle's season-opening loss to the Gold Coast was anything to go by then the Rabbitohs' 32-point win over the Roosters should strike fear into the heats of the Knights.
With five debutants in their side last week Newcastle showed every bit of their inexperience. But coach Nathan Brown isn't going to die wondering after naming Kade Snowden and Sione Mata'utia on his bench this week alongside new faces Danny Levi and Lachlan Fitzgibbon.
Nathan Ross joins the Knights side on the wing with Chanel Mata'utia (knee) facing six to eight weeks on the sideline.
Watch out Rabbitohs: If he ends up making Brown's final 17 Snowden should be out to prove a point. Newcastle's past 12 months has been disappointing to say the least but the former NSW and Australian representative has been one of their best during that period. That didn't show against the Titans. In 27 minutes Snowden made a mere 28 metres and conceded three penalties – this coming from a veteran who should be leading his inexperienced pack.
Watch out Knights: With Reynolds gone it has provided an opportunity for Keary and five-eighth Cody Walker to build upon their pre-season form. Not once in the trials did Keary and Reynolds link up, meaning the former's combination with Walker will be advantageous in its own way. Before Reynolds' jaw broke on Kane Evans's hip Walker was destined to play Round 2 for North Sydney, but now the last start debutant should revel in his extended first-grade stint.
Key match-up: Sam Burgess v Jeremy Smith. Knights co-captain Smith was one of very few Novocastrians who could hold their head high after their 18-point loss to the Titans. Unlike some of his teammates Smith was able to bend the line in attack while holding his own in defence. He faces a different test this Saturday with Sam Burgess returning to his preferred position of lock. In his first game for Souths since the 2014 grand final Burgess showed glimpses of his previous barnstorming ability. He could do serious damage this week against Newcastle.
The history: Played 37; Rabbitohs 12, Knights 25. Newcastle may hold the wood over South Sydney overall, but the same cannot be said in the past four years. The Rabbitohs have won their past five against the Knights with their last two meetings seeing the home team rack up 50 points – their 50-10 win in Round 21 last year proving to be Rick Stone's final game at the helm of the club.
What are the odds: Sportsbet customers are including the Rabbitohs in a lot of multis over the round, but they're also keen on them in head-to-head betting where the money's running six to one in their favour. Aaron Gray is holding the most money as far as first try scorer is concerned. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant Referee: Dave Munro. Sideline Officials: Dave Ryan and Adam Reid.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 (Live) – 5:30pm.
The way we see it: The Rabbitohs will be counting their lucky stars that they're able to draw upon Keary and Burgess for this one. This game looked destined for a cricket score before the full extent of their injuries was known, but now the Knights are in with a sniff. South Sydney won't be taking their opponents lightly however and should take the two competition points. Rabbitohs by 14.