Schick Hydro Preview: St George Illawarra Dragons v South Sydney Rabbitohs
There's nothing like a Sunday afternoon at the fabled Sydney Cricket Ground watching two old rugby league rivals go at it and this Round 3 match-up will be no different.
This particular clash sees the Dragons come in with a very different form line to the Rabbitohs. It was just one of those days for Paul McGregor's men at Southern Cross Stadium last Sunday.
A lack of coherency in attack and terrible error rate saw them towelled up 30-2 against Cronulla. It was a dramatically different story a day earlier at ANZ Stadium where Michael Maguire's troops put the struggling Knights to the sword to the tune of 48-6 to back up their thumping of the Roosters in Round 1.
Consecutive problematic performances from new fullback Kurt Mann threatened to give McGregor a tough decision about what to do with Origin custodian Josh Dugan but an ankle injury for Mann has taken the decision out of his hands, at least for now.
Dugan's shift to the back sees Euan Aitken return to the team at centre though the rest of the team has been given a chance to atone for last week's effort.
With no fresh injury concerns, Maguire has unsurprisingly named an unchanged side, though Chris Grevsmuhl and Michael Oldfield have been added to an extended bench.
Watch out Dragons: The powerful platform being laid by the Bunnies pack is allowing their somewhat unheralded outside backs to run amok. Bryson Goodwin and Hymel Hunt aren't quite a centre pairing to strike fear into opponents but Goodwin in particular has been red hot to start the year. He's the top point scorer after two rounds, having taken goal-kicking duties in the absence of Adam Reynolds (jaw) to go with his three tries. Fellow Souths three-quarters Aaron Gray (four tries) and Alex Johnston (three tries) and Hymel Hunt (two tries) have all been making hay while the sun shines.
Watch out Rabbitohs: McGregor will be hoping the bounce-back-factor is at play as his side look to shake off a pair of stinging losses and if the Red V are going to spark into life it could well start with fullback Josh Dugan. Dugan was the Blues' best in an unsuccessful Origin campaign from the back last year and averaged around 185 metres per game wearing the No.1 jersey through the 2015 NRL season with 107 tackle breaks (to be third best across the competition in both categories). Assuming he shakes off a minor hammy strain his kick returns will need to get the Red V starting their sets on the front foot.
Key match-up: Sam Burgess v Mike Cooper. A pair of Englishmen lock the scrums for their respective sides and while Burgess has made a mockery of suggestions he may start 2016 slowly after a year out of the game, Cooper hasn't really kicked on from his 2015 breakout season and has started this year very quietly. Last year it was 37 tackles and 114 metres per game; so far in two matches this year the England Test rep is averaging 28 tackles and 52 metres per game. Burgess, meanwhile, is charging for almost 160 metres per game and last week popped an absurd nine offloads to get his team rolling ahead nicely.
The history: Played 25; Dragons 15, Rabbitohs 10. The Bunnies have won seven of the past eight meetings, including the last four straight. South Sydney haven't lost at the SCG since 2008, winning five matches there in that period.
What are the odds: Sportsbet has been finding it tough to find anyone who wants to back the Dragons. Around 85 per cent of the money invested on the game is with South Sydney and their recent point scoring blitz has prompted punters to back the overs in total points for the game. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Jared Maxwell. Assistant referee: Adam Gee. Sideline officials: Brett Suttor and Michael Wise. Review Officials: Bryan Norrie and Jason Robinson. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live coverage from 3:30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 4pm.
The way we see it: Based on recent form it's impossible to tip against the Rabbitohs in this one. Bunnies by 13 or more.