Schick Hydro Preview: Rabbitohs v Dragons
It doesn't seem all that long ago the Dragons upset the Rabbitohs in a low-scoring slugfest on a soggy SCG pitch back in Round 3.
Since then the Rabbitohs have gone through an almighty slump and only just emerged (at least, their fans hope they've emerged) out the other side while the Dragons continue to eke out wins roughly every second week without really hitting their straps.
Both these protagonists were fairly unconvincing winners last weekend but winners all the same.
The Bunnies needed some GI brilliance, two tries in the last 10 minutes and an Adam Reynolds sideline conversion to sneak past the Eels at Pirtek, while the Dragons somehow survived two almost-match-winning Aiden Sezer field goals to claim a golden point win against the Raiders on the back of a Euan Aitken intercept try.
Michael Maguire's men are suffering something of a mini injury crisis in the outside backs with back-up winger Michael Oldfield's hamstring strain last week compounding the loss of Aaron Gray (knee) in Country City and Hymel Hunt (pec) before that.
It means five-eighth Cody Walker rejoins the top squad and though Maguire has named Walker in the vacant wing spot it's more likely Walker will slot into the halves with Inglis going back to the three-quarter line in the only change.
Paul McGregor has opted for Jake Marketo to start in place of Joel Thompson (suspended) Jacob Host joining the bench, Russell Packer to start at prop, Mike Cooper moving to lock and Will Matthews dropping back to the bench. Josh McCrone replaces Benji Marshall (hamstring) in the halves.
Watch out Rabbitohs: The Dragons certainly have plenty of room for improvement based on their last outing but one man who really aimed up was Blues hopeful Tyson Frizell, who put in arguably his best effort of the year. His battering edge runs really dented the Canberra line and his 168 metres gained were the most by a forward in the match. His four tackle breaks (also best among forwards in that game) highlighted the problems he caused with ball in hand and he crashed over for a try for good measure. Maybe he can sense a sky blue jersey?
Watch out Dragons: For a man who was supposedly well down on form, Greg Inglis has had a blockbusting fortnight. He had a whale of a game at centre for the Kangaroos and his best moments last week in his match-winning turn against the Eels actually came after he shifted out to centre when Luke Keary replaced him at five-eighth. With Cody Walker unlikely to actually play on the wing, will the reshuffle again see ‘GI' in his old centre position? If so, he's been lethal there of late and maybe, with a bit less to worry about compared to playing in the No.1 or No.6, he could cause devastation down the Bunnies' left-edge attacking channel again.
Key match-up: Cameron McInnes v Mitch Rein. Given both these teams play a lot of fairly simple one-out football, distribution from dummy half becomes particularly important to get your forwards coming onto the ball. Both are talented rakes who are also capable of a quick dummy-half dart if they spot a lazy marker and Rein is currently the number one practitioner in the NRL with 55 dummy-half runs so far while McInnes – despite averaging just under 60 minutes per game – is fifth overall with 41 in his 10 games. McInnes though has more tackle breaks (25-17) and has three tries to Rein's none.
The History: Played 26; Rabbitohs 10, Dragons 16. Things have mostly gone the way of the merged club since they joined the competition but prior to that Round 3 win, the Bunnies had got the chocolates on the previous four straight meetings.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters are split 60/40 in favour of the Rabbitohs in head-to-head betting. The Rabbitohs by 1-12 is the most popular winning margin, with Greg Inglis the best backed to score the first try of the match. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: David Munro. Touch Judges: Tim Roby & Adam Reid. Review Officials: Luke Patten & Steve Chiddy. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live coverage from 7:30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 7:30pm.
The way we see it: Very tough one to call but having broken their mini-drought we'll lean towards the Rabbitohs to go back to back with a narrow two-point win.