Schick Hydro Preview: Rabbitohs v Titans
nib Stadium (Perth)
Sunday, 4.30pm (6.30pm AEST)
It's what they call in the classics a 'four-point game'.
The halfway point of the 2016 Telstra Premiership season and two teams in the Rabbitohs and the Titans locked together on 12 points apiece sitting just outside the warm embrace of the NRL top eight heading into winter.
Both went into last weekend's bye on the back of two consecutive wins and know that continuing a winning run at this time of the year will generate confidence and make their finals ambitions appear that much more attainable.
The Rabbitohs have been dealt a blow with confirmation George Burgess has undergone groin surgery that will keep him sidelined for at least two months with Dave Tyrrell's return on the bench the only change to the team that defeated the Dragons last start.
The addition of Nathan Peats two weeks ago has taken the Titans' tally of former Rabbitohs to four with Chris McQueen to line up against the club where he played 116 games in the NRL for the first time.
And of course, the most recent arrival on the Gold Coast, former Warrior Konrad Hurrell, is in line to play for his new club having been named on an extended bench.
The venue – nib Stadium in Perth – has been a kind one to the Rabbitohs who have won five of the seven home games they have taken to the West Australian capital while for the Titans it represents an historic first appearance in WA on their two-week road trip that concludes with a clash with the Eels in Darwin.
Watch out Rabbitohs: There's a face very familiar to many Rabbitohs players lining up for the Titans this weekend who would not have been on their radar little more than a fortnight ago. Nathan Peats became the face of the Eels' salary cap crisis when he walked away from Parramatta to sign an 18-month deal with the Titans but it was at Redfern where he made his NRL debut and played 55 NRL games for South Sydney. He came off the bench in his first game for Gold Coast in Round 11 against the Panthers and in 58 minutes made 42 tackles, ran for 89 metres and scored a try at a crucial time to help get his new team a much-needed win. With a date with the Eels waiting in Darwin next week, expect Peats to start this road trip on the right note.
Watch out Titans: Any criticism of the Rabbitohs under coach Michael Maguire has centred on a largely predictable attacking structure but the introduction of Cody Walker to fullback and shift of Greg Inglis to five-eighth has given South Sydney an exciting new dimension. Walker's clever kick for himself on the stroke of half-time against the Dragons was as clutch as it was timely and his returning of the football from back-field saw him chalk up 138 metres from 18 carries. Walker is an instinctive footballer and with Inglis up front and Luke Keary waiting on the bench the Rabbitohs have a greater array of attacking threats at their disposal.
Key match-up: Sam Burgess v Greg Bird. It's impossible to look at this contest and not see the influence of the respective spiritual hearts of both teams as having a major influence on the outcome. Where Burgess inspires the Rabbitohs through his sheer volume of work (150m, 33.5 tackles per game) Bird is providing an old-fashioned link between the forwards and the backs with his tough runs (123m and 15 tackle busts) and clever ball-playing (13 offloads, four try assists). It's a big assignment for Bird to back up in Perth four days after Origin I in Sydney but his team's chances are vastly improved with his input.
The history: Played 13; Rabbitohs 8, Titans 5. It's been all one-way traffic in recent years with the Rabbitohs winning six of the past seven clashes between these two teams. Being in unfamiliar territory is no consolation either for Titans fans with the Rabbitohs winning five of the seven games they have played in Perth. In eight games against the Titans Greg Inglis has won six games and scored six tries and has never lost to Gold Coast while playing for the Rabbitohs.
What are the odds? Rabbitohs $1.57, Titans $2.41. This is by far the most even betting game of the weekend with money split almost 50/50 in Sportsbet's head-to-head market. Both sides have been backed to win 1-12. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Touch Judges: Rickey MacFarlane and Jon Stone. Review Officials: Matt Cecchin and Bryan Norrie. Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 6pm AEST
How we see it: Their record in Perth and recent dominance over the Titans would point clearly to a South Sydney victory but Gold Coast have shown that they are not a team to be taken lightly in 2016. They are riding a positive wave of energy on the back of two straight wins and a bolstered playing roster and are steeling themselves for two weeks on the road that could shape their season. The Rabbitohs have looked far more threatening with Inglis at five-eighth and whether he backs up after Origin I could prove the difference. On the basis he does play we'll tip the Rabbitohs by two points.