Schick Hydro Preview: South Sydney Rabbitohs v Brisbane Broncos
Two sides desperate for a win face off on Saturday night, with both Brisbane and South Sydney out of form and down on confidence.
The Rabbitohs' season has gone from bad to worse – losing five in a row and dropping to 12th on the ladder.
They must start winning now if they are to salvage anything from 2016 because another loss will all but end their finals chances.
The Broncos have lost six of their past eight and Saturday's game looms as a must-win clash if Wayne Bennett's men are to stay in touch with the top four.
It will be a match full of desperation and both sides are set to be fresh coming off last round's bye.
Despite South Sydney's poor form, coach Michael Maguire has made just one change to the side that lost 20-0 to North Queensland in Round 17, with Tautalatasi Tasi replaced on the bench by the returning George Burgess.
Bennett welcomes back two starters with Jordan Kahu replacing Lachlan Maranta on the wing and Sam Thaiday swapping in as a back-rower for Jaydn Su'A. Herman Ese'ese, Joe Boyce and potential NRL debutant Marion Seve are fighting to replace Kodi Nikorima on the bench.
Watch out Rabbitohs: Brisbane prop Josh McGuire is in the form of his life and his confidence is sky high. McGuire is having his best season to date and has been rewarded for his efforts, playing a key role in Queensland's State of Origin series win. The 26-year-old averages 147 metres and 31 tackles per game – a work rate that has seen him become one of the best props in the game. These two teams met earlier in the season and McGuire was arguably the Broncos' best, running for 170 metres and terrorising the Rabbitohs' pack up the middle. South Sydney's forward pack had no answer, with McGuire helping put Brisbane in supreme field position time and time again. It led to a 30-8 Broncos win and the Rabbitohs will have to better in the middle third if they are to have any chance against a hungry Brisbane pack.
Watch out Broncos: Brisbane's record at ANZ Stadium is poor – so poor that they've only won there twice since 2009. Their average losing margin in that time being 15 points. This horrible run includes their most recent trip to the ground – a demoralizing 26-point loss to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in Round 16. The last time Brisbane played Souths at the venue the Rabbitohs ran away with a comfortable 42-16 win in 2014. The Rabbitohs will be sure to remember that match as they prepare for Saturday night.
Key match-up: Sam Burgess v Corey Parker. Two of the best locks in the competition go head to head in a match-up that is sure to bring the best out of both. Burgess has been a standout for the Rabbitohs this season, averaging 149 metres and 34 tackles per game. The Englishman has been one of few South Sydney forwards that have had any go forward this year, but despite his best efforts it hasn't been enough to carry the Rabbitohs as they struggle with just five wins for the season.
Parker has continued to defy his aging body, leading Brisbane's pack whenever he runs out in a Broncos jumper. Even in Brisbane's recent poor run of form, Parker has been at his best, with he and fellow Bronco Josh McGuire trying their guts out even when Brisbane are on the wrong end of a lopsided scoreboard. The 34-year-old averages 134 metres per game and has four line breaks in what will be his last season in the NRL. Parker's leadership will be vital come Saturday night if the Broncos are to get their season back on track. Burgess will need to be the Rabbitohs' enforcer and get in the face of Brisbane's captain if South Sydney are to be competitive. No matter the final result – it promises to be a fiery encounter.
The history: Played 33; Rabbitohs 9, Broncos 23, Drawn 1. Brisbane have had the wood over South Sydney since joining the competition in 1988. Despite this, the Rabbitohs have won four of their last six against the Broncos by an average margin of eight points. Brisbane have won the last two encounters, with the Broncos defeating the Rabbitohs by 22 points at Suncorp Stadium in Round 8. That game contained plenty of emotion, with Jordan Kahu's two-try effort helping Brisbane get over the line. Kahu has scored four tries in his last two games against the Rabbitohs, with South Sydney's outside backs struggling to contain the New Zealand international on both occasions.
What are the odds: Rabbitohs $2.47, Broncos $1.55. Sportsbet punters believe the Broncos will return to the winners list against the Rabbitohs, with the money coming in at a rate of three to one. Corey Oates is the dominant favourite for first try-scorer but Anthony Milford is the most popular. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Jared Maxwell; Assistant Referee: Adam Gee; Touch Judges: Brett Suttor & Nick Morel; Standby: Drew Oultram; Review Officials: Bryan Norrie & Ashley Klein; Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 7:30pm.
The way we see it: The Rabbitohs will know they have to win this one to keep their season alive so they'll be throwing everything they have at Brisbane. Despite that, punters can expect the Broncos to rediscover the defence that saw them win seven of their first eight matches. Brisbane are nearing full strength and they should be too strong, especially if all six of their Origin stars back up. Broncos by 12.