Schick Hydro Preview: South Sydney Rabbitohs v Parramatta Eels
It's meant to be the time of year when teams are decimated by State of Origin, but remarkably both the Rabbitohs and Eels have remained unaffected by the interstate spectacle ahead of their Round 12 clash at ANZ Stadium.
Given the lack of disruption to their respective squads, this should be a cracking contest between two sides desperate for a win at this crucial juncture of the season.
The Rabbitohs were brave against the Storm in Perth last week but simply couldn't find a way through Melbourne's defence in slippery conditions out west, and they'll need to be equally resilient on Friday given the five day turnaround.
Parramatta had their chances against the Raiders but ultimately went down by six points in a match coach Brad Arthur said they should have won. New recruit Mitchell Moses had his moments but they'll need more from him against the side he struggled against just two weeks ago in his final game for the Tigers.
Englishman George Burgess returns to the Rabbitohs bench with Zane Musgrove dropping back to the reserves.
The Eels have lost Michael Jennings (quad) but welcome back Brad Takairangi at centre. Nathan Brown has been named despite leaving the field early against Canberra with a rib complaint.
Why the Eels can win: With Corey Norman and Michael Jennings out injured, Parramatta's electric left edge has lost most of its much-vaunted potency. While they're weakened the Eels still have their biggest threat available, with winger Semi Radradra showing last week against the Raiders he is still as unstoppable as ever with a try assist that few others could have delivered. The flying Fijian tormented the Bunnies with four tries from two matches in 2016, including NRL.com's top long-range try of the year with a 90-metre intercept in the dying stages of their Round 15 clash that saw him embarrass the defence with ease.
Why the Rabbitohs can win: Robbie Farah will have a point to prove after being left out of the Blues side for the series opener on May 31 in favour of uncapped No.9 Nathan Peats. The former Tigers skipper has had a mixed start to his career in the cardinal and myrtle but has started to hit his straps in recent weeks. Farah sparked a stunning comeback when he came off the bench in Round 8 against the Broncos, setting up two tries in quick succession to almost snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and his form ever since has been heading on an upward trend with Farah playing the full 80 minutes in each of his last two starts.
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All Run Metres, Tackle Breaks, Try Assists, Tries.
The history: Played 122; Rabbitohs 67: Eels 52; Drawn 3. The Bunnies have had plenty of joy against the Eels in recent times with Michael Maguire's men claiming nine wins from their past 11 meetings. Honours were even in 2016 with the Rabbitohs coming from behind to beat Parramatta in an emotion-charged game after the preliminary salary cap charges were handed down, before the Eels exacted revenge five weeks later at the Olympic stadium.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters are keen on the Eels, with nearly four times the amount of money invested on Parramatta in the head-to-head market. Eels 1-12 is the most popular winning margin and nearly three-quarters of the money in handicap betting is with Parramatta who are giving away a small points start. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant referee: Alan Shortall. Sideline officials: Clayton Sharpe and Nick Beashel.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live coverage from 7:30pm. Fox Sports 2 – Live coverage from 7pm.
NRL.com predicts: Tipping at this stage of the year is never fun, especially when you can't rely on one team being ravaged by Origin. The Eels should have no problems matching South Sydney up front but there appears to be a gulf in class in the key positions, and if the Rabbitohs' spine can click into gear they should have too many points in them. Souths by 8.