Schick Hydro preview: Rabbitohs v Panthers
As the financial year draws to a close, the business end of the rugby league season kicks into gear with two teams walking the finals tightrope set to do battle in a high stakes clash at ANZ Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Most people think that Souths need to pull a rabbit out of the hat to make the finals, but following their 36-20 win over the Titans in Round 15 and last week's two points courtesy of the bye, there's a quiet confidence at Redfern that if they can beat the Panthers on Sunday and then take care of an understrength Roosters side next week, then anything is possible.
The Panthers are in a slightly better position but will be kicking themselves after the Cowboys performed their own Houdini act to snatch a remarkable victory at the death in tropical conditions up north, leaving Penrith on the outside looking in with 10 rounds remaining.
The Rabbitohs have made several changes to the side that took care of the Titans with Sam Burgess returning at lock, Aaron Gray starting at centre in place of Hymel Hunt (thumb), while George Burgess goes back to the bench with Kyle Turner dropping out of the 17.
It's smooth sailing for the Panthers who have named the same 17 that lost in Townsville.
Why the Rabbitohs can win: They got the job done without him in Round 15 and now the Rabbitohs are set to welcome back Sam Burgess for their must-win clash on Sunday afternoon. The inspirational Englishman has a fantastic record against the Panthers with six wins from eight appearances and has scored three tries in his last two matches against the men from the foot of the mountains. He'll be fresh after a fortnight off so expect him to be at his brilliant best this weekend.
Why the Panthers can win: Because they have to. Tipped by many to feature on grand final day, the Panthers find themselves a win outside the top eight and in desperate need of a confidence-boosting win against one of the teams also vying for a spot in the playoffs. If you take the fourth-placed Sea Eagles out of the equation, six of their final eight matches are against sides currently below them on the ladder, with the bulk of those to be played at Pepper Stadium. If Anthony Griffin's men want to stamp their premiership credentials then it must start this weekend with a statement win over the Bunnies. There's a feeling that the Panthers are only a week away from clicking into gear; the only problem for them is that there aren't many weeks left in the competition.
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Line Breaks, Line Break Assists, Tackle Breaks, Tries.
The history: Played 79; Rabbitohs 44; Panthers 34; Drawn 1. The Bunnies have enjoyed a good record against the Panthers in recent times with Michael Maguire's men tasting victory in six of the previous eight encounters. The news gets even better for Souths given they are 6-0 against Penrith at ANZ Stadium.
What are the odds: 75% of the money bet on this game is with the Panthers according to Sportsbet. There’s no love for South Sydney in handicap betting, or winning margin with Penrith 13+ dominating the support. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assist referee: Jon Stone. Sideline officials: Chris Butler and Chris McMillan.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live coverage from 3:30pm. Fox Sports 2 – Live coverage from 4pm.
NRL.com predicts: The Rabbitohs got the chocolates when these sides met in Round 6 courtesy of a final-minute field goal to Adam Reynolds, but that was against a Panthers side missing Matt Moylan, Waqa Blake and Peta Hiku. The latter won't be there on Sunday, but Moylan and Blake will be, and you can expect the dynamic duo to fire up after their stint in reserve grade earlier in the year. This is a toss of the coin game but we're slightly leaning towards the Panthers by 8.