Rabbitohs v Dragons: Burgess back; Lomax handed NRL debut
If the Rabbitohs are fair dinkum about playing finals footy this season, their motivation to face the Dragons should be off the charts.
They lost to the Dragons by four a month ago and would surely feel they have made significant progress since that meeting. Greg Inglis is having a greater impact on a weekly basis, Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker are clicking and Alex Johnston has been a handful at the back.
The X-factor for the Bunnies this week is Sam Burgess's return from a two-match suspension. Everyone knows Burgess is one of the best forwards in the world, but he has to realise how important he is to his team and stop stepping over the line with unnecessary displays of toughness.
The Dragons have also progressed since the previous meeting with Souths, suffering just one loss and notching emphatic wins over heavyweights Melbourne and the Roosters.
Coach Paul McGregor has done a superb job of keeping the competition leaders focused solely on the next obstacle in their path and there's no reason to think that will change this week.
Last year the Dragons looked they were waiting to fail. Those days are gone. This team knows how good it is and carries the favourites tag quite comfortably.
Match: Rabbitohs vs Dragons
Venue: ANZ Stadium
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Key match-up: Like the Dragons v Storm last week, this is another one of those clashes with compelling match-ups all over the park. There are loads of players in good form for both teams and it's almost impossible to settle on one, but plenty of eyes will be on Sam Burgess in his return from a two-week ban. The Dragons boast arguably the best back row in the competition and the ever-aggressive Burgess will have a battle on his hands trying to subdue the likes of Tyson Frizell, Tariq Sims and Jack de Belin, not to mention his old English sparring partner James Graham.
For the Rabbitohs to win: They weren't far off last time they met the competition leaders and know how much a win on Sunday would strengthen their premiership credentials. If the Burgess boys and Damien Cook can regularly get the Dragons moving backwards in defence, the Bunnies backs should be able to create some overlaps out wide.
For the Dragons to win: As long as they don't get complacent - and it's hard to see that happening - the Dragons just have to stick to the process. They have the best attacking and defensive records in the competition and continue to defy the injury curse. Playing with supreme confidence, they don't beat themselves like they once did and that's the difficult challenge facing the Bunnies.
Rabbitohs stat attack: The Bunnies will play their 150th game at ANZ Stadium on Sunday. They have won 78 and lost 70, with one draw. Souths have beaten the Dragons in nine of their past 12 meetings, while fullback Alex Johnston has scored 19 tries in his previous 10 games at ANZ Stadium.
Dragons stat attack: Five-eighth Gareth Widdop has won just two of his past 12 games at ANZ Stadium. Widdop still leads the NRL in points (108) and try assists (11).
And another thing: Euan Aitken's form has been so good this year he is reportedly high on NSW coach Brad Fittler's selection list. Well you can guarantee Freddy will be leaning forward in his seat to see how Aitken performs against an Origin-like centre combination of Dane Gagai and Greg Inglis. Another strong performance against two of the best outside backs in the game might be the clincher for Aitken being rewarded with his first Blues jersey.
Rabbitohs: 1 Alex Johnston, 2 Campbell Graham, 3 Greg Inglis (c), 4 Dane Gagai, 5 Robert Jennings, 6 Cody Walker, 7 Adam Reynolds, 8 Thomas Burgess, 9 Damien Cook, 10 George Burgess, 11 John Sutton, 12 Angus Crichton, 13 Sam Burgess
Interchange: 14 Cameron Murray, 16 Jason Clark, 17 Tevita Tatola, 18 Adam Doueihi
Bunnies winger Robert Jennings withdrew on Saturday afternoon and was replaced by Hymel Hunt. Coach Anthony Seibold also made a change on the bench with Adam Doueihi promoted from the reserves in place of Mark Nicholls. Sam Burgess's return from suspension pushes Cameron Murray to the interchange. Kyle Turner was omitted on Saturday afternoon.
Dragons: 1 Matthew Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack De Belin
Interchange: 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Kurt Mann, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 17 Zachary Lomax
Once again the Dragons are unchanged. After blooding debutant hooker Reece Robson with a short spell last week, coach Paul McGregor has rotated the last bench spot with another debutant, naming Zac Lomax in Robson's place. Mitch Allgood and Blake Lawrie were trimmed from McGregor's original 21-man squad 24 hours before kick-off. Robson and Hame Sele were omitted an hour before kick-off.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v St George Illawarra Dragons, Sunday 2pm at ANZ Stadium
Head-to-head: Played 29; Dragons 17 wins, Rabbitohs 12 wins
Matches at venue: Played 10; Rabbitohs 5 wins, Dragons 5 wins
2017 result: Rabbitohs won 26-24 at the SCG in round 22
Points per game: Rabbitohs 24.9; Dragons 29.3
Points conceded per game: Rabbitohs 18.4; Dragons 13.6
Televised: Live on Fox League
Steve Turner's prediction: This game will be a beauty! The Dragons have simply been outstanding all year. Once again, they showed us all on the weekend against the reigning premiers that they're the real deal. A great forward pack. Brilliant halves. A crafty nine and quality outside backs. South Sydney have surprised me this year. They are a better team than I thought. Souths would have learnt a lot from their previous encounter with the Red V in round five and with the return of Sam Burgess, an in-form Adam Reynolds and a number nine in Damien Cook who is knocking on the door of Origin, the Rabbitohs are a genuine finals contender in 2018. This will be a cracker of a battle, but you can't go past the best defensive and attacking team in the NRL. Tip: Dragons by 4