Rabbitohs v Sharks: Dugan out, Farah back
Even without a handful of stars on deck, this is easily the match of an abbreviated round 13.
They are two of the NRL's hottest teams – the Rabbitohs have won four in a row and six of their past seven, while the Sharks are rolling with six straight wins.
The Bunnies will be without captain Greg Inglis, hooker Damien Cook, centre Dane Gagai and back-rower Angus Crichton due to Origin commitments. Sharks winger Val Holmes will also be absent for the same reason, but he is their only Origin rep and that gives the Sharks a definite edge on paper. It'll be interesting to see how Souths function without the in-form foursome.
Winning without key players is something Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has mastered in 2018. Last week they got experienced campaigners Luke Lewis and Wade Graham back from injury layoffs and demolished the Knights on their own turf, while resting Andrew Fifita.
The premiership race is wide open this year and this clash brings together two of the genuine contenders, albeit without some big-name players.
Key match-up: Rabbitohs brute Sam Burgess has to take a lot of responsibility up front against the resilient Cronulla pack, as do his brothers George and Tom. But the Burgess boys have to ensure they aren't having a negative impact, stepping over the line with penalties and sin-binnings. Of equal importance to the forwards battle is the clash in the halves, with Souths duo Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds up against Matt Moylan and Chad Townsend.
Match: Rabbitohs vs Sharks
Venue: ANZ Stadium
- Nine Network
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
For the Rabbitohs to win: If the Bunnies make too much of the fact they are without their Origin stars they are already beaten. Coach Anthony Seibold has to ensure his players win the mental battle with themselves first and have them primed to play with their usual flair and confidence.
For the Sharks to win: After winning six straight games, coach Shane Flanagan has no reason to change his tried and true formula for success. The Sharks will make it a mission to shut down the Burgess lads with their small but hard-working pack, and that should help them reduce the time and space for Souths playmakers Reynolds and Walker to get kicks away.
Rabbitohs stat attack: Despite a second-half downpour, the Rabbitohs paid close attention to ball security in last week's trouncing of the Warriors, finishing with a tidy 86 per cent completion rate. They also controlled the tempo with a smart kicking game – kicking for 503 metres in contrast to the home team's 324 metres.
Sharks stat attack: Old warhorse Paul Gallen just keeps keeping on. Last week against the Knights the 36-year-old led his team's tackle count (26) and run metres (186). Cronulla lead the NRL in try assists (36) and intercepts (six). Moylan will play his 100th NRL game.
And another thing: Moylan may have missed NSW selection but he gave Blues coach Brad Fittler something to think about with a five-star performance in Cronulla's rout of Newcastle. Moylan's six try assists against the Knights equalled the NRL's record for most in a single game. He joined Cooper Cronk (2012) and Daly Cherry-Evans ('14) as the only players to notch six in one game since the NRL started tracking try assists in 2002. He is also now equal leader in the NRL in try assists with Kalyn Ponga.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Cronulla Sharks, 7.55pm Friday at ANZ Stadium
Rabbitohs: 1 Adam Doueihi, 2 Campbell Graham, 3 Braidon Burns, 4 Hymel Hunt, 5 Robert Jennings, 6 Cody Walker, 7 Adam Reynolds, 8 Thomas Burgess, 9 Robbie Farah, 10 George Burgess, 11 John Sutton, 12 Sam Burgess (c), 13 Cameron Murray
Interchange: 14 Tyrell Fuimaono, 15 Mark Nicholls, 16 Jason Clark, 17 Tevita Tatola
The Rabbitohs are 1-17, making no changes to the team named on Tuesday. Missing from the Bunnies due to Origin duty are Greg Inglis, Dane Gagai, Angus Crichton and Damien Cook, while Alex Johnston remains sidelined with a hamstring strain. Adam Douehi will play at fullback and Braidon Burns and Hymel Hunt form an all-new centre pairing. Robbie Farah makes his first appearance of the season in place of Cook at hooker. Kyle Turner and Mawene Hiroti were cut an hour before kick-off, while Connor Tracey and Dean Britt were dropped from the squad on Thursday.
Sharks: 5 Edrick Lee, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Jesse Ramien, 4 Ricky Leutele, 20 Sione Katoa, 6 Matt Moylan, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Luke Lewis, 12 Wade Graham (c), 13 Paul Gallen (c)
Interchange: 14 Joseph Paulo, 15 James Segeyaro, 16 Ava eumanufagai, 17 Jayson Bukuya
In a significant late change, Josh Dugan is out, replaced at fullback by Edrick Lee. Sione Katoa has been elevated from the reserves to a starting spot on the wing. Andrew Fifita (knee) returns at prop after a week's absence, pushing Ava Seumanufagai to the bench. Kurt Capewell was omitted an hour before kick-off, while Jack Williams and Scott Sorensen were trimmed from the squad 24 hours out from kick-off.
Head-to-head: Played 86; Sharks 45 wins, Rabbitohs 38 wins, 3 draws
Matches at venue: Played 13; Sharks 10 wins, Rabbitohs 3 wins
2017 result: Sharks won 26-12 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
Points per game: Rabbitohs 24.8; Sharks 20
Points conceded per game: Rabbitohs 17.1; SHarkss 17.4
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Steve Turner's prediction: The Rabbitohs were awesome last weekend and it's a real shame they will be minus a host of stars due to Origin commitments for the clash with the Sharks. Their attack has been superb this year and it's an exciting brand of football that has surprised plenty of people. Damien Cook will be a huge loss for the home side who has been outstanding this year. The Sharks are flying under the radar and produced their best performance of the year last weekend. Matt Moylan is getting better and better each week and with only one player selected for the opening game of the State of Origin series, the 2016 premiers are in a good position heading into the representative period.
Tip: Sharks by 8