The time has come for the Rabbitohs to prove the hot streak they had through the first half of the season wasn't Fool's Gold.
With just one win from their past five matches, the Bunnies have undone their earlier good work and allowed rivals like Canberra, Cronulla and Manly to make up ground in the battle for top-four positions.
Not only that, they have let the Storm skip away to what is looking more and more like an unassailable lead at the top of the ladder.
The Sea Eagles had already validated themselves before the Origin period and have only grown in confidence since Tom Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans returned from long injury lay-offs, although they'll be without 'Turbo' this week as he gets a post-Origin rest.
Match: Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles
Round 17 -
Venue: Accor Stadium, Sydney
Rabbitohs: After making changes to his squad on Friday, Wayne Bennett has significantly rotated his line-up again. Kyle Turner goes back to the bench and Dean Britt will now start in place of injured backrower Sam Burgess. Connor Tracey was omitted, while Ethan Lowe is being rested after a strong effort in Wednesday's Origin decider. Also promoted to the bench were former Bronco Jayden Su'a, who is making his Souths debut, Taealoaloa Amone and Bayley Sironen. Mark Nicholls, Corey Allan and Billy Brittain were omitted on Friday.
Sea Eagles: Blues star Tom Trbojevic was named to play on Tuesday but will now be rested and Brendan Elliott will play fullback in the No.14 jersey. Lachlan Croker comes onto the bench. The club's other two Origin reps Jake Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans will play. Kane Elgey and Lloyd Perrett dropped out of the extended squad on Friday, while Brad parker and Haumole Okakau'atu were cut an hour before kick-off.
Match: Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles
Round 17 -
Fullback for Rabbitohs is number 1 Adam DoueihiFullback for Sea Eagles is number 14 Brendan Elliot
Winger for Rabbitohs is number 2 Dane GagaiWinger for Sea Eagles is number 2 Jorge Taufua
Centre for Rabbitohs is number 3 James RobertsCentre for Sea Eagles is number 3 Dylan Walker
Centre for Rabbitohs is number 4 Braidon BurnsCentre for Sea Eagles is number 4 Moses Suli
Winger for Rabbitohs is number 5 Campbell GrahamWinger for Sea Eagles is number 5 Reuben Garrick
Five-Eighth for Rabbitohs is number 6 Cody WalkerFive-Eighth for Sea Eagles is number 6 Cade Cust
Halfback for Rabbitohs is number 7 Adam ReynoldsHalfback for Sea Eagles is number 7 Daly Cherry-Evans
Prop for Rabbitohs is number 8 Tevita TatolaProp for Sea Eagles is number 8 Addin Fonua-Blake
Hooker for Rabbitohs is number 9 Damien CookHooker for Sea Eagles is number 9 Manase Fainu
Prop for Rabbitohs is number 10 Liam KnightProp for Sea Eagles is number 10 Martin Taupau
2nd Row for Rabbitohs is number 11 John Sutton2nd Row for Sea Eagles is number 11 Joel Thompson
2nd Row for Rabbitohs is number 16 Dean Britt2nd Row for Sea Eagles is number 12 Curtis Sironen
Lock for Rabbitohs is number 13 Cameron MurrayLock for Sea Eagles is number 13 Jake Trbojevic
Interchange for Rabbitohs is number 17 Kyle TurnerInterchange for Sea Eagles is number 15 Corey Waddell
Interchange for Rabbitohs is number 18 Jaydn Su'AInterchange for Sea Eagles is number 16 Morgan Boyle
Interchange for Rabbitohs is number 20 Tom AmoneInterchange for Sea Eagles is number 17 Taniela Paseka
Interchange for Rabbitohs is number 23 Bayley SironenInterchange for Sea Eagles is number 18 Lachlan Croker
- Referee: Grant Atkins
- Senior Review Official: Jared Maxwell
With the Rabbitohs slumping, Cody Walker will look to discover his early season form which has him sitting as the second top try-scorer this season on 11. Cade Cust aims to continue his rise for Manly after bagging three tries and six try assists since his Round 10 debut.
For the Rabbitohs to win
They have to get back to basics and start building their game around defence again. By the same token, their offence has also been out of sync over the past month or so and Wayne Bennett has to get everyone re-focused on winning a premiership and what it takes to get there. The return of Sam Burgess will no doubt help, but the Bunnies need Cody Walker to rediscover the fire that sparked him to career-best form through the first three months of the season.
For the Sea Eagles to win
They dealt the Rabbitohs their first loss in Round 4 and won't mind being installed as underdogs for Saturday's re-match. Manly have just the type of game to cause problems for Souths and will welcome the challenge of meeting them in the forwards. The Sea Eagles are playing with more confidence and cohesion than the Bunnies and boast a lethal match-winner in Tom Trbojevic.
Brett Kimmorley says
This is where we start positioning ourselves for the semi-finals. South Sydney have had a little bit of a quiet period but it’s time for them to hit their straps under Wayne Bennett. I don’ think we’ve seen their best yet this year. Manly won’t let them have things all their own way. This will be a great forward battle and there’s a chance Manly will get on top of Souths in the forwards. Adam Reynolds’ kicking could prove the difference. Souths by 2
The Rabbitohs can't let the Sea Eagles' ball-carriers get their arms free or they risk being punished by the NRL's top team for offloads. Souths are the leading team for line engaged (368).
And another thing ...
George Burgess officially begins his nine-game suspension this weekend, which leaves him free for Souths' first match of the finals (provided they make it). Rumours were strong that he would return to England but he is now expected to remain in Australia and could end up with Parramatta, but it won't be for the $600,000 the Eels apparently offered initially. The Broncos have also been mentioned if Burgess doesn't stay with the Rabbitohs.