South Sydney Rabbitohs v Vodafone Warriors
ANZ Stadium, Sydney
6.00pm, Friday, August 18
Sitting next to each other on the points table after 23 rounds, the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Vodafone Warriors meet this Friday in a battle to try to restore some pride in what has been an underwhelming 2017 for both clubs.
The Bunnies come off a convincing 28-14 defeat of the Canterbury Bulldogs, their second win on the hop, while the Vodafone Warriors crashed to a sixth consecutive defeat in copping a 36-16 hammering against the Canberra Raiders last week.
After his surprise benching last week, Angus Crichton returns to the back row, with captain Sam Burgess shifting to prop.
Zane Musgrove will play from the bench in an otherwise settled line up for coach Michael Maguire.
For the Vodafone Warriors, Stephen Kearney has shifted Mason Lino back to the reserves, with Ata Hingano to start in the No 7 jersey alongside Kieran Foran, who was a late withdrawal last week with a shoulder complaint.
A suspension to Ben Matulino stretches the Vodafone Warriors' forward resources even further this week, with Sam Lisone to start in his place and Charlie Gubb coming onto the bench.
The match will see Jacob Lillyman make his 250th career appearance.
Why the Rabbitohs can win: One thing the Bunnies have right now is genuine attacking strike, and it's all through their team. At the back Alex Johnston can't stop scoring, with four tries in his last three games and a strike rate of almost one a game this season, while both he and standoff Cody Walker sit in the NRL's top 10 for line breaks made. Over the last three weeks the Rabbitohs have made a combined 14 line breaks and averaged 24 points per game. The Vodafone Warriors' defence is in for a test.
Why the Vodafone Warriors can win: They were soundly beaten last up, but the Vodafone Warriors showed enough against Canberra to suggest there's some quality football left in them. Last week the Kiwi outfit completed at 84 per cent, the third-best rate among all teams in Round 23, gave away the fewest penalties and had the second-highest metres run, averaging 49 per set. If they can make a positive start and build some belief, the Warriors are capable of troubling Souths.
The History: Played 30; Rabbitohs 12; Vodafone Warriors 18. These two sides haven't seen much of each other in recent times, with only three meetings since 2013. The Vodafone Warriors are probably OK with that, given they have lost five in a row against the Rabbitohs. Souths haven't played the Vodafone Warriors in Sydney since 2011, which was also the only time the Kiwi side have beaten the Bunnies on the road since 2008. On that occasion the Vodafone Warriors won 48-16 en route to making the finals and ultimately the grand final. Since then the clubs have met only six times, three of those matches in Perth and three at Mount Smart Stadium.
The odds: The Vodafone Warriors are again at long odds to win. In the head-to-head odds on the New Zealand TAB they're paying $3.00, the Rabbitohs $1.35. See all the odds at www.tab.co.nz
Rabbitohs | Alex Johnston; Bryson Goodwin, Aaron Gray, Tyrell Fuimaono, Campbell Graham; Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds; Thomas Burgess, Damien Cook, Sam Burgess; John Sutton, Angus Crichton; Cameron Murray. Interchange: Robbie Farah, George Burgess, Kyle Turner, Zane Musgrove, Jack Gosiewski, Robert Jennings, David Tyrrell, Luke Kelly.
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c), David Fusitu'a, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Kieran Foran, Mafoa'aeata Hingano; Jacob Lillyman, Nathaniel Roache (ruled out), Sam Lisone; Bunty Afoa, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Issac Luke, Chris Satae, Isaiah Papali'i, Charlie Gubb, Mason Lino, Toafofoa Sipley, James Bell, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
Match officials: Referee: Chris Sutton. Assistant referee: Chris Butler. Sideline officials: Nick Morel and Rickey McFarlane. Review official: Bryan Norrie. Senior review official: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 2pm. Sky Sports - Live coverage from 5.30pm (NZT)
NRL.com predicts: Neither team inspires a lot of confidence when it comes to tipping but as each week passes it's becoming harder to find a reason to think the Vodafone Warriors can win. South Sydney has more quality and its confidence is in much better shape. Rabbitohs by 16.