Saturday sees the Rabbitohs make the short trip up the M1 to the picturesque Central Coast Stadium for their Round 7 match against the Raiders. This is the 13th time the Bunnies have played in Gosford and forms part of the NRL's strategic push to grow the game outside major capital cities. Off the back of a dominant display last weekend, the Rabbitohs must fancy their chances against the Raiders. The Bunnies outclassed a star-studded Roosters outfit on Thursday and did so without star forward Sam Burgess who was serving the final game of a two-week suspension.
The Raiders come into this game off the back of two straight wins. What was a dire start to the season had the Raiders 0-4 and rooted to the bottom of the ladder but two recent victories have seen them climb to a more respectable 11th position as we enter Round 7. The Raiders have had to do it tough, getting those wins with plenty of unwanted distraction. Fullback Jack Wighton is facing fresh charges for a late-night altercation while talk continues that both Blake Austin and Josh Papalii are on the outer. Ricky Stuart has done a remarkable job of maintaining a united front in the nation's capital to this point but any more losses and cracks may show.
2017 - Round 21 - Raiders 32 def. Rabbitohs 18 at ANZ Stadium
2016 - Round 21 - Raiders 54 def. Rabbitohs 4 at ANZ Stadium
2015 - Round 8 - Raiders 30 def. Rabbitohs 22 at Barlow Park
2014 - Round 20 - Rabbitohs 34 def. Raiders 18 at GIO Stadium
2014 - Round 4 - Raiders 30 def. Rabbitohs 18 at ANZ Stadium
It's slim pickings if you are a Rabbitohs fan with one win in their last five against the Raiders. In past seasons, these two have been restricted to one clash per year, but in a treat for both fans, 2018 sees the Rabbitohs make a return trip to Canberra in Round 24. That's great news for neutral fans too, as this clash has a reputation for producing an abundance of tries. The past five meetings between these clubs have seen an average of 52 points scored. With the Jordan Rapana - Joseph Leilua combination recapturing form, there's every chance we'll see another high-scoring game come Saturday.
|1||Alex Johnston||Jack Wighton|
|2||Richie Kennar||Nick Cotric|
|3||Greg Inglis (C)||Jarrod Croker (C)|
|4||Dane Gagai||Joseph Leilua|
|5||Robert Jennings||Jordan Rapana|
|6||Cody Walker||Blake Austin|
|7||Adam Reynolds||Aidan Sezer|
|8||Thomas Burgess||Sia Soliola|
|9||Damien Cook||Siliva Havili|
|10||George Burgess||Junior Paulo|
|11||John Sutton||Joe Tapine|
|12||Angus Crichton||Elliott Whitehead|
|13||Sam Burgess||Luke Bateman|
|14||Adam Doueihi||Ata Hingano|
|15||Mark Nicholls||Shannon Boyd|
|16||Jason Clark||Josh Papalii|
|17||Tevita Tatola||Dunamis Lui|
|18||Robbie Farah||Liam Knight|
|19||Hymel Hunt||Michael Oldfield|
|20||Cameron Murray||Brad Abbey|
|21||Kyle Turner||Jack Murchie|
The facts that matter
Labeled too old and too slow to continue in the top grade, many questioned Souths' decision to re-sign club legend, John Sutton. Coming off a mediocre 2017 in an under-performing Rabbitohs pack, there were genuine concerns that Sutton would bring little to a Rabbitohs side that desperately needed an injection of youth. Those concerns have been appeased over the past two weeks with Sutton's experience and a level-head coming to the fore. With the absence of Sam Burgess, Sutton has been amongst the Rabbitohs' best in recent games against the Dragons and the Roosters. In a forward pack that has been lauded for its crash-bang approach, it is the subtlety of Sutton's game that has proved most impressive. He has straightened the Bunnies attack when needed and provided an added dimension to South's left edge as a ball playing forward. Continue this form and a further contract extension may not be out of the question.
Speaking of forwards, it's Souths who possess the most dominant pack in the competition. Despite many of their forwards possessing only a handful of top-flight appearances, the Bunnies youngsters have stepped up and lead the competition for run metres (9,986m) and most importantly, post contact metres (2,917m). Impressively, they're outdoing competition heavyweights the Dragons, Warriors and Tigers in this category. It will count for little though if the Bunnies can't turn their recent dominance into points against the Raiders on Saturday.
How's this for a reversal in form? Across the opening four rounds of the competition, the Rapana-Leilua combination had made just one line break. In the two games since, they've already amassed four line breaks and are averaging 220 run metres per game. It's no coincidence that the Raiders two wins have coincided with a return to form for this deadly duo.
Leilua has long possessed a tendency to drift in and out of games - it's part of the reason he's never lasted more than three seasons at a single club. During the Raiders early season slump, he looked disinterested, rarely seeking the ball. That has all changed the last two weeks with Leilua upping his work rate in both of the Raiders recent wins. He nabbed himself two tries against the Bulldogs and set up wing-partner Rapana for one against the Eels. It's ominous form and must have the Rabbitohs' right-side pairing of Kennar and Inglis nervous ahead of this matchup.
After being demoted to the NSW Cup just weeks ago, Blake Austin returned to the Raiders side last week and impressed in a dominant showing against the Eels. Austin was solid all night as he nabbed himself a try with some elusive footwork close to the line. With Sam Williams sidelined for the next month with a knee injury, the number six jersey looks to be Austin's to lose. He'll want to hope he remains in Ricky Stuart's immediate plans for the sake of his career. After knocking back a two-year deal worth close to $700K a season, Austin's recent omission did nothing to help secure a new contract at Canberra, or anywhere else for that matter. Against a big Rabbitohs pack, Austin's willingness to run the ball close to the line should benefit the Raiders immensely. Don't be surprised to see him pop up for another four-pointer during this match.
For Bunnies, Raiders, and neutral fans alike Let's hope the rain stays away on Saturday because if it does, this game promises to be an absolute belter. Both sides have plenty of points in them and a dry track guarantees we'll see plenty of tries.
The Raiders have the recent ascendency over the Rabbitohs and enter this match with back-to-back wins, however, it's important to consider that those victories have come against the under-performing Bulldogs and the woeful Eels.
Souths sit at 3-3 and despite that record, have put in good performances against competition heavyweights the Dragons, Panthers and Roosters. The return of Sam Burgess looks to bolster an already dominant Bunnies pack, and with Damien Cook playing for an origin jersey, expect the Rabbitohs to come home strongly in this one. Bunnies by 14.
Have we got the prediction for this one right? Use the poll below and tell us who you think gets the win in Gosford.