Rugby League heads west for the first time this season as the Bunnies take on the Warriors. The newly unveiled Perth Stadium plays host to an opening round doubleheader that also sees the Bulldogs and Storm resume hostilities.
Both the Rabbitohs and the Warriors had a 2017 to forget, finishing a regrettable 12th and 13th, respectively. It's the Warriors who have had the greatest upheaval losing two key men in Ryan Hoffman and Kieran Foran. Those departures have been offset by the additions of international forwards Tohu Harris, Adam Blair and rugby league journeyman Blake Green, in what is the most balanced Warriors side for several years.
As the longest away day in the NRL, the 10,000km round trip from Auckland to Perth puts the Warriors at a serious disadvantage in this matchup. Perth has not been a happy hunting ground for the Warriors with losses in their past five matches in the west. The fact that the Warriors have lost their last six matchups against the Bunnies makes this game look like an even tougher introduction to season 2018 for Stephen Kearney's men.
2017 - Rd 24 - South Sydney 36 def. Warriors 18 at ANZ Stadium
2016 - Rd 23 - South Sydney 41 def. Warriors 22 at Mt Smart Stadium
2015 - Rd 13 - South Sydney 36 def. Warriors 4 at NIB Stadium
2014 - Rd 13 - South Sydney 34 def. Warriors 18 at NIB Stadium
2013 - Rd 5 - South Sydney 24 def. Warriors 22 at Mt Smart Stadium
It's not great reading for Warriors fans - you have to go all the way back to 2011 to find the last time the Auckland club got the better of the Bunnies. These two are no strangers to playing in Perth with their 2015 and 2014 clashes played at NIB stadium. The venue may be different this time but history suggests the result won't be.
|South Sydney Rabbitohs||New Zealand Warriors|
|1||Alex Johnston||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (C)|
|2||Richard Kennar||David Fusitu’a|
|3||Dane Gagai||Peta Hiku|
|4||Greg Inglis (C)||Solomone Kata|
|5||Robert Jennings||Ken Maumalo|
|6||Cody Walker||Blake Green|
|7||Adam Reynolds||Shaun Johnson|
|8||Tom Burgess||James Gavet|
|9||Damien Cook||Isaac Luke|
|10||Mark Nicholls||Adam Blair|
|11||John Sutton||Isaiah Papali'i|
|12||Angus Crichton||Tohu Harris|
|13||Sam Burgess||Ligi Sao|
|14||Cameron Murray||Sam Cook|
|15||Tyrell Fuimaono||Leivaha Pulu|
|16||George Burgess||Sam Lisone|
|17||Tevita Tatola||Bunty Afoa|
|18||Robbie Farah||Jazz Tevaga|
|19||Jason Clark||Mason Lino|
|20||Hymel Hunt||Agnatius Paasi|
|21||Adam Doueihi||Anthony Gelling|
The facts that matter
When Greg Inglis runs out on Saturday night, it will have been 372 days since he ruptured his ACL. A 20-minute cameo in the Charity Shield provided a glimpse of what to expect from G.I. this season and by the looks of that, he's primed for a big one! Inglis shifts back to centre to accommodate Alex Johnston at fullback. It remains to be seen whether that's the way it will stay for the entire season but for now, coach Anthony Seibold is banking on Inglis recapturing his best form in a familiar role.
Damien Cook wins the hooking battle with former Tigers rake Robbie Farah and claims the Rabbitohs number 9 jersey. The absence of Farah on the interchange bench suggests that Cook will play out the full 80 minutes, avoiding the constant chopping and changing that disrupted the Rabbitohs playing style in 2017. Cook showed glimpses of his quality in the Charity Shield clash against the Dragons setting up some flashy tries with strong runs out of dummy half. His speed could cause some serious problems for a tiring Warriors pack late in this game.
Simon Mannering is a massive out for the Warriors as he fails to recover from a niggling shoulder injury. Youngster Ligi Sao locks the scrum in place of Mannering and will have a big task ahead of him. Mannering was the Warriors stronghold in what was an otherwise weak defence last year. Topping the tackle count with 994, Mannering was miles ahead of his teammates in the defence stakes and he will be a huge loss on Saturday. Experienced internationals Isaac Luke, Tohu Harris and Adam Blair will need to lead the way for what is otherwise, an inexperienced pack.
The inclusion of Blake Green looks to be a huge plus for the Warriors and in particular, Shaun Johnson who has struggled with consistency since his grand final halves partner - James Maloney left the club in 2013. The game management and control of Blake Green should provide the perfect complement to the free-flowing, off the cusp football that Johnson excels at. It looks as though the Warriors have finally found the right balance in their halves and they'll look to get that combination off to a perfect start in Perth.
Both sides come off disappointing 2017 seasons and will want to make amends as quickly as possible in this Round 1 clash. If either club goes on a run of early season losses, it won't be long before pressure mounts on the coaching pair of Stephen Kearney and Anthony Seibold.
The form says this game goes the way of the Bunnies. The Warriors dismal recent record against the Redfern club, combined with the long trip to WA benefits the Bunnies hugely here. The Rabbitohs have looked sharp this pre-season and will be extremely confident they can get the year off to a positive start. Bunnies to win and win big.