Round 7: Rabbitohs v Raiders preview
South Sydney meet Canberra by Brisbane Water in Gosford? Yep.
After an 0-2 start, the South Sydney Rabbitohs took their first victory in round 3 and since then they have taken victory in three of their next 4 matches to go 3-3 to start the 2018 NRL season. Their opponents on Saturday are the Canberra Raiders who started the season with three defeats by a combined margin of 5 points before slumping to a 4th defeat against Manly before picking up back to back wins over the Bulldogs and Eels.
South Sydney started their season in Perth with a defeat to the Warriors before a 14-0 capitulation against the Penrith Panthers. After that defeat to the Panthers, they've bounced back to form picking up three wins from their past four games with their only defeat since coming a fortnight ago, when they were defeated by the ladder-leading Dragons. As a result, they are sitting in a very similar spot to they were in 2017 when they had 3 wins and 3 losses after the opening six rounds, however their for and against in 2018 is in a far better spot, with a positive 24 differential compared to -17 at the same point in 2017. The Rabbitohs head into the game in Gosford coming off a 26-14 win over arch-rivals the Sydney Roosters.
Canberra could easily be amongst the top four right now had they not done a North Sydney and steal defeat from the jaws of victory multiple times during the opening month of the competition. The Raiders started their season with four straight defeats with three of those seeing them lose from a match-winning position. They've bounced back from four straight defeats to record back-to-back wins against the Bulldogs and Eels - both on their home turf in the nation's capital.
Comparatively, their start to 2018 has been worse than last year, having started the season with a 2-4 win-loss record after six rounds, compared to a 3-3 start in 2017. The Raiders have scored roughly 30 points less than they had at the same point last season, whilst their defence has been pretty similar with just 9 points more conceded.
In team news, the Rabbitohs welcome back Sam Burgess which pushes Jason Clark back to the interchange from lock. Canberra have opted to maintain the side that accounted for Parramatta last Saturday night.
Who to watch: South Sydney #9 Damien Cook has been a fan favourite across the NRL for a long time and now has cemented his spot as the main man for the Bunnies rake role, and has put in himself into strong contention for State Of Origin selection. The Rabbitohs will need Cook to show his speed from dummy half against a big Raiders pack and if he can have a game like he did last week the 'home team' will go along way to winning this game.
Raiders five-eighth Blake Austin was unceremoniously dumped back to Intrust Super Premiership a fortnight ago for some below-average performances but injuries forced Ricky Stuart to recall him - and it was a smart move with Austin having an excellent game last week. The Raiders will hope that he can replicate his running game from last weekend because at his best, he can tear even the best defence apart. If they want to beat the in-form Rabbitohs, Canberra will need Austin to run the ball.
My tip: Souths look too hard to beat in this one, although there isn't a home ground advantage as such with the game in Gosford, but - the Raiders are yet to win on the road this season. The Rabbitohs will be tested by the Green Machine, but in the end it will be a comfortable margin for South Sydney. Rabbitohs by 12.