Round 5: Dragons v Rabbitohs preview
Rabbitohs look to test themselves against competition leaders
Returning to Kogarah for the first time since the opening night of the season, the Dragons will be wary of a Rabbitohs side that has yet to establish their standing within the NRL hierarchy. Recording four wins to hold first place on the competition ladder, coach Paul McGregor has experienced a fortuitous run with injury over the opening month having named the same squad for each fixture to the benefit of the team's overall cohesiveness. Managing a single win over South Sydney in the past seven meetings between the two sides, the joint venture will be hoping their success rate at UOW Jubilee Oval against their historic rivals serves as an optimistic indicator of Friday's outcome having recorded two wins from three matches played at the venue. Along with consolidating their place as competition leaders and enhancing a growing reputation as premiership contenders, the contest will also serve as a milestone for veteran winger Jason Nightingale, who will become only the fourth player in St. George Dragons, Illawarra Steelers and merged history to play in 250 first grade games alongside Norm Provan (256), Ben Creagh (270) and Ben Hornby (273).
After starting 2018 with a pair of respectable losses, the Rabbitohs have produced two wins reminiscent of the traits that saw the pride of the league break their premiership drought. In dominating the Sea Eagles up the middle while piling on the points and grinding away to down the Bulldogs, the new-look Rabbitohs have flourished under Anthony Seibold's regime but face their toughest test against a formidable Dragons outfit. In mixed news on the selection front, former New South Wales representative Adam Reynolds has been named to return from a knee injury in a move that pushes Adam Doueihi to the bench, while after failing to have his dangerous contact charge overturned at the judiciary, the side's most dominant forward Sam Burgess will spend the next fortnight on the sidelines. In the absence of the 2014 Clive Churchill Medalist, Grand Final winners Jason Clark and Kyle Turner will vie for their first starts of the season on the bench. Producing a memorable last-gasp victory over the Dragons courtesy of an Adam Reynolds' sideline conversion at the SCG in the final weeks of last season, South Sydney will be hopeful of a similar result on Friday night, however should the scoreboard go against the visitors, the results should serve as an effective gauge of where the side sits in relation to the competition front runners.
Who to watch: For a club that has produced a legion of iconic players over the years, one of the most consistent performers in recent times has been Jason Nightingale. Lining up for his 250th appearance in the Red V since debuting at the same venue against Penrith in 2007, Nightingale's rugby league journey has seen a host of accolades afforded to the Renown United junior including three separate World Cup campaigns for the Kiwis, a brace of tries in the 2010 Grand Final victory and the respect of opponents throughout the league. Having endured a mixed bag on debut beginning with multiple errors before bagging the first of 109 career tries, the 31-year-old winger has been a pillar of reliability for the joint venture during times of success and disappointment, while remaining faithful to the club despite offers from abroad. Facing off against up-and-coming speedster Robert Jennings on Friday night, Nightingale will be eager to prove that even in the golden years of his career his contribution to the team far exceeds his ability to touch down for four-pointers, while also serving as an example to aspiring outside backs that the greatest assets in achieving success aren't speed and power, but rather determination and commitment.
Having started at halfback in the absence of Adam Reynolds over the past three weeks, South Sydney rookie Adam Doueihi will revert back to the bench to serve as a utility after displaying strong form in first grade. Performing admirably in the halves alongside Cody Walker, the manner in which the Lebanese international is injected into the game may determine how the end results plays out for the Rabbitohs. Possessing the size to play in the backrow, while bursting onto the scene as a centre in last year's World Cup, the 19-year-old will look to make an impact against the competition leaders with a greater focus on his running game, while also acting as an alternative playmaker should Reynolds fail to make it through the duration of Friday's match. As one of the major benefactors of Anthony Seibold's appointment as South Sydney coach, Doueihi has shown plenty of promise as a starting player, but given his inexperience in the NRL, the ability to come off the bench may see the former rugby union product develop into a game breaker capable of elevating the Bunnies back into finals contention.
My tip: With the halves combination of Widdop and Hunt invigorating the Dragons style of play, look for the home side to capitalise upon the absence of Sam Burgess and maintain their position at the apex of the league. Dragons by 14.