Round 25: Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers preview
Bunnies desperate for a bounce-back against a nothing-to-lose Wests Tigers outfit.
A few weeks ago the Rabbitohs were everyone's pick for the title, having come out of the Origin period in a serious patch of good form, and they capped it off with an impressive win over favourites Melbourne. Since then, they've capitulated badly, dropping games against the Roosters, Brisbane and last week, bottom eight side Canberra. Even more concerning is the fact they got key players back last week and still managed to get run down by a hungry Green Machine.
That brings us to this week. Due to the jockeying for positions, South Sydney are still a slim chance of picking up the minor premiership. They'll need a comfy win over their opponents on Thursday, the Wests Tigers - and then to rely on other results.
Enter the Tigers. They've been buoyed by a series of positive results in recent weeks, but they left their run too late and despite a victory over Manly last week, they are unable to make the finals. They don't seem like the kind of side willing to simply go through the motions in a final-round match, so that makes them a dangerous proposition for the Rabbitohs, who badly need a form reversal as the pack turns for home in September.
Souths welcome back another familiar face this round with Robert Jennings back in the side. The prolific winger has scored 17 tries from 17 appearances this season before injuring his hamstring. His return displaces Hymel Hunt to the bench, pushing Tyrell Fuimaono out to the reserves. Tevita Tatola is also pushed back to the reserves with Dean Britt given a jersey for the final regular season match.
The Wests Tigers have lost prop Russell Packer, shifting Matt Eisenhuth to the front row and bringing in Elijah Taylor to lock after his recovery from a quad injury which saw him miss last Thursday's win over Manly.
Last meeting: Round 19 2018 - Wests Tigers 22 Rabbitohs 6
Since the Tigers and Magpies merged ahead of the 2000 season, these sides can barely be split - the Rabbitohs holding the slimmest of head-to-head margins with 16 wins to 15. Just six weeks ago the Wests Tigers were the team that halted the Bunnies' mid-year winning streak, stunning the red-and-green 22-6 at ANZ Stadium.
Who to watch: Damien Cook has looked a bit burnt out over the last few weeks as the South Sydney juggernaut hit a snag. He needs to be back at his line-breaking best up the middle out of dummy half, and to keep tackling like there's no tomorrow, if the Rabbitohs are to head into the finals with a win under their belt.
Two men are the focus of the Wests Tigers faithful this week - 2005 premiership pair Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah. They've both extended their stay at the club for another season during the week and will be looking to show the fans that they each have plenty to give when it comes to their 2019 campaign.
My tip: Another totally unpredictable clash but the logic says the Rabbitohs have to bounce back here. The inclusion of Robert Jennings shores up their backline even more and should be enough to see the Tigers end with a loss - and the Bunnies to enter the finals with an important victory. Rabbitohs by 6.