Round 24: Warriors v Rabbitohs preview
Win vital to top four hopes for ailing Bunnies
A much-needed victory last Friday at Suncorp Stadium over Brisbane kept South Sydney in the race for a top four finish, and with Parramatta and Manly to face off in the final round next week, it's vital South Sydney pick up wins in both their own remaining matches to maximise their chances of getting two bites at the metaphorical carrot in September.
For much of their 25 seasons, the Warriors have remained one of the great enigmas of the NRL. A handful of brilliant seasons - notably 2002 and 2011 when they made their only Grand Final appearances - have often given way to seasons where the men from the Shaky Isles fade in and out throughout the year.
After cracking the top eight last season, they've failed in their mission to make another finals appearance this season - although many were expecting this after the departure of Shaun Johnson.
The Warriors bring Kodi Nikorima into the starting 17 for Friday night's contest, with Chanel Harris-Tavita benched, while Agnatius Paasi is promoted to starting front row in his 100th NRL appearance, pushing Lachlan Burr back to the interchange. On the bench, Blake Ayshford makes way for Ligi Sao.
South Sydney have great news across the squad, with Sam Burgess, Alex Johnston and Kyle Turner all making timely returns. Their returns mean Tatola dropping from prop to bench, Johnston on the wing shifting Gagai and Graham to the centres, while Corey Allan comes in on the other wing. Kyle Turner and Ethan Lowe are on the interchange.
These sides have met 34 times since the Warriors' admission in 1995, but did not meet in 1997 (Super League), 2000 or 2001 (South Sydney omitted). The Warriors hold a narrow lead in the head-to-head stats with 19 wins to 15.
Their last ten meetings tell a different story - the Warriors have won just two of the clashes between the sides dating back to 2012. Souths were victorious in Round 5 earlier this year, with the Bunnies hosting the match at Sunshine Coast Stadium.
Who to watch: Former Titan Agnatius Paasi couldn't have a more daunting task ahead of him for NRL game 100 - he goes toe-to-toe with Rabbitohs enforcer Sam Burgess. The big men will no doubt come together on more than one occasion on Friday evening (assuming Burgess isn't ruled out injured again).
My tip: Tough one. Souths weren't all that convincing in their two-point victory over the Broncos last weekend and while the Warriors look like they're limping their way to the end of another fruitless campaign, we know they can pull enterprising performances out at random. The Rabbitohs should win - and I'll tip them, but an upset wouldn't surprise me either. Rabbitohs by 12.