Round 21: Rabbitohs v Raiders preview - 2017 Round 21
Rabbitohs look to drag Raiders down to their level
It seems almost surreal to think the same side that completely outclassed the Dragons in the annual Charity Shield five months ago has performed so poorly in 2017. Winning just six matches all year, the champions of a not too distant past sit in the doldrums of South Sydney sides pre-dating Russell Crowe's acquisition over a decade ago. In the latest of a long-running series of losses that has seen Michael Maguire coach the Rabbitohs to a meager three wins from the past twelve matches, the Red and Green displayed a glimpse of the fight that had become synonymous with the side during the premiership triumph, only to go down against the Sharks. In response to the loss, a major reshuffle sees Cody Walker move back to the halves, allowing Alex Johnston to shift to fullback, while Damien Cook will start ahead of Robbie Farah at hooker. Additional changes see Tyrell Fuimaono face off against Joey Leilua in the centres, while John Sutton will start in the forward pack.
In the aftermath of a loss that has the Raiders facing the prospect of needing to win all their remaining matches to have any chance of playing finals football, coach Ricky Stuart will be hoping memories of the two teams last encounter repeat. In a sign of how far the Green Machine has fallen over the past twelve months, it was the same round last year that saw the Raiders produce a 10-try rout of the Rabbitohs in a 50-point victory. Fast-forward to now and the attacking juggernaut that thrilled supporters of all clubs languish two wins outside the top eight with all but mathematical hope of progressing beyond Fathers Day. In the wake of last weeks 20-14 loss to Melbourne, enforcer Iosia Soliola will spend all bar the final match of the season on the sidelines, while a one-match ban to Jordan Rapana allows Michael Oldfield to make his debut for the club after spending the entire 80 minutes of last week warming the bench. As a result, Clay Priest returns to the NRL squad, while veteran prop Jeff Lima will play his first match since Round 2 as his career draws to a close.
Who to watch: As the run towards September brings to a close the season for many clubs, so to does Bryson Goodwin's career in the NRL. Having debuted a decade ago, the 31-year-old outside back has experienced a storied career over the past 11 seasons, highlighted by appearances for New Zealand along with a supporting role in the Rabbitohs drought-breaking premiership success. While Goodwin missed out on featuring in the 2014 Grand Final win over Canterbury, his longevity and reliability will ensure Leigh Centurion supporters recognise his worth as one of the unsung heroes of the past decade. With just six matches left in the NRL, look for Goodwin to make every post a winner before departing for the next chapter of his rugby league career.
While statistically playing superior to the form that saw the Raiders finish second on the ladder last season, the performances of Shannon Boyd in 2017 haven't resonated in the same way that saw the giant prop represent Australia in the Four Nations. Working in tandem with Junior Paulo to bully opponents into submission last year, the Raiders forwards have struggled to maintain the intensity required to succeed with a similar game plan in 2017, culminating in the mathematical improbability of the side finishing in the top eight. With six games left to prove to Mal Meninga he deserves to be retained for the World Cup, look for Boyd to take on the Burgess brothers and keep the finals flame burning for another week.