Julian Vella previews the ‘Grudge Match’ of the year when the Wayne Bennett led South Sydney Rabbitohs face off against Anthony Seibold and the Brisbane Broncos at ANZ Stadium Sydney.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Rabbitohs are coming off another solid yet unspectacular victory with their four point win over the Panthers last Friday night. That victory improved their season record to six wins and one loss which sits them equal first on the ladder, the Rabbits still haven’t found their best form in attack, but their miserly defence is what’s keeping the other sides at bay.
The Broncos finally broke through for a win to help ease the pressure on coach Seibold after four straight defeats, after close losses to the Tigers and Raiders you could sense a win was coming. The Broncos were too good in every facet of the game against an injury depleted Sharks side, they’ll know the high-flying Rabbitohs will be a much harder task.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
No changes again for Souths as they head into this game, George Burgess has again been named to start in the front row, but Bennett has chosen to revert George to bench in recent weeks starting Junior Tatola instead. Kyle Turner continues to enjoy his move to the back-line again being named in the centres.
South Sydney Rabbitohs squad: 1. Alex Johnston 2. Corey Allen 3. Kyle Turner 4. Dane Gagai 5. Campbell Graham 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. George Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. John Sutton 12. Sam Burgess 13. Cameron Murray. Interchange: 14. Tevita Tatola 15. Mark Nicholls 16. Ethan Lowe 17. Liam Knight. Reserves: 18. Jacob Gagan 19. Connor Tracey 20. Dean Britt 21. Mawene Hiroti
The Broncos in contrast to their opponents have made a big change to their lineup with rookie halfback Tom Dearden named to debut in the No.7 with regular play-maker Kodi Nikorima seemingly on his way to the Warriors. There have also been rumours circulating that the Broncos Origin centre James Roberts could be heading to the Rabbitohs of all sides, so it would be an awkward situation to see him play against what could be his new side.
Brisbane Broncos: 1. Darius Boyd 2. Corey Oates 3. James Roberts 4. Jack Bird 5. Jamayne Isaako 6. Anthony Milford 7. Tom Dearden 8. Matthew Lodge 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Payne Haas 11. Alex Glenn 12. Matt Gillett 13. Tevita Pangai. Interchange: 14. Kotoni Staggs 15. David Fifita 16. Thomas Flegler 17. Joe Ofahengaue. Reserves: 18. Patrick Carrigan 19. Gehamat Shibasaki 20. Jaydn Su’A 21. Sean O’Sullivan
HEAD TO HEAD
The Broncos have dominated this fixture throughout the years and are currently enjoying a seven game winning streak over the Bunnies. This current streak is starting to threaten their previous record of nine wins over Souths which spread over 10 years. Last year’s two meetings were the first between coaches Anthony Seibold and Wayne Bennett who have now famously (or infamously) swapped clubs over the off-season, this means Super-coach Bennett currently enjoys an unbeaten record against the man who took his job and despite suggesting this game is no different to any other, he’ll be secretly desperate to keep this record in tack.
In a match which has so many headline stories the one headline that is getting the most air-time is the clash between coaches Bennett and Seibold, we all know the story how the Broncos chose to end their successful relationship with their six-time premiership winning coach, in favour of Souths’ first year shot caller. Both clubs and coaches suffered through messy break-ups whilst Uncle Wayne made the Broncos sweat before finally firing him after Seibold produced evidence of Bennett contacting Souths players, which was seen as a breach of his contract. Both coaches claim to be ‘un-fussed’ by the Thursday’s game with Bennett even asking ‘who are we playing’ when asked about the match in last week’s post game interview, Seibold wasn’t quite as calm and collected after answering multiple questions about the game he stormed out of the press conference after being asked if he ‘left on good terms with the players.
But although the battle of the coaches is first on everyone’s minds, the game will be won and lost on the field between the players, and if form and current ladder position has anything to do with it, Seibold has his work cut-out getting his players to deliver him that win he so desperately wants. Seibold has made the big call to start 18-year-old halfback Tom Dearden, and seemingly telling Kodi Nikorima he has no future at the club. It’s a big call to have someone so young and inexperienced take over the reigns of a side, who is already a very young and inexperienced side that have also been struggling for confidence and wins. The improved performance of ‘million dollar man’ Anthony Milford will give them cause for hope, whilst the Broncos finally have all their big gun forwards on the park with Payne Haas, Matt Lodge and Tevita Pangai all named to start.
The Broncos young pack will have to face a seasoned South Sydney bunch of forwards who have so far this season seen off all competitors, the Burgess three all fit and firing whilst young Cameron Murray is continuing to push his claims for an origin debut. But the key for Souths this season has been the form and combination of their spine, especially the form of hooker Damien Cook and five-eighth Cody Walker, who is doing everything possible to earn himself a blue jersey alongside Cook for the Blues. Whilst the Broncos spine have been under pressure and miss-firing all season the Bunnies play callers have been in career best form, if the Broncos are to win they’ll need their under pressure stars like Darius Boyd, Andrew McCullough and Milford to have big games. In another fascinating side note to the game Darius Boyd will also play his 300th NRL game, and what better game to bring up the milestone than this week against his long time mentor Wayne Bennett.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Thursday 2nd of May
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Homebush
Kick-off: 7:50pm AEST
Referee: Gerrad Sutton and Peter Gough
WHO WILL WIN?
It’s hard to go past the Rabbitohs with their 6-1 record this season, all their experienced stars are playing well, whilst their youngsters are also stepping up and making a difference. On the other hand the Broncos are 2-5 and it’s hard to find a player in their side who is actually playing to their best, this is why I’ll be tipping the Bunnies to end their losing streak against the Broncos and give their coach Wayne Bennett the last laugh. Rabbitohs 1-12