South Sydney v New Zealand Saturday, March 10, 7pm (AEDT) Optus Stadium, Perth
The hearts of South Sydney supporters would have been warmed to see skipper Greg Inglis named in the centres for his first regular season NRL match since his ACL injury last year. Alex Johnston has been named at fullback, while Damien Cook has won the hooker race over Robbie Farah. New recruit, Dane Gagai was the Knights’ best last year and will be looking to continue that run in Redfern. The Warriors have been the perennial under-achievers of the NRL in recent times and could be a real wooden spoon chance this year according to The Wolf. Things have already become tougher, with Simon Mannering ruled out for the next month due to a shoulder injury. New signings Peta Hiku, Blake Green, Adam Blair and Tohu Harris will be hoping that their experience helps bring about a change in the Warriors’ attitude and performance. A healthy Shaun Johnson will be the key for the Warriors as always, but will need plenty of support around him!
FormSouth Sydney had one of the more impressive pre-seasons with upset wins over Wigan in the World Club Series and St George Illawarra in the Charity Shield, with Greg Inglis making a surprise comeback in the latter. Souths defeated Wigan 18-8 before a 22-18 win over the Dragons in Mudgee. New Zealand were decidedly unimpressive in their pre-season campaign, defeating a second-string Storm side 24-14 before sneaking home over the Titans 20-14. David Fusitu’a scored doubles in both games.
Key MatchupDamien Cook v Issac Luke: New Rabbitohs coach Anthony Seibold made his intentions clear that he wanted one hooker to start the season, and he followed it up by naming Damien Cook in the No.9 jersey and leaving Robbie Farah out of the Top 17. Cook was excellent during the pre-season and was very strong in the back end of 2017. He’ll look to exploit any lazy Warriors forwards around the ruck and is set for a big night in Perth. Issac Luke has been a major disappointment since his move to the Warriors, and had very little in attacking statistics last season. He needs to rediscover the form he displayed in the early years at the Rabbitohs, otherwise the Super League will be calling. There’s a glimmer of hope that he’ll lift for this match against his former club.
Stats That Matter – Souths have won six straight against New Zealand dating back to 2013. – The Bunnies have posted 30-plus in the last five of those wins with all those wins coming by margins of 17 or greater. – The teams have met three times in Perth with Souths winning all three by an average margin of 21.7 points. – Favourites are 4-8 ATS in Perth with a 7-5 over record since 2008. – Souths are 7-2 ATS in Perth over that time while New Zealand are 2-4 ATS. – Souths are 16-10 under when favoured by 4 or more points. – The Warriors have covered just 3 of their last 13 matches in Australia while they are 10-5 over in day games in Australia across the last three times. – The Warriors have won just two of their last 10 Round 1 matches, covering just one.
Final ThoughtsThe Wolf has very little faith in the Warriors this season and their statistics against the Rabbitohs don’t lie! Souths have won six straight against New Zealand dating back to 2013, and have posted 30-plus in the last five of those wins with all those wins coming by margins of 17 or greater. The Rabbitohs looked good in the trials (not that we should read too much into that) while the loss of Simon Mannering leaves the Warriors exposed in the middle. Damien Cook will test them all game. The Rabbitohs to cover here.
How It’s Shaping UpSouth Sydney by 18
Recommended BetsBest: South Sydney -6.5 ($1.90) Value: South Sydney 13+ ($2.65) First Tryscorer: Angus Crichton ($23)