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PREVIEW: Rd 18, 2017

Words: Chris Kennedy, National Correspondent‌‌, ‌‌‌NRL.com

2017 NRL - Grant Trouville © NRL Photos
2017 NRL - Grant Trouville © NRL Photos

Sydney Roosters v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Allianz Stadium
Friday, 7.50pm

With one team coming off their biggest win of the year and the other coming off their biggest loss of the year, the difference in form-lines heading into this bye-round clash couldn't be more stark.

Perhaps surprisingly though, it's the fourth-placed Roosters who are coming off a hiding at the hands of the Sharks and the 11th-placed Rabbitohs who will be buoyed by a monstrous win over the Panthers.

The Roosters will also have to deal with the loss of halfback Mitch Pearce, prop Dylan Napa and winger Blake Ferguson to Origin duty, with Boyd Cordner also remaining unavailable due to Blues duty after missing the past two games with a calf strain.

Mitchell Aubusson shifts to centre with Joseph Manu on the wing, Connor Watson starting in the halves, Zane Tetevano and Isaac Liu in the starting pack and Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Lindsay Collins and Mitch Cornish on the bench.

The Bunnies found some form against the Titans in Round 15 then coming off a Round 16 bye were far too good for Penrith last week and are just starting to build a bit of momentum. Their coach Michael Maguire has, unsurprisingly, named an unchanged team.

The Bondi boys had won five out of six games heading into last week so it’s hardly panic stations. The fact they will be minus a big Origin contingent makes things harder and will put plenty of pressure on skipper Jake Friend and five-eighth Luke Keary to lead the team around. But even without Napa and Cordner the forward pack still boasts plenty of punch. Young back-rower Ryan Matterson has thrived on some extra responsibility this year and racked up eight tackle busts to go with his 31 tackles and a try. They'll need some senior men around him to lift given the absences in the pack; Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in particular will want to offer more than his 21 tackles (plus four missed tackles) and 110 metres last week.

For the Rabbitohs, more of the same will be the recipe here. You'd expect the Roosters defence to do a better job of shutting down the Bunnies' offloads and precision last-play kicks than Penrith did last week but when executed well both are very hard to stop. Jason Clark (four offloads), Sam Burgess (three), Bryson Goodwin, Angus Crichton, Robbie Farah and Aaron Gray (all two) had no trouble getting the ball away last week but it was halfback Adam Reynolds (four tries created from kicks and two drop outs) that did the damage with his general play kicking and that is the threat the Roosters most need to contain.