Sea Eagles vs Rabbitohs
Saturday 11 March
The Rabbitohs are looking to bounce back, coming off a loss to the Wests Tigers and the loss of skipper and fullback Greg Inglis to an ACL injury. The reshuffle sees Alex Johnston shift to the back and exciting rookie Braidon Burns come in on the wing. Adam Reynolds and George Burgess are gunning to return to Maguire's squad and have featured heavily in training at the Simply Energy High Performance Centre.
The loss of Inglis has galvanised the squad, with hooker Damien Cook underlining the faith each player has in our depth to cover the role.
"We have got to move past that straight away as bad as it was but I’ve got full confidence in Alex Johnston who will go straight back there, he has played a lot of fullback, very experienced and it’s a great opportunity for Braidon Burns to come in after his form in the Charity Shield," said Cook.
Things didn't go Manly's way at home against the Eels on Sunday; they were completely starved of ball (largely due to a mountain of simple errors) but stuck at their defensive task, absorbing a ton of goal-line pressure in the biggest silver lining for Trent Barrett's men.
For Manly, a pair of hard-running props in Marty Taupau and Addin-Fonua-Blake each picked up bans for shoulder charges while bench prop Lloyd Perrett suffered a fractured eye socket. Those three join fellow prop Darcy Lussick on the sidelines meaning Manly starts to look very skinny in the middle.
The middle of the park will be a testing point for both teams. Rabbitohs forward Robbie Rochow underline the importance of the forward pack's work in defence during a media session earlier this week.
“That’s a big focus for our middle forwards this week which I play a lot of minutes in, just to tighten up our middle D and making sure we step into our contact and win that ruck so we can give ourselves plenty of energy and time with the ball," said Rochow.
There will be a load of pressure on starting middle forwards Brentwon Lawrence, Nate Myles and Jake Trbojevic while the interchange and reserves list features no further middle specialist. Playmakers Cam Cullen and Jackson Hastings come into the 21 along with edge forwards Shaun Lane, Jarrad Kennedy and Billy Bainbridge and outside backs Jono and Matt Wright.
Last week was tough for your Rabbitohs, we lost a centre to concussion early on then had our fullback suffer a serious knee injury. Losing backline players is always a huge blow to a team's structure with a logical replacement rarely available elsewhere in the 17 – let alone two replacements.
The form of a few key playmakers also allows room for optimism. Five-eighth Cody Walker seemed to pick up where he left off last year with two try assists and a line break, while hooker Robbie Farah got through a ton of work and looked up for the task despite playing behind a beaten pack. Finding a way to get livewire Damien Cook into the game should result in points against Manly.
However, there are no doubts around Redfern Oval about the ability of the Sea Eagles. Their goal line defence was strong against the Eels and if a more disciplined outfit turns up this week, cutting out wasteful errors, there will be a real battle in the middle of the park for Maguire's men.
"I went out and had a look - They're a very strong team," said Maguire.
"Going out there to Brookie (Brookvale Oval) it's always a tough game. They turn up and they play for 80 minutes. For us, it's about looking at our own game - last week wasn't where we needed it to be and we need to make sure there is a big improvement."
SPOTLIGHT: The Forward Packs
Forwards lay the platform. Souths forward pack were far from their best in Round One with only three forwards registering over 100 metres in their runs. The possible injection of George Burgess, Anthony Cherrington and Angus Crichton looks set to provide some more push in the middle of the park. Manly are without Taupau and Fonua-Blake which will likely motivate other forwards to step up to fill the void left by the suspended enforcers. Both packs will be hungry after a poor Round One and we should expect to see some big battles in the middle of the park.
Ryan Carr's side went down by a heartbreaking two points to the Wests Tigers in their Round One clash - missing an after-the-siren conversion attempt in the pouring rain. The coach will be expecting his side to be hungry to register their first win after coming so close. Marwene Hiroti moves from fullback to wing while Cruz Topai-Aveai finds himself on the interchage bench. The Sea Eagles U/20s squad put in a dominant performance against the Parramatta Eels, winning 38-20, and should prove a stern test. With Manly having the home ground advantage, Souths will be hoping to build on their courageous performance against the Wests Tigers in a match where they'll be considered slight underdogs.