PREVIEW: Rd 21, 2017
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canberra Raiders
Saturday 29 July, 5.30pm
While it is still possible for fans of both the Rabbitohs and Raiders to tiptoe their way into the top eight. If either is going to somehow avoid that fate, then they will certainly need to claim a win over a fellow bottom-eight side on Saturday.
Souths coach Michael Maguire has responded to what was largely a narrow and fairly encouraging away loss to premiers Cronulla last week by ringing no fewer than 10 positional and personnel changes – which will become 11 if skipper Sam Burgess fails to overcome a rib cartilage injury picked up last week.
Hymel Hunt returns at centre alongside Tyrell Fuimaono with Bryson Goodwin and Robert Jennings shifted to the flanks; Braidon Burns is out and Alex Johnston goes to fullback in place of Cody Walker who moves to the halves allowing John Sutton to replace Fuimaono in the back row. Damien Cook starts at hooker for the benched Robbie Farah. Utility Cam Murray replaces prop Zane Musgrove on the bench.
The Raiders are starting to look a little understrength with winger Jordan Rapana and back-rower Sia Soliola both joining Josh Papalii on the suspended list. Mid-season recruit Michael Oldfield comes onto the wing for his club debut (after not being used at all from the bench last week). The Josh-Hodgson-at-lock experiment is over after one week with Kurt Baptiste returning to the bench. Luke Bateman and Joe Tapine each start in the rejigged pack. Jeff Lime and Clay Priest join the bench.
The 26-12 scoreline last week doesn't really do justice to the quality of Souths' goal-line defence in that game (starved of possession, they were just two points behind until two opportunistic tries from kicks to the Sharks in the last eight minutes) and overall they looked far more competitive than in an uninspiring loss the Cowboys a week prior.
Their completions (82 per cent) were good, they doubled Cronulla's offloads (18-9) and missed far fewer tackles (29-38) despite holding just 43 per cent of the ball. If they can replicate that discipline and combine it with a touch of the attacking nous they showed in their most recent win (although Round 17's 42-14 win over Penrith seems a while ago now) they'll be hard to crack for an understrength Raiders.
The key man for the Raiders is halfback Aidan Sezer. Three weeks ago, Sezer's confidence looked shot to the point it seemed as though a spell in reserve grade may do him some good. In three games he'd made six errors and missed 13 tackles with basically no creative stats. But Sezer turned a corner against the Dragons, running over 100 metres for just the second time this year (with a whopping 153 metres, helped by a crucial length-of-the-field intercept try) and kicked a match-winning 40/20.
Despite his team going down to the Storm last week Sezer was one of the best on ground, scoring two tries and again topping 100 run metres with a season-high six tackle busts (and no errors in either game).