After a hard-fought victory on the road, the South Sydney Rabbitohs head west to take on fierce modern-day rivals Penrith, in a bid to take the Premiers off their pedestal.
The Script So Far: Rabbitohs vs Panthers
The Rabbitohs officially welcomed the Penrith Panthers into the NSWRFL competition in Round 1 of 1967 and did not let up in a 39-nil thumping at Penrith Park.
Overall, the men in Red and Green have the advantage when it comes to total victories from the 92 matches played with 47, although their opponents have closed the gap in recent years with 42 victories of their own.
Despite half a century of battle, it wasn’t until 2020 when the two clubs finally met in the play-offs, with the Preliminary Final kicking off what has arguably been the fiercest rivalry in the NRL so far this decade.
Since then, the two proud clubs have met one another in a further three finals matches, and that of course includes the heartbreaking 2021 NRL Grand Final defeat – one that continues to fuel the fire for Jason Demetriou’s men.
The Panthers have had bragging rights in recent times, with South Sydney’s last win at the foot of the mountains coming in a dramatic contest in ANZAC Round, 2019, so the Rabbitohs will be looking to return serve and hand the Panthers their third consecutive loss at home this year.
This week’s opponents were also responsible for ending the Rabbitohs’ 2022 season in the Preliminary Final, so there will be no shortage of motivation and emotion in this clash, even if it is 'just' the second week of the new season.
The Line Ups:
The Rabbitohs will be without two big hitters in Junior Tatola and Jai Arrow, but will still field a strong line up against the Panthers with a duo set to make their first appearance of 2023.
The backline remains intact with Latrell Mitchell set to play his 50th game in the Cardinal and Myrtle, joined by Alex Johnston and Izaac Tu’itupou-Thompson on the wings. Isaiah Tass lines up alongside Campbell Graham in the centres, who is coming off an impressive two-try performance against the Sharks.
Cody Walker will be primed for another big game at five-eighth, having scored a try in each of his last five appearances against Penrith, while Lachlan Ilias joins him in the halves following a strong outing in Round 1.
The forward pack is where the big changes come for Jason Demetriou’s side, with Daniel Suluka-Fifita named at prop in his first match of the year alongside Thomas Burgess, who plays his 211th game for South Sydney, joining Bob McCarthy in 4th place on the Club’s all-time appearances.
Damien Cook lines up in the no.9 jersey, while the back row remains intact with try-scorer Keaon Koloamatangi, the experienced Michael Chee-Kam and courageous Captain Cameron Murray rounding off the starting side.
Blake Taaffe, Davvy Moale and Shaquai Mitchell return to the side on the interchange bench, with former Panther Jed Cartwright set to play his first game of 2023. Young guns Tallis Duncan, Terrell Kalo Kalo, Ben Lovett and Peter Mamouzelos are joined by the returning Taane Milne from suspension on the extended bench.
Penrith have one change from their Round 1 line up, with Matt Eisenhuth replacing the injured Scott Sorensen on the bench, and will feature threats in the form of Nathan Cleary, Dylan Edwards, Stephen Crichton and Isaah Yeo in their search for the first competition points of the year.
Key Battle: Men in the Middle
With changes to both forward packs heading into this week, it will be imperative for the men in the middle to get the job done and pave the way for the outside backs to pile on the points.
Tatola and Arrow left the field prematurely in the Rabbitohs’ courageous win last Saturday night, with the remaining members of the forward pack immense in their absence and playing a majority of the contest with a two-man bench.
South Sydney ran right through Cronulla in Round 1, amassing 2000 metres, and it was no surprise to see Cook (137), Burgess (173), Koloamatangi (152), Murray (158), Moale (146) and Mitchell (125) all at the forefront.
Both Suluka-Fifita and Cartwright will have a big job to do in the absence of Tatola and Arrow, but the duo have shown time and time again what they can bring to the table, and will be primed against the reigning Premiers.
The Panthers are still licking their wounds following a close 13-12 defeat against the Brisbane Broncos in Round 1, and with key Premiership-winning duo Viliame Kikau and Api Koroisau now departed, their forward pack has taken a drastically different shape from previous years.
That leaves James Fisher-Harris, Moses Leota, Mitch Kenny and Yeo to fill in the void, and they will be out to redeem themselves after St Helens and Brisbane got the better of them in recent weeks with an out-and-out aggressive approach.
The Rabbitohs face arguably the toughest test in Rugby League this Thursday, but make no mistake, it’ll be one that the boys are raring to take head-on as they look to exact some revenge against the high-and-mighty Panthers.
While there may be a few troops on the sidelines, we all know the reinforcements will be able to step up and get the job done, so it’s a matter of overcoming a fancied rival who will be desperate to click back into gear.
Members and supporters who are looking to head west can purchase tickets here, and will be treated to a double-header with the NSW Cup side on display at 5:20pm.
Those watching from home or at the pub on Thursday night can see the match either on Channel 9, Foxtel or stream live via Kayo, with kick-off at 8:00pm.