The final game in Week 1 of the NRL Finals sees the 6th placed Rabbitohs squaring off against the 7th placed Knights in an elimination game on Sunday! As usual, we have you covered with a full preview and betting tips for the clash below.
South Sydney Rabbitohs (6th) v Newcastle Knights (7th)
ANZ Stadium, Sunday 4.05pm (AEST)
There are not enough superlatives to describe how good the Rabbitohs were last week in their 60-8 demolition of arch-rivals, the Roosters. Despite conceding an early try, the Rabbitohs kept their calm and struck once the weight of possession shifted in their favour. They scored 4 of their 10 tries in the first half and piled on the pressure further in the second half. In the end, the statistics were heavily weighted in their favour; they had 61% possession, completed at 84%, averaged 10.1m per carry, 11 linebreaks and 22 tackles breaks. They sounded a warning sign that, on their day, they can be very dangerous.
The same cannot be said for the Knights, who are actually heading in the other direction ahead of the NRL Finals. They suffered a 36-6 loss on the road, with little excuses offered by their coach at FT. With just 44% possession, the Knights failed to build pressure on their opponents; they made 680 fewer metres than the Titans, just 2 linebreaks, fewer post contact metres and missed 34 tackles. They can ill-afford a similar performance, as this match is sudden-death. While they will spend the week looking for answers, the Knights will be best served focusing on this match. Unfortunately for them, a massive reversal of form is required ahead of this fixture.
These two sides are fairly similar in a few areas; the overall history has the Knights having the edge winning 15/29 games played, while the Rabbitohs have a 56% record at this ground compared with the Knights 52%. The Knights have won the past two meetings between these two sides, both as the away team (1 was played at Bankwest – Round 10 this season); however, those victories are their only 2 in the past 11 meetings dating back to Round 18, 2012. In their Round 10 victory, the Knights lead 20-nil until the 66th minute and completed at 81%; you can be sure that the Rabbitohs will not allow their opponents to have the same opportunity.
For the season, the Knights average an 80.4% completion rate (3rd) compared to the Rabbitohs 77.7% (10th). The Knights also have a slight edge in average metres and post contact metres per game, making 1,777.6m (4th) and 641.1pcm (3rd) each week, slightly ahead of the Rabbitohs 1,766.8m (5th) and 606.4pcm (6th). Given the Rabbitohs higher average points per game (26.1ppg – 4th v 21.1ppg – 8th), it is no surprise they are superior in try assists (3.3 – 4th v 2.7 – 8th) and linebreaks (4.9 – 3rd v 4.0 – 7th). When it comes to defence, the Rabbitohs also have an edge. They allowed 17.6ppg for the season (6th) compared with the Knights 18.7ppg (7th). Since Round 15, the Knights have averaged 19.3ppg in attack and 23.7ppg in defence, while the Rabbitohs averaged 35.3ppg in attack and 16ppg in defence.
The recent form of each team cannot be overlooked. While the Knights can be expected to ‘bounce back’ following a disappointing loss last week, they have been very poor since Round 15. At times, they have relied too heavily on Ponga to inject creativity into their team and when opponents nullify his contribution, a ‘back up’ plan doesn’t appear to work. That isn’t to suggest the Rabbitohs have been perfect by any measure. In the same time, they have had amazing displays of attack; yet, still have faults in their game, including a loss to the 15th placed Bulldogs. They were also slow to start their past 2 matches and allowed the Tigers to creep back into the contest back in Round 18.
When deciding a possible winner, the attacking options of the Rabbitohs appear to outweigh that of the Knights. The Rabbitohs are going to be pressured by the Knights but their defensive structure has improved. They should be capable of holding out what the Knights throw at them. If not, the Knights could get a ‘sniff’ of victory and if they are presented with this opportunity, you expect they will try to put multiple scoring plays on their opponents. For that to happen, it will take a consistent 80 minutes display and there is little to suggest that the Knights can sustain such an effort. As tricky as this game could be, the safest option appears to be taking the home side to cover the line and then, possibly, run away with the match.