With the spotlight on off-contract halfback Luke Keary, South Sydney are preparing to exploit Newcastle’s inexperienced and under-fire forward pack at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
The Rabbitohs were tipped by most pundits to slide this season but could not have been more emphatic in their response during the NRL season-opening 42-10 thrashing of Sydney Roosters.
Just as the Rabbitohs’ big men were the cornerstone of their drought-breaking premiership win in 2014, coach Michael Maguire has hatched a plan for them to once again be the side’s backbone under the raft of off-season rule changes.
While most sides have scratched their heads on how to deal with the reduction in the interchange and amendments to the interpretation of the play-the-ball, Maguire sensed an opportunity and has built his game plan around it.
Maguire made no secret of his belief the new rules benefitted his team and was relishing the prospect of creating room for livewires Keary, halves partner Cody Walker and superstar Greg Inglis.
“Over time, the fatigue levels and being able to come up with new plays around the reduction in the interchange, I’m looking forward to that,” Maguire said.
“The little men come into the game, especially with Luke Keary and Cody and those guys with speed around the ruck, it does add a lot and the strengths of GI floating through the middle there, you’re picking up a few fatigued forwards through the middle.”
Newcastle’s big men were exposed during their first up 30-12 loss to the Gold Coast which has heaped pressure on their pack.
With co-captain Tariq Sims still four weeks off returning from a shoulder charge suspension, veteran prop Kade Snowden has been dropped leaving rookies Jacob and Daniel Saifiti, David Bhana and Lachlan Fitzgibbon with a big job in front of them.
Knights co-captain Jeremy Smith described the Souths forwards as the competition benchmark and feared some of his less experienced teammates could be in for a rude awakening on Sunday.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids that will be shocked when they get out there with how quick it really is,” Smith said.
“But we’ve trained hard in the off-season and I’m confident they can get the job done.”
* The Rabbitohs have won eight of their past 11, including their past five straight, against the Knights.
* If the Rabbitohs score 50-plus points here, they will be the third team in premiership history to score more than a half century in three straight matches against an opponent.
* Since round five last season, the Knights have won just four of 21 matches.
Source: Fox Sports Stats