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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Revamped Rabbitohs look for opening round points in the West
Having struggled to recapture the form that saw the Rabbitohs break a 43-year premiership drought, a new era is set to begin at South Sydney under Anthony Seibold. Spending time behind the scenes at Melbourne, Manly and Queensland, Seibold has left an immediate mark on the make-up of the South Sydney team by naming fournew faces, including Kangaroos flyer Dane Gagai and NRL debutant Tevita Tatola. In other significant selections, halfback Adam Reynolds has been named to start despite missing both trials against Wigan and St. George Illawarra, Damien Cook has beaten out Robbie Farah for the sole hooker position, while Greg Inglis will make his long-awaited return to first grade having suffered a season ending injury in the opening fixture of 2017. Returning to Perth for the tenth season, the Rabbitohs will be hoping their 100% success rate over the Warriors in Western Australia continues, having recorded dominant performances in each of the three previous west coast clashes.
Looking to arrest a horror losing streak that saw the side fail to register a win in the final nine matches of 2017, the New Zealand Warriors will be hoping yet another active recruitment drive brings about desired results and breaks an alarming trend of immense mediocrity from across the ditch. Coming away with narrow trial victories against a reserve grade Melbourne outfit and the Gold Coast, coach Stephen Kearney has named eight new recruits in his 21-man squad to make their first appearances for the Warriors, with 24-year-old utility Sam Cook in line to make his NRL debut off the bench. In a major omission from the best possible line-up, former captain Simon Mannering is set for a short stint on the sidelines after sustaining a shoulder injury. As the most capped player in the clubs history, the loss of Mannering will leave an impact, however the opportunity for impressive youngsters Isaiah Papalii, Ligi Sao and Bunty Afoa to step up may be telling in whether the New Zealanders are capable of stepping up and elevating the club towards better on-field results.
Last meeting: Round 24 2017 - Rabbitohs 36 Warriors 18
Who to watch: Running out for his 50th appearance in the NRL, Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook will eager to repay the faith shown by Anthony Seibold with a leading role as part of the starting side. Edging out Robbie Farah following a series of scintillating performances throughout the trials, the former Dragons and Bulldogs fringe player has impressed since joining South Sydney two years ago, but will be acutely aware of the standards to be maintained in order to ensure his place in the squad is secure. Touted as a potential representative of the restructured NSW regime, the 26-year-old will enhance his aspirations with a strong showing against former Rabbitohs rake Issac Luke on Saturday, while also demonstrating his development from an underutilised bench utility to an established starting player capable of impacting the result of a game.
As the latest in a long line of established forwards making the move across the Tasman, Tohu Harris will be hoping his contribution to the Warriors puts the Auckland-based club on the course towards reaching their first finals appearance in seven seasons. Progressing through the ranks of Melbourne culminating in a dominant role in the Premiership triumph over North Queensland, the 26-year-old has shown his class at club and international level, but faces an unknown challenge by agreeing to terms with a side that has redefined mediocrity over the past six seasons. While the likes of Kevin Campion, Steve Price and Ruben Wiki unquestionably enhanced the Warriors after winning titles with Australian clubs, recent high-profile signings have been unable to elevate the New Zealand outfit to the standards required to thrive in the NRL - meaning the pressure Harris faces is considerably greater than any faced during his time with the Storm.
The favourite: Producing two promising trial results over Wigan and St. George Illawarra, the Rabbitohs are expected to build upon their optimistic finish to 2017 with an opening round win.
My tip: While the likelihood of either side featuring beyond Round 25 appears doubtful at present, the Rabbitohs recent run of success over the Warriors should pave the way for a positive start to Anthony Seibold's time at the helm of South Sydney. Rabbitohs by 6.
1. Alex Johnston 2. Richard Kennar 3. Dane Gagai 4. Greg Inglis 5. Robert Jennings 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Mark Nicholls 11. John Sutton 12. Angus Crichton 13. Sam Burgess 14. Cameron Murray 16. George Burgess 17. Tevita Tatola 20. Hymel Hunt
1. Roger Tuivasa-sheck 2. David Fusitua 3. Peta Hiku 4. Solomone Kata 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Blake Green 7. Shaun Johnson 8. James Gavet 9. Issac Luke 10. Adam Blair 11. Isaiah Papalii 12. Tohu Harris 13. Ligi Sao 14. Sam Cook 15. Leivaha Pulu 16. Sam Lisone 17. Bunty Afoa
Referees: Grant Atkins, Jon Stone; Sideline Officials: Tim Roby, Ricky MacFarlane; Video Referees: Ben Galea, Steve Chiddy;