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Match Preview: Bulldogs v Rabbitohs

Words: Tony Webeck, Chief Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
ANZ Stadium
Friday, 4pm

Far be it for me to suggest a miraculous resurrection could not happen on Good Friday but the likelihood that Sam Burgess will miss his first game against the Bulldogs since his 2014 Grand Final heroics – at ANZ Stadium no less – takes a significant player out of what is historically a high-drama contest.

Last year of course was the infamous fallout following the penalty goal just before full-time that earned the Rabbitohs an 18-17 victory that sent Bulldogs players and fans into a frenzy, and 12 months earlier Trent Hodkinson kicked the winning field goal as Canterbury triumphed 15-14.

Since 2013 this match has drawn crowds in excess of 40,000 and with transport offers and excellent ticketing deals for families the 4pm kick-off should again see ANZ Stadium pulsing with excitable energy.

Both teams are hoping to bounce back from last-start losses although the withdrawal of Burgess and possible suspension of Paul Carter (challenging grading at judiciary on Wednesday night) create an extra challenge for the Rabbitohs. Nathan Brown has been chosen to wear the No.13 jersey for South Sydney with Chris Grevsmuhl, Jack Gosiewski and Michael Oldfield named on an extended bench.

Whichever way the result goes it will be a night of celebration for two of Canterbury's Joshes with Josh Morris to play his 200th NRL game and Josh Reynolds to chalk up game No.100, all of which have come with the Bulldogs.

Greg Eastwood returns at lock for Canterbury after missing the loss to the Eels with David Klemmer dropping back to a five-man bench.

Watch out Rabbitohs: Given the way he came into the NRL with Manly in 2010, William Hopoate's last two seasons at the Eels fell short of the standards we had come to expect but the signs are strong that his best football is once again on the horizon. Handed the fullback duties in the wake of the injury to Brett Morris, Hopoate has slotted in seamlessly and is contributing positively to the Bulldogs attack. He had four tackle breaks and ran for 130 metres against the Eels last week and has scored a try in each of his three games to date. Once again Hopoate is a serious attacking threat. 

Watch out Bulldogs: There's nothing quite like being stung by one of your own so don't be surprised if Damien Cook lands a couple of crucial blows against his former club on Friday. Prior to copping a heavy head knock that forced him from the field on Sunday, Cook looked the man most likely to spark the Rabbitohs attack as they sought to claw their way back in front against a dogged Dragons defence. Despite playing just 99 minutes in three games Cook has five offloads to his name and his electrifying pace out of dummy-half will pose serious questions of the big Bulldogs forwards.

Key match-up: George Burgess v James Graham. They are two very different styles of English front-rower but two men who will be at the heart of what their respective teams can accomplish on Friday. After missing Round 1 Burgess has returned to the South Sydney pack averaging a tick under 100 metres per game and will need to lift that output against the big Bulldogs pack. Graham has been his typically industrious self, averaging more than 63 minutes, 162 metres and 39 tackles per game. If big brother Sam is missing, George is who the Bunnies will look to in the middle.

The history: Played 152; Rabbitohs 69, Bulldogs 79, drawn 4. The third-most enduring rivalry of teams still active in the NRL, Rabbitohs-Bulldogs battles stretch all the way back to 1935 when 'The Berries' entered the competition and were beaten 37-9 by South Sydney in just their second match in the New South Wales Rugby League. Prior to 2014's 30-6 win by the Rabbitohs they had met in one grand final previously in 1967 when Bob McCarthy scored his famous intercept try to clinch a 12-10 win for Souths. Since 1999 the two teams have played each other 21 times at ANZ Stadium with the Bulldogs boasting a 14-7 record.

Match officials: Referee: Ben Cummins; Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall; Touch Judges: Michael Wife and Jeff Younis; Review Officials: Luke Patten and Steve Chiddy; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.

Televised: Channel Nine (Live) – 3.30pm AEST; Fox Sports (Live) – 3.30pm AEST

The way we see it: One of the blockbuster games of the season unquestionably suffered a blow with Sam Burgess being unavailable but it is sure to throw up something memorable just the same. Both teams have the chance to stamp themselves as genuine top four material but with a more settled line-up the Bulldogs deserve their favouritism. The halves will decide it; Bulldogs by seven points.