Parramatta coach Brad Arthur is bracing for another right edge onslaught without hobbled winger Blake Ferguson, who has been ruled out of Saturday’s NRL semi-final.
Ferguson aggravated a knee injury in last week’s finals loss to Melbourne and was ruled out late on Friday after failing to prove his fitness at captain’s run.
Brad Takairangi has been called in on the wing to face a red-hot South Sydney,
Arthur is confident their patched-up backline – already missing opposite winger Maika Sivo – can cope without him.
“Ferg wants to play, but we’ll be taking that decision out of his hands,” the coach said.
“We need 17 fit players against a very good Rabbitohs team and we’ve got to trust our medical guys.”
The Rabbitohs’ 349 points since round 12 is the most the club has amassed over a 10-week period, with a 38-0 defeat of the Eels built on pressuring the Eels’ edge.
The Eels have conceded 46 per cent of their tries down the right edge this season while Souths’ left edge attack is statistically their most potent weapon.
It’s enough to see Souths enter as the warm favourites despite finishing the season in sixth behind the third-placed Eels.
“I know our right edge has come under fire a bit recently but if you have a look at it I think we were third or fourth in defence this year for tries scored against us,” Arthur said.
“And these are not excuses, just reasons (in last week’s loss), we lost a winger, had backrowers playing in the centres … it’s hard against a really good team like Melbourne when you’re making changes like that.
“We have been working hard to get those combinations right and I’m sure we’ll see some nice defensive reads.”
Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett hopes to test that out, but says they won’t be directing traffic in any particular direction.
“Parramatta won’t be the same side we played five weeks ago … it’s irrelevant, new game tomorrow night and that’s how we’re approaching it,” he said.
“We’re not thinking of targeting players or targeting positions; we’re just playing footy and that’s what we’re doing.
“We scored tries through the middle of the ruck last week, scored them down our right side, down our left side.
“We just continued to play football, not trying to target any particular side.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* Since the new finals format was introduced in 2012, the highest-ranked team has won 13 of the 16 week-two games.
* The Rabbitohs have won three of the past four games against the Eels including a last-game thrashing at Bankwest Stadium.
* Since Round 12, Souths have scored the most points at just under 35 per game while the Eels are scoring just over 16, only the Broncos have scored fewer (14 per game).