SOUTH Sydney are the misguided, erratic adolescent that may have finally grown up. In seasons past, this was precisely the kind of fixture they were capable of blowing. Hot favourites against a lowly side missing half-a-dozen of its best players, the Rabbitohs of days gone by could produce an unexplainable stinker no matter how well they had been travelling, or how many big names they had.
Instead, Michael Maguire's men wake this morning in outright third position on the ladder, thanks to a fourth consecutive win and the leg-up of a previous-round bye.
In the end, they did it easily, as they should have. When Canberra's best player, Josh Dugan, and his partner in crime, Blake Ferguson, were left out of the Raiders team this week, a Souths win seemed a no-brainer. Ferguson was castigated for turning up dusty to a training session, while Dugan was pinged for being his companion in sampling the nightlife of the national capital.
Raiders coach David Furner has lifted the booze ban he had in place on his NRL squad and, aside from a period of time either side of half-time, last night's match was a sobering experience for the visitors.
Souths, of course, are a different entity to previous incarnations for a few obvious reasons. A new coach has made them more clinical and more sure of themselves, but the primary catalyst in this growing-up exercise is Greg Inglis. Two days after appearing for Queensland in the Origin furnace, Inglis wouldn't have been the first player to look fatigued or even disinterested in the immediate step back to club football. On the contrary, the Souths fullback was the best player at ANZ Stadium, scoring a pair of tries and being at the centre of just about everything.
Inglis joked this month that he would retire if he could take Souths to a premiership this year. It is a good thing he had his tongue in his cheek because that might be on the cards. The Rabbitohs are not entirely convincing yet - a series of defensive lapses against Canberra will not have impressed Maguire - but a first finals appearance since 2007 will surely arrive if they can replicate their better moments of last night.
Inglis's display was only challenged by Souths' other Queensland representative, Dave Taylor, who also registered a double and was dangerous nearly every time he touched the ball. The way in which Inglis, operating functionally as a five-eighth, fed Taylor through the line for his second try showed frightening potential of what they can do together.
If Souths have ambitions of being a top-four side they certainly began and finished like it. There was some very average defence from Canberra but, led by Inglis and Taylor, the Rabbitohs were on a different level when they were firing. Three tries in six minutes put them ahead 14-0 and left the stunned Raiders as white as the away jumpers they were wearing.
Inglis was a man possessed in the early stages, setting up the first try for Justin Hunt, then scaring the life out of Reece Robinson en route to a four-pointer of his own.
The Canberra fullback's underpants may have needed changing when Inglis shot through a gap created by the most wily of inside balls by Souths' captain for the evening, John Sutton. The way a full-speed Inglis then glided effortlessly beyond Robinson was indicative of a special player at the very top of his game.
Inglis and Taylor returned to star as Souths put on three tries in six minutes, again in the second half, to extinguish Canberra's brief and brave challenge. There are bigger battles ahead for those two and Maguire, but all signs point to September.
SOUTH SYDNEY 36 (G Inglis 2 D Taylor 2 D Farrell J Hunt B Lowe tries I Luke 3 A Reynolds goals) bt RAIDERS 18 (J Croker 2 R Robinson J Thompson tries J Croker goal) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Chris James, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 10,054.