Rabbitohs 34 Knights 14
South Sydney coach Michael Maguire would not admit to it if the Rabbitohs won the competition. Well, not straight away, and you might have to twist his arm first. When it comes to discipline, and adhering to the rules that say you must not get carried away or ahead of yourself, this bloke is a stickler. And it's just what the famous club needs.
Yesterday was not much different to the previous Sunday, when Souths whipped the Panthers 38-12 at ANZ Stadium. This time, they rode roughshod over Newcastle at the same venue. ''Too big, too strong, too good,'' was how Knights coach Wayne Bennett, who knows a bit about winning premierships, described them.
The Rabbitohs appear to be mastering an important art on the way to the top - that of winning games you are supposed to win - but when that point was made to Maguire, he answered in general terms rather than saying anything specific about his team having jumped another particular hurdle.
''There's a really strong belief in the team at the moment and a lot of confidence growing,'' Maguire said. ''Every time we play a game, we're growing, and the players themselves are looking at areas that they need to make sure they improve on and continually work at, so it makes my job pretty easy. My senior blokes - I've got a good crew there and we're enjoying what we're doing at training, and the boys are showing that on the park.''
Addressing the same point, Souths captain Michael Crocker said: ''The boys performed the way we set out to. We wanted to make sure we built pressure throughout that game, and we created that at times and came up with some good plays at the back end of it. We spoke as a team about our composure at the back end of the game, and we need to continually look at that.
''We had a couple more opportunities there, where we could have been a bit composed and set up play, and that's the sort of stuff we've been practising as a group. They're areas we can look at for next week.''
That's the Maguire mantra at Souths, and the players are all on the same page. They're not going to move away from it, and why would they? Premierships are not easy to win, and Souths have not won one for 41 years. The Rabbitohs look like making the finals, having won seven of their last nine games to move to fifth place on 24 points, but they're not there yet, so they refuse to talk as if they are.
Now back to Bennett, who is out of luck with the Knights this year but who can, of course, talk from experience when it comes to what it takes to finish first, having won seven premierships. Asked if he thought Souths were premiership material, Bennett replied: ''On today's performance, they are.'' Pushed on the subject, he provided an extended view, saying: ''I wouldn't start giving anybody the premiership-material tag right now.
''The competition's really just starting again after Origin, and it will be another two or three weeks before the contenders start to show themselves. My experience has been the next two or three weeks will start to sort it out, when all the teams get their star players back and the star players start to feel a bit better about themselves. Those guys have got to be exhausted that played last Wednesday night.
''[Melbourne captain] Cameron Smith didn't play last night, three at the [Gold] Coast didn't play, and those that played wouldn't have felt like they were making a great contribution. We lost five games in a row at the Dragons after the third Origin last year. We lost our way, and there may be one or two other teams in that situation as well.''
Maguire is following the same process that brought him success as coach of Wigan; a famous team that hadn't been successful for a period, although nothing like the drought for the Rabbitohs. He's not going to change his approach. He would be mad to. It's obviously a formula for success.
SOUTH SYDNEY 34 (A Everingham D Farrell I Luke C McQueen N Peats J Sutton tries; A Reynolds 5 goals) bt NEWCASTLE 14 (A Uate 2 C Houston tries; T Roberts goal) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Brett Suttor, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 16,104.