Wayne Bennett says South Sydney aren’t doing anything new and it’s “debatable” if their modus operandi can break a 43-year premiership drought; rival Michael Maguire responded by detailing how the Rabbitohs have evolved.
Souths’ quest to play controlled football with just enough flair to outpoint any opposition appeared to take a step to the good when they ran up 32 points before making their first error in their 50-10 win at Cairns’ Barlow Park.
The lingering question for the bunnies is whether they can reach the “next level” required to win their first premiership since 1971; on Friday against Manly we may get closer to an answer.
“Souths aren’t going to change,” said Bennett, whose only joy came from two tries in a three-minute period during the second half.
“There wasn’t one of us in that changeroom who didn’t know at any stage what they were going to throw at us and how they were going to do it.
“That’s their challenge. They do it every week the same way. If a team’s good enough to stand up to it, it puts them under pressure. We couldn’t stand up to them ... another day we might have.
“They play similar to the Roosters. We handled the Roosters OK last week – they run hard, they tackle in numbers and they’ll keep doing it for the full 80 minutes.”
Asked if that would be enough to win the competition, the Knights’ master coach answered: “Well, it didn’t work for them last year in the end – it’s debatable. They were good today. That’s all you can take. The other teams have got to stop that. As I said, there’s not a coach in the NRL who doesn’t know how they’re going to play.
“If no one can stop them, they can certainly win the premiership. They’ve got enough strike-power and ability in that team. It’s a pretty hardened footy team – there’s a fair bit of confidence.”
But the Rabbits’ captain, Greg Inglis, insisted the team was “evolving” and when told of Bennett’s comments, Maguire was willing to outline how, telling Triple M: “To have the luxury now of Dylan Walker on an edge and Alex Johnson on an edge, it’s allowing us to go a bit sideways sometimes when we need to ... and then come back through the middle. Everyone’s got an opinion, but we’re very satisfied with our plan.”
South Sydney took 13 minutes to post their first try, and Kirisome Auva’a got their 10th, and his second with five to go in front of 11,000 fans on an unpredictable and humid Cairns afternoon.
Winger Alex Johnston – the 19-year-old who once played Inglis in a television commercial – has scored 14 tries in 10 matches. “Last year, looking towards this year, I would not have dreamed I’d even be in first grade,” Johnston said.
Inglis commented: “I think I first met him in 2008 – we did the NRL ad together. He played myself and in a couple of years he’s running outside me. It’s pleasing to see a young kid like that stick at it and make his dream come true.
“Those kids, I just sit back and admire. What’s really good about them is their feet are still grounded and they’ll go a long way.’’
There were the obligatory video refereeing controversies despite the margin; significant doubt over whether Knight Adam Clydesdale and Rabbit Tom Burgess grounded the ball cleanly.
“It’s always been contentious, it’ll always be a problem,” said Bennett. “You see enough of them, you get yourself confused about what is a try and what isn’t a try.
“There’s no doubt we need the video ref. It’s never going to be perfect. It’s just a fact of life.”
The Rabbitohs scored a freakish 33rd minute try when Chris McQueen booted a loose ball on the half-volley straight into the waiting hands of centre Dylan Walker.
Newcastle skipper Kurt Gidley concluded: “They blew us off the path. Defensively, we were way off the pace. I thought they were good. I thought we were really bad.”