South Sydney went into last weekend’s qualifying final as massive outsiders, but are crediting a newfound defensive steel and some hyper-aggression from their forwards as the key to reversing their fortunes.
The Rabbitohs had no trouble scoring points all year, but had conceded a whopping 157 in their four games against the NRL’s top two teams, Penrith and Melbourne.
The end result of a game plan built around hard and fast contact was a famous victory, in which they conceded just one try (which came off an ingenious Nathan Cleary banana kick).
“I think in the back of our mind as a forward pack, we knew that’s where the game was gonna be won,” said prop Mark Nicholls.
The 31-year-old said his side had been building and improving defensively all year, and that they had finally managed to put an 80-minute performance together.
“They’ve been one of the better packs in the comp for a couple of years now, and we knew that we had to meet them with line speed and aggression,” he said.
Rising star Keaon Koloamatangi was blunt in his assessment of the team’s performance up front in their previous 2021 encounters against the Panthers.
“Obviously, the last two times we versed (sic) Penrith, they gave it to us through the middle,” he said.
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“We knew that we had to start hard, and start fast, and I think that’s what we did. We just had to keep that up for the whole 80.
“We know what we can do as forward pack when we’re on our A-Game.”
“I thought as a whole team, our defensive process was on the whole game,” said centre Campbell Graham, who was tasked with shutting down Penrith’s vaunted right edge – and passed the test with flying colours.
“Just the effort areas I think is what the coaching staff are most pleased with.
“You don’t know whether you might be there to make the tackle or not, but as long as you’re putting yourself in the frame and you’re working hard for eachother, you can pretty much cover all the threats.”
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Graham said the defensive right edge of himself, Jaydn Su’A, Adam Reynolds and Jaxson Paulo had full trust in one another and had been building towards a performance like last week.
“I’m very confident in the players around me, we have a good system there,” he said.
“I think it’s only going to get tougher from now and we’re just going to have to keep building off the weekend and keep locking it down.”
Wayne Bennett’s men will enjoy a week off, before facing the winner of Friday night’s sudden death semi-final between Manly and the Roosters.
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