South Sydney exposed by soft run
For all the hype and headlines surrounding the Rabbitohs' surge into the semi-finals, I left AAMI Park disappointed at their underwhelming performance against Melbourne. Souths were outmuscled and out-thought, and struggled to come to grips with finals mentality.
But that's not to say I am dismissing Souths' chances of progressing further. I reckon they can bounce back against Canberra this Saturday night at ANZ Stadium - but they will need to improve a hell of a lot. I think their effort was reflective of their soft run into the finals.
They haven't beaten a top-eight team since round 12. In the final month of the regular season they played Manly and Cronulla - and were beaten convincingly in both games. As much as we can question Souths' performance, I must credit Melbourne's defence. It was probably the best defensive display of the season. They gave up a huge advantage in size with Ryles and Manu both being ruled out prior to kick off.
Up against that sort of commitment in defence it really showed how reliant Souths are on Greg Inglis, firstly to get their sets off to good starts through his kick returns, and then to get himself involved later in the set after the forwards have continued that momentum.
Against Melbourne, Inglis struggled to make any ground off the Storm kick and chase and the pack failed in taking up the slack. Rarely did they have the Storm on the back foot which meant Inglis was taken out of the equation.
Souths play a simple style and Melbourne bustled them out of the game. I must say, though, that Canberra aren't the same tight, effective defensive unit as Melbourne.
That being the case, you would think Souths will have more opportunity to play their natural game on the back of quick play-the-balls at ANZ on Saturday night.
Against Melbourne, Souths didn't seem to play any footy at all. I left AAMI Park a little perplexed – it just seemed the Souths performance was one, big hit-up.
While they might get more chances against the Raiders it doesn’t fill you with confidence about getting through their next opponent, the Bulldogs.
The concern for higher honours was their inability to change things on the run against the smothering defence from Melbourne. And while they did make some errors at crucial times, overall their ball control was quite good, getting through 30 of their 38 sets. For me that’s a bigger worry than if they had made a mountain of errors. Once Inglis and Sutton, who was turned back inside all night, were contained there was no one to fall back on to.
Souths can’t make the grand final unless they can rely on and get more out of Adam Reynolds and Issac Luke. Defensively there were also some issues that need addressing before this weekend. The two tries the Storm scored from scrums either side of half time were way too easy, which I’m sure will give the Raiders plenty of confidence they can replicate that feat.
As I said though, I feel that soft run-in didn't help Souths' chances. Inglis looked a million dollars against the lesser teams but it is now obvious he can't do it all on his own if the blokes in front of him don't give him that platform.
Their younger blokes will now know exactly what it's like to play under the suffocating pressure of finals footy. It will be a key learning curve for them. I am sure Souths will be stung by their effort and I reckon Canberra won't be as overwhelming and intimidating as Melbourne.
Guys like Inglis, John Sutton and Dave Taylor will have a platform to work some magic. Souths and Brisbane were the two most disappointing sides from week one of the Telstra Premiership finals.
Brisbane’s performance wasn’t a huge surprise given they limped into the finals. To be truthful, they were cannon fodder for the Cowboys. Aside from Souths, here’s a quick look at the other sides playing this weekend.
CANBERRA: They are on a real roll and look extremely dangerous. It doesn't seem to be a real NRL season until we have watched a late-season surge from the Raiders.
I was most impressed with their halves against Cronulla. Sam Williams was outstanding. If he and Josh McCrone can continue their form, Souths might have some real troubles. No Jarrod Croker does make the task more difficult.
MANLY: They will do it real tough against North Queensland on Friday night if Jamie Lyon is forced out with injury, particularly with fellow centre Steve Matai already unavailable through suspension.
I thought there were some glaring weaknesses down their right side - in attack and defence - when Lyon came from the field. However there is still some hope they can be a factor, because surely they can't play as poorly two weeks in a row and they still have a number of champions in their line up.
NORTH QUEENSLAND: Like Canberra, the Cowboys are on a roll.
I thought their two front-rowers - James Tamou and Matt Scott - were outstanding against Brisbane. Between them they ran for almost 400 metres. Those are extraordinary numbers. These two have provided Thurston and Bowen a great platform to work off all year.
With Tate in such good form and the unexpected rise of Michael Morgan there is more to the Cowboys' game than ever before.
My tips: Manly - but only if Jamie Lyon plays - otherwise I will jump on the Cowboys and I think Souths can bounce back.
Week two of the finals should be exciting and enthralling.Sam Williams v Reynolds