Rabbitohs skipper John Sutton has laid the blame for his side's slow start in their 22-18 defeat by arch-rivals the Roosters literally on his own two feet.
Back on the park for the first time in six weeks having recovered from a knee injury, Sutton gave a brutal assessment of his comeback in the No.6 jumper after the Rabbitohs slumped to a 22-2 deficit with 50 minutes gone.
The Rabbitohs missed the short kicking game of suspended halfback Adam Reynolds throughout the first half, and despite Sutton playing a large part in two late tries that saw them almost pinch a win in the dying minutes, a return to the pack for their captain looks likely when Reynolds returns next week.
"My execution at the start of the game let us down a bit," Sutton said.
"I'll have to work on my kicking game. It was pretty average tonight.
"I put in the hard work at training. I'll keep continuing to do that. I expect better from myself. Especially in that first half, the last tackle options weren't up to scratch.
"I'll be working hard this week to get it back up there."
Coach Michael Maguire said Sutton was "being a bit harsh on himself", and indicated his return from injury had come a week earlier than expected.
Veteran winger Lote Tuqiri admitted the loss of Reynolds had been keenly felt by the side, but backed his skipper to hit his straps after his first run in a month and a half.
"We obviously missed [Reynolds] with our last play options but you live and you learn," Tuqiri said.
"We have a squad mentality and I thought Sutton stepped up in his first game back and he'll be better for that run next week.
"Whoever plays, Reyno's a big part of our team and it'll be good to have him back, but if we did our job in that first half tonight it might have been a different result.
"We train all week and all year with Sutto and Keary in there, so it's all the same, we're used to preparing and playing with those boys in the halves. That didn't affect us."
Maguire pin-pointed the 42nd minute sin-binning of centre Kirisome Auva'a for a professional foul after a break from Mitchell Pearce as the game's turning point, but said he had no issue with the call provided there was consistency in rulings across the NRL.
"If they are doing it tonight they'll [hopefully] do it for the rest of the competition," Maguire said.
"They scored two tries in that time [that Auva'a was sin binned] and it was probably the difference in that game."
Souths will now finish the regular season in third place, though losses to North Queensland and now the Roosters – sandwiching an unconvincing win over the Bulldogs last week – leaves the side heading into the finals without the momentum they had built up a month ago.
Should Manly claim an away win against the Cowboys in North Queensland, the Bunnies will be back at Allianz Stadium again next week to take on the second-placed Roosters for the second week running. A loss from the Sea Eagles will hand the minor premiership to the Tricolours and set them on course for a clash with the Rabbitohs in week 1 of the semis.