Rabbitohs v Panthers: Five key points
An injury-ravaged Penrith side fought hard for 80 minutes but it wasn't quite enough as they were edged by an unusually sloppy South Sydney side on Sunday afternoon. Here are five talking points from the 20-16 win.
Penrith refuse to drop their heads
Disappointed Penrith coach Ivan Cleary praised the spirit of his charges after the game for never dropping their heads when in previous weeks they may have let the situation get the better of them.
After shooting out to a 12-0 lead then going 20-12 behind the side kept taking the fight to the premiers, clawing one try back and having a few pieces of bad luck that could have swung things their way.
"I thought the effort was really good, but just some big errors and things. I think they finished with six extra full sets of six by the end of the game and last week I think it was an extra nine or something.
"Probably the last two games [including last week's 34-24 home loss against Canberra] we had every right to be able to get the two points but couldn't get them. Certainly effort-wise it was very brave, the boys have really worked hard today."
Without blaming the side's massive injury toll he said it had contributed to a few rookie errors in the loss.
"You watch our games at the moment you could say there's a few rookie errors in there, however I thought today the boys showed a lot of resilience in that sense. That's been happening for a while.
"There were a few games there a few weeks back where the lads dropped their heads a bit. Today there was never any sign of that which was great. Something we're going to need to continue with over the next five weeks. It's all experience for these boys, some of these young fellas, it's the only way you get it, out in the coalface. It was another hard lesson today."
Souths take plenty from scrappy win
After absolutely blitzing Newcastle last week, Souths were forced into a grind against a resolute Penrith side.
"It was a scrappy, hard-fought win," was Rabbitohs captain Greg Inglis's assessment.
"Penrith came in here to play tonight. And the first 25-30 minutes, we didn't turn up. [There was] too much possession to them and too many penalties coming out.
"But one thing I can credit the boys for is we stuck in the game. Coming back from two tries down against a side like Penrith, who throws the ball around and plays footy a lot, with a never-say-die attitude, we'll take a lot out of that game. There's no doubt about it. [There's plenty to] work on through the week and obviously it starts on Monday when we come in, go through video and everything else."
More injury woes for Penrith
A nasty-looking – but completely accidental – tackle from Burgess brothers George and Tom on Penrith winger Robert Jennings looks to have forced the youngster out for an extended period with his brother George still some way off returning.
With his legs flat on the ground, Jennings was forced forward with the weight of both brothers on his back, pushing his head down near his knees, in an awkward 35th-minute tackle that forced him from the field.
"It's a bit of a concern, I think he might have done a significant hamstring injury there, that forced position. We're going to have to see how that one comes out but it's not looking real good," Cleary said.
"George is on the way back, he's had a couple of complications, there's not a lot of troops coming back too soon. That's just how it's been for us."
Cleary calls for professional foul ruling
One major turning point in the game occurred straight after half time when Bryce Cartwright broke the line and found Issac John in support. The five-eighth ended up being tackled due to a lack of support runners but his fullback, Will Smith, had been held back in back play by Souths winger Aaron Gray.
What could potentially have been an almost certain try went begging; by the time the referees called the play back for the penalty Penrith had lost momentum and gained no advantage from the illegal act, which left their coach scratching his head after the game.
"I thought we probably could have got a try early in the second half when Will Smith was held back; I thought I saw a professional foul," Cleary said.
"I would ask, what is a professional foul? We took the game 40 metres backwards and there was a lot of time spent on that.
"The question I want to ask is what is a professional foul? If it's going to stop six points which I believe is what happened – I'll ask the question [to referees boss Tony Archer]."
Souths own the touch line
Twice in the match with their side under pressure, in the 46th and 62nd minutes, the Rabbitohs got a group into a tackle and bundled the ball carrier from well infield over the touchline, much to the annoyance of Panthers players and stand-in skipper Elijah Taylor, who raised the issue with the officials.
Referee Jared Maxwell was adamant the play was within the rules, given the ball-carrier's momentum was never stopped in either case and the players weren't lifted.
"All the momentum is towards the sideline, all the momentum," he said after the second incident.
"They're entitled to do it."
It's a legitimate strategy for sides defending under pressure and while it will always give up a penalty if they continue after momentum is deemed halted, it will be a challenge for ball-carriers against South Sydney throughout the season.