Rabbitohs v Bulldogs: Five key points
The Bunnies were never really in a contest that saw Canterbury roll through the middle with alarming ease throughout a dominant first half on Good Friday. Here are five talking points from the huge 42-12 win by the Bulldogs.
Big men get the job done
Canterbury's halves and outside backs certainly put the finishing touches on some attacking plays but those opportunities were created by the monstrous charges of their relentless pack. By the end of the game, six Canterbury forwards had run for more than 100 metres against just two for Souths. Even that represented a recovery from half-time, by which point James Graham had run for more metres than the entire Souths starting pack combined.
Arguably the most notable aspect of those metres was how many came post-contact – that is, Canterbury's big men kept rolling forward even after meeting the defensive line, and that was what Souths coach Michael Maguire was most disappointed in after the game.
"It's a game where you've got to put your body in front and we didn't do that in the first half. We've got to make sure we fix that because we move into the next game," he said.
"That game is not acceptable from where we're at so we have to have a good look at ourselves and make sure we get what we need out of that game."
Don't mention the Burgess factor (or short turnaround)
Asked how much the absence of talismanic forward Sam Burgess – combined with a five-day turnaround from Sunday's SCG slogfest – impacted the loss, Maguire was defiant.
"Nothing at all there. Nothing at all. I have a team in there that can perform better than what we did. It's up to us to make sure we do," Maguire said.
Without naming names, Canterbury coach Des Hasler also alluded to the significance of Burgess's absence as his side reversed a poor loss to Parramatta a week ago.
"It was obviously a good bounce-back for us but Souths had a few out, they were down on troops today. But it was good to get the win today," he said.
Burgess has been his side's best player over the opening three rounds and not only makes a huge impact in his carries and tackles but also lifts players around him. It's possible a few extra days' recovery may have seen him amazingly not miss a game after being stretchered off the SCG a week ago but Maguire wouldn't buy into whether the big Brit would even be back for Round 5.
"We'll have to wait and see," was all Maguire would say about Burgess's return, though he insisted his star lock was never a chance of lining up on Good Friday.
Milestone men celebrate in style
Canterbury centre Josh Morris hasn't scored more than one try in a game since a brace in Round 19, 2012 against Parramatta (which rounded out a remarkable run where he scored two tries three times in just four games).
They've been coming in dribs and drabs since, but fittingly his 200th game saw him cross twice in a big win.
“Very happy to cross for a double – someone told me it's been four years since I got a double!" Morris laughed when asked about the feat by NRL.com.
"To get a double in my 200th game on a Good Friday, I don't think you can have a better script."
It was a great game also for 100-gamer Josh Reynolds, who kicked beautifully, kick-chased with intent and showed plenty of maturity in his growing combination with Moses Mbye.
"I think they took the loss to the Eels personally and they really steer the team around well," Morris said of the halves.
"I think 'Grub' (Reynolds) has really showed some signs over the pre-season that he's matured as a player and I think you saw it out there today.
Johnston was ruled out mid-week
Winger Alex Johnston was a surprise omission from Maguire's side an hour before kick-off but he revealed after the game the speedy winger had tweaked a hammy a day or two out from the game and wasn't sure if he'd be back to face Manly next Thursday night.
"He just had a slight strained hammy so we'll just assess that as we keep moving forward," Maguire said after the game.
"We'll have to wait and see [how long he'll be out], the physios and doctors will sort that out. It sort of only happened yesterday or the day before so we'll have to sort that one out.
Completions always help
Canterbury completed at a stunning 95 per cent in the first half – with 23 of 24 sets – which is very rare in the modern game and while there are plenty of other factors that go into winning a game in the NRL, holding the ball certainly helps.
That leg-up helped Canterbury to a huge 63 per cent share of the first-half possession (and it was still a whopping 55 per cent for the game, despite some improvement by Souths in the second half).
Skipper James Graham said the team's solid defence came off the back of the extra energy their completions gave them.
"Because we were completing, you find that you have a little bit more energy in the tank to be able to pull off those plays [like forcing drop-outs]," Graham said.
"The lads that were involved in those tackles, two metres out from their tryline that managed to force a repeat set, that's a huge effort from them boys that were involved," he added.