Wayne Bennett says his pre-season fear – that players would take advantage of the NRL's shelved ruck crackdown – was front and centre in a largely forgettable Good Friday affair at ANZ Stadium.
Not a point was scored from the 26th minute of the Rabbitohs 14-6 defeat of Canterbury, but lead referee Henry Perenara blew 20 penalties throughout a stodgy affair.
The 12-8 penalty count in Souths' favour was a noticeable departure from 2019's whistleblowing trends, with 33 per cent fewer penalties blown across the first five rounds this year compared to 2018.
Rabbitohs skipper Sam Burgess grew particularly frustrated as Canterbury successfully stifled his side by slowing down the ruck, remonstrating with Perenara as the pair left the field at halftime.
But Bennett declared the NRL's push for more free-flowing football and fewer penalties had resulted in players pushing the boundaries.
"I don't intend to get myself fined today, I've supported what the refs have been trying to do, which is give us more football, and I'm a fan of that,'' Bennett said.
"But I told them when I knew what was going down, the issue would be what was happening in the tackle.
"You all saw it today. It had a huge impact on the game because of what was going on with the ruck and play-the-ball area.
"I've never been in an era where players are less compliant than they've ever been.
"They stretch everything they can out on the field, and it puts more pressure on the referees as well.
"It's not criticism. It's a fact. It's what I'm seeing, and today was the worst I've seen with that situation."
As well as the policing of the ruck or lack thereof, South Sydney's clunky attack should also come under the microscope in the wash-up of their fifth win in six starts.
So should their impressive defensive effort, maintained right up until the final seconds when Canterbury pushed for a consolation try.
But with a contest heavy on the wrestle, the whistle and not much else, Bennett said it was inevitable that players, and in turn their coaches, would attempt to claim a competitive advantage, urging officials to simply "ref what's in front of you" to keep them in line.
"Players are players and once they realise a bit of slack is being cut, they'll take a bit more of it," Bennett said.
"You'll get co-operation from some teams but you won't get it from every team.
"We have refs out there to adjudicate, that's what they have to do.
"I'm not blaming them, they've tried to open the game up and have less penalties and downtime.
"If you talk about Lachlan Lewis and the Sam Burgess blow-up coming in at half-time, that was all to do with what happened with the play-the-ball area.
"What are you allowed to get away with? And Sam didn't want to tolerate that. That's what we'll see a lot more of.
"The solution is 'ref what's in front of you'. That's always been the solution.''