A "lot of naysayers" spurred South Sydney's unheralded forwards to build a bond now transferring to success on the field, according to back-rower Jaydn Su'A.
Following the losses of premiership-winners Sam Burgess, John Sutton and George Burgess, many thought the Rabbitohs pack would struggle in 2020.
And while the team's stunning attacking form has largely been credited to the playmakers, five-eighth Cody Walker said it wouldn't happen without the forwards, who he described as "the best part of our side for the whole season" and "unfairly criticised".
"It is what it is. Everyone's going to have their own opinion," Su'A said leading into Saturday's sudden-death final against the Eels.
"I guess [the criticism] does faze us in a way. But we're out there to not prove anyone wrong, but show each other that we have each other's backs and when it comes down to the nitty-gritty stuff that we'll be ready for whatever challenge comes our way."
Eels v Rabbitohs - Semi Final
Prop Junior Tatola, who scored two tries against the Knights last week, has been a huge improver this season.
Fellow front-rowers Tom Burgess and Liam Knight, lock Cameron Murray and edge forwards Bayley Sironen and Su'A himself have also stood up impressively as the year has worn on.
They can't wait to test themselves against the Eels, who boast Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Junior Paulo, Nathan Brown, Shaun Lane and Ryan Matterson in an all-star pack.
Souths drawing on double dose of prelim pain
"All year they've been one of the in-form packs of the comp. As a pack, I guess, we had a lot of doubters and a lot of naysayers," Su'A said.
"But we really thrive on challenges and this week's a massive challenge for us because we know what's at stake.
"As a pack, we need to come together and we need to fix up what happened last game [conceding a 14-0 lead to Newcastle] and start fast. We're really looking to match the Eels' intensity.
"They obviously got off to a really fast start against Melbourne. We know they're going to come out guns blazing so we're really excited."
Knight added that South Sydney's big men "sort of relished" being doubted and "came together as a group".
"I think we're obviously starting to hit our straps. I also think we can be better in a lot of areas so that's also pretty awesome," he said.
He praised interchange players Mark Nicholls, Jed Cartwright and Keon Koloamatangi for their contributions.
"We don't underrate our bench. We know how important they are to us and how big a job they've been doing all year, not alone the last couple of games," Knight said.
"There's not one guy you could pick out and say they've had a bad game here or there. They've all done amazing jobs and brought a lot of impact."
Tatola, who is averaging career-best numbers including 125 metres per match, earned widespread acclaim from his teammates.
But they cracked smiles when asked about his "shush" celebration - pressing a finger to his lips - after one of his tries.
"I've got no idea what goes through Junior's head," hooker Damien Cook said.
Match: Eels v Rabbitohs
Finals Week 2 -
Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Sydney
"He's got a couple of celebrations even when he hasn't been scoring tries. I'm not sure what he's been doing lately but it's good to see him get over the try-line and he's obviously enjoying himself as well."
Centre Dane Gagai said: "He's been one of our best throughout the year. His carries have been great, he's got the ball-playing ability for a big man.
"He laired up a bit on that [celebration], but I don't think forwards get over too much so he was pretty pumped about that.
"I just went up to him and reminded him not to ever to do that again. But I was happy for the big fella, he deserves it."