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Souths hooker Damien Cook.

After being walloped by the Panthers in May, the Rabbitohs set about altering their defensive system in a move that now has them firmly back in title contention.

As they prepare to face Penrith 11 weeks on from that 56-12 flogging in Dubbo - having won every game in the meantime - South Sydney are eager to show just how much they've improved on Friday night.

Hooker Damien Cook anticipates the clash being "the biggest challenge of the year for us" with the winner at Suncorp Stadium to claim outright second spot two rounds out from the finals.

While no team has won the premiership in the same season as conceding 50 points in a match - something the Rabbitohs also did against the Storm in round nine - the changes Wayne Bennett's troops were forced to implement have restored their heavyweight status.

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"We've definitely got a different defensive mindset now. We've changed a few things around in our structure and how we defend as well," Cook said as he reflected on the round 11 defeat.

"I think that's been working really well for us ... this will be the biggest test for us this year so far and we'll be able to actually see how good this defensive process that we've got goes this weekend against a quality side like Penrith before we go into the finals.

"There were a couple of games before [Dubbo] we won and we lost a couple of close ones as well, so it probably didn't highlight the issue too much. But that [loss] definitely did that.

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"Especially talking about the Penrith and the Melbourne game as well, we lost to big scores. We had to make a quick change and pretty much after the Penrith game is where we had to do that.

"Hopefully, this weekend we can see the improvement."

But Cook said there hadn't been a "complete overhaul" in defence.

"I won't give away too much, but just different things in different scenarios on the field and positioning as well. We probably just gave the Panthers too much space and they tore us apart," he said.

Prop Junior Tatola can still recall coach Bennett's dissatisfaction in the dressing sheds after they were dismantled by Penrith.

"I don't think he said too many words, actually. It was more just his actions and just how he looked disappointed," Tatola said.

"We all saw how disappointed he was in us and we just changed it around since that game."

Scoring has never been an issue for the Rabbitohs, who have registered more points than everyone except Melbourne in 2021.

And South Sydney became the first team in history to reach 30 points in eight consecutive matches in last week's win over the Titans.

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Perhaps more crucially, they've only leaked five tries in the past three games, decreasing their average conceded points to 19 per match.

"A few weeks ago we were just letting in some simple tries. If we got a penalty or an error against us, a team getting a repeat set on us, they were seeming to score pretty easily," Cook said.

"We needed to pick up our resilience on our line and protecting our line and I think that's been a big improvement for us."

As the Rabbitohs powerfully regenerated since facing the Panthers, some would argue that Ivan Cleary's side trended in the opposite direction given the unlucky injury toll they endured.

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But with star halfback Nathan Cleary returning from a shoulder issue in round 21, Cook is adamant that Penrith remain an elite force.

"I still do believe that Melbourne and Penrith are the top two teams in the competition at the moment," he said.

"We're playing some good footy, but we've got to remember ... Penrith did give us a touch-up last time we played.

"I think it was a pretty good sign to see how well they were still playing when they lost their key players. They still won [a lot of] those games as well, so I think it's a great sign of their depth," he added.

"We've done the same as well, we've been missing a few players here and there and we've had some guys come up and do their job."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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