They had to do it the hard way with a second consecutive slow start, but the South Sydney Rabbitohs made it seven wins on the hop with victory in Canberra over the Raiders last night to kick-off Round 8.
There is plenty of unpack from the game, but the performance half Adam Reynolds put together during the second 40 was outstanding for the visitors, and speaks volumes of his influence over one of the genuine premiership contenders.
And yet, bafflingly, he can’t land a new contract at Redfern, with all the talk in the last few days that he will be heading off to Cronulla under new coach Craig Fitzgibbon from 2022.
Reynolds is consistent, and even at his age, still one of the best in the game with an outstanding kicking game and brilliant vision as was on display last night, being involved in the lead-up to plenty of South Sydney’s scoring opportunities. Not only that, but he is an excellent goal-kicker, only throwing more cold water on the decision of the Rabbitohs to seemingly not make his contract a priority.
While he didn’t have an assist directly credited to him last night, Reynolds had a blinder of a second-half, where he has averaged almost 400 metres per game off the boot. His long-range kicking game allows the creative players like Damien Cook and Cody Walker to go to work around him, playing their natural roles and games, and it suits South Sydney’s game style down to the ground.
Of course, it’s not just Reynolds and the performance of the rest of the team over the last seven weeks has been outstanding, but every top team needs their general, the guy who leads and directs them around the park, and for Wayne Bennett’s side, that man is Reynolds.
Last night’s game certainly may not be the cleanest performance the Rabbitohs have ever put together though, and some worrying elements are creeping into their play over the last fortnight which Bennett will want to address in a hurry.
Chief among them is the defence, to go with the slow start two weeks in a row. Despite the Raiders being rocked in the pre-game by the late withdrawal of George Williams to go with a host of other absences including captain Jarrod Croker and gun fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, the Rabbitohs still found themselves behind on the scoreboard at halftime for the second week on the trot.
Just like last week over the Gold Coast Titans, the men in cardinal and myrtle were able to come from behind and get the job done, but it wasn’t all that pretty, and still asks plenty of questions of the side.
Giving away a headstart might work against the Titans or a busted-up Raiders outfit, but do it again against sides like the Storm or Panthers in the coming weeks, or once we get to September and knockout rugby league, and rest assured it won’t work so well for the Bunnies.
There is a line of thought which would suggest wins at this point of the season are good no matter how you get them, but given the trend creeping in over the last two weeks, remembering they ended up letting in 30 points last week against the Titans, it’s complacency Bennett will want to stamp out as the Rabbitohs look to push for the premiership.
They are one of the favourites, right up there against the Panthers at this point, but they must make it happen this year because Reynolds leaving isn’t going to do their chances and premiership window any good moving forward.
Of course, you’d still much prefer to be in a camp with seven straight victories than that of the Green Machine, who had another second-half fade out to make it four losses on the bounce.
It’s the third week in a row they have been completely and utterly overwhelmed during the second half, and questions need to be asked of coach Ricky Stuart in last night’s encounter. The way he managed his bench almost certainly helped the visitors over the line.
Despite clearly looking gassed throughout the second half – and it’s hardly a surprise given their injury toll and the need to essentially play an extra forward during the game – the Raiders failed to utilise all their players to the fullest extent.
Ryan James may have put in an excellent first stint, but was never seen again after his 23 minutes of action while Iosia Soliola played just nine minutes and Siliva Havili under half an hour.
Three players playing limited minutes puts immense pressure on the remaining figures in the team, and that was exactly the way it seemed last night, with Canberra falling away badly during the second half and struggling to match the intensity of the Rabbitohs during the second 40.
That could also have something to do with what Wayne Bennett said to his troops during the halftime break, with Bennett widely acknowledged to be one of the best ‘halftime coaches’ in the game.
That was on full display in Canberra last night, as well as the multitude of reasons South Sydney should move heaven and earth to keep their gun half.
Alas, it doesn’t look like it’ll happen, and the Rabbitohs premiership window will slam shut at the end of the year.
Now, the question will be whether they can find that glory before it does.
If they can address their defence and first halves, it’d take a brave man to write them off completely.