South Sydney have got their season back on track with a superb 30-12 win over the Parramatta Eels in torrential rain at Accor Stadium.
The win saw the comeback of Latrell Mitchell, who made it through the 80 minutes unscathed but immediately withdrew himself from NSW contention. Speaking after the game on Fox League, he ruled himself out of the Origin decider to focus on club footy.
“I think I’m going to shut those headlines down now, I’m going to pull myself out and worry about Souths and focus on myself,” he said.
“They’ve got a real good team there, NSW, and good luck to them and (Matt) Burton in the centres. Give (Stephen) Crichton a go too, let him bleed in. I really want to focus on South Sydney and getting myself right for the backend of the season.”
The Bunnies produced one of their most controlled, most effective performances of the year to dispose of Parramatta: for a team that has made the most errors in the comp, they coped far better with the difficult conditions.
“They like to play quite expansively with a lot of offloads in their game, so the conditions were likely to limit them and that allowed us to tighten up and have a defensive mindset,” said Jason Demetriou.
“We were under the pump quite a bit, but the boys were in the right headspace and when you’re there you handle those kind of things.
“The conditions allowed us to play a step deeper and get past the man. Our skill level tonight was outstanding. Our first try was as good as you’re going to see in dry conditions, let alone wet.
“Although we were conservative at times when we needed to be, our skill level in the conditions was good.”
The return of Latrell Mitchell was always set to be the major talking point, and while he did not perform miracles on his first game since Round 5, his addition to the backline shape seemed to move it just slightly deeper and further away from the defensive line, enabling more fluid movement with fewer errors.
“It keeps him focused,” said Demetriou. “It shows a fair commitment from him to his teammates and to his club that he wants to perform here. I think it shows a bit of respect to the Blues as well. After a great performance, he’s confident that those guys can get the job done.
“He’s in better shape than he was in Round 2. Coming back in Round 16, every bloke out there has played half a season, they’re battle-hardened, a lot fitter and used to the game, so for him to come back and see out the 80 was pretty good.”
Parramatta fans will again scratch their heads at this team. After their best showing of 2022 last time out against the Roosters, they were comprehensively beaten. Their quest for the top four took a major set back tonight, especially after victories for Cronulla and North Queensland earlier in the day.
Brad Arthur has lamented his side’s inability to compete at the same level each week and this was another of their off nights. For all that it was close to Souths’ best, it was enabled by an Eels side that failed to compete.
“We didn’t have any field position,” said Arthur. “We made nine errors out of red zone, so we gifted them opportunity. In those conditions, we were playing at the wrong end of the field.
“In different weeks we’ve got different blokes owning their jobs. We’re not playing well as a team every week. I don’t think it was anything to do with effort tonight.
“You need 17 players owning their job and we’re not getting that each week. It’s got to be individual accountability. You’ve got to want to do it. I’m not seeing any short cuts during the week at training.”
For Souths, they are now on 8 wins and run into the Knights and Bulldogs. They have lacked for consistency in 2022, and must back this win up with further performances to keep their finals hopes alive.
Lachlan Ilias, dragged before half time in the Bunnies’ last outing, was also excellent. His kicking continually forced Parramatta to start from deep in their own end and allowed his forwards – Tom Burgess chief among them – to arc up defensively.
Burgess was exceptional, worth close to 200m with ball in hand, and the trio of Tevita Tatola, Jai Arrow and Keaon Kolomatangi weren’t far behind. It was even more impressive from the middles given that Souths lost Hame Sele in the early stages to a hamstring problem and Mark Nicholls in the second half to a concussion.
The conditions were dreadful, with splashes around the feet and water pooled in the corners, but the wet would not stop the Bunnies playing their footy when the chance arose.
They forced a drop out early on and, from the resulting field position, Cody Walker found Alex Johnston on the left, and the winger had all the smarts to aim low and slide at the line.
Parra were also trying to get air under the ball, but with less success. Reagan Campbell-Gillard fumbled a play the ball in the shadow of the sticks and presented a full set of six in the Parramatta end.
The last tackle play appeared to be going nowhere when Jaxson Paulo picked the ball off the deck on the right wing, but he put in a crossfield kick that Isaiah Tass rose high to catch and then offload to Jai Arrow in one motion for a spectacular Souths try.
The weather-defying play continued. Souths again went towards Paulo, with Campbell Graham’s excellent catch-pass allowing the winger to get along the outside.
He got the ball down acrobatically in the corner, but Waqa Blake had done enough to force him into touch before the grounding.
Having almost gone three tries behind, Parra sparked into life. It was a familiar path to success for the Eels: Shaun Lane hit a crash line, got the arms free and found Clint Gutherson rushing on. He juggled the ball but clung on for the try.
The throwback nature of the game that was brought about by the weather was impacting the scrums. Souths won one against the head and very nearly scored through Cam Murray, only for an arm from Lane to dislodge the ball.
Souths then lost Graham in a bad collision with Blake, but continued the make all the running. They forced four repeat sets on the Eels’ line but could not break the wall down.
After all that, the Eels decided to give them a hand: Michell Moses attempted a needless tap on pass in the shadow of half time, batting the ball straight to Johnston for an easy run to the line.
Souths had been profligate in the first half – their 18-6 lead might have been more – and they blew another try early in the second. Again it was Graham, returned from his HIA, who created the opportunity, but his pass was just behind Paulo.
His namesake, Junior Paulo, then left with for an HIA, joining Mark Nicholls, who had already departed and failed his test. Having already lost Sele earlier in the piece, it left Souths very skinny on the bench going into the final quarter.
The rain had begun to fall again in earnest, but it not not dissuade Souths. Graham smashed Lane and forced an error, before finally getting his winger Paulo into the corner for a try. This time, though Blake got over, he could not stop the acrobatic dive.
It was party time at Accor Stadium. Mitchell scattered Reed Mahoney, fed Ilias and he found Damien Cook on his inside to skirt away. The pile on that followed showed how much it meant to those in cardinal and myrtle.
Parramatta did fire up before the close, with Gutherson adding another late, but South Sydney had long since packed up. The night was theirs.