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ANALYSIS: Souths cop physical battering from powerful Parra - and get found out

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19th May, 2023
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Parramatta hadn’t beaten Souths in six games. The Bunnies were on a six game winning streak. So guess what happens?

Just when you think the 2023 NRL season has found some shape, it jags another way again, with the Eels pulling off a spectacular boilover to defeat the Rabbitohs 36-16.

They didn’t have it all their own way, either: Souths lead 16-12 going into the final half hour, while the Eels lost Andrew Davey to a head knock early on and Ryan Matterson to a calf problem just moments into the second half, with his Origin place now in doubt.

Despite missing two from their pack, Brad Arthur’s men dominated the collision. They set about Souths physically early on and never let go. Junior Paulo played 73 minutes in the middle and from his hard work, Mitch Moses and Dylan Brown flourish.

“The results haven’t been there but it hasn’t been through effort or application at training or in preparation,” said Arthur.

“We just haven’t been getting right on the day for 80 minutes. We got it right tonight. If we keep that attitude and keep coming with that fight, we’ll give ourselves a chance to put some back to back wins, which is going to be really important to turn it around.”

Sometimes when you get put in situations where you have to challenge them, they might be prepared to do that and we learn a bit about them.

Souths had managed some sublime moments in attack to keep Parra within reach in the first half.

Cody Walker was exceptional, creating two tries from next to nothing for his team, and Latrell Mitchell managed several characteristically impactful moments.

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But it wasn’t enough to turn the side. Jason Demetriou’s men lost the middle by a wide margin and, with that, the game.

“You have to nail your process and we just didn’t do that,” said the Souths coach.

“They were more motivated than us in key areas of the game and you have to credit Parramatta, they came to play. Their pack, Paulo in particular, was outstanding. 

“We conceded six tries – in the last four weeks we’ve conceded six combined. That was a good lesson for us. We have to find ways to be on the up every week.

“Our forwards have been outstanding for the whole season so far, but we weren’t quite at that mark tonight. If you’re not there, you’ll get turned over. It’s a good lesson for us.”

Souths challenged physically by Parra – and found lacking

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These two share plenty of similarities stylistically, at least in part one of their plan. Both like to generate metres through their forwards rather than backs, with Parramatta attempting to create second phase and short sides off their big men, while South Sydney prefer to hit their front and go through hands.

There was no doubt that Parra were the more successful in the first half at enacting their plan. They made more metres, with a particular lead in post-contact metres, and led the offload count 9-3. 

Paulo and Matterson, while he was on, were dominating, while J’Maine Hopgood kept up his outstanding start to life in first grade. 

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of it all was the adversity that Parramatta went through, given the injuries Davey and Matterson.

Paulo played 73 minutes in the front row beside Wiremu Greig, Makahesi Makatoa and Ofahiki Ogden, all of whom have sat on the bench unused at times in the last year.

Arthur hasn’t always trusted his rotation, but he had no choice here. He needn’t have worried.

The physical domination was total, with the Bunnies unable to contain the momentum in the middle, or the flow-on effects out wide. In the past, the stylistic difference has favoured Souths. Not tonight.

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Moses gets one over on Ilias

Parramatta missed Mitchell Moses badly in their defeat to Canberra last week, but he was back with a vengeance tonight. 

Within the first five minutes, he had set up a try with a classic short side play – there’s few better exponents in the NRL – and ended up with four try assists in total.

He was, as ever, highly effective with the boot as well, constantly dictating terms to the Souths back thrree.

Compare to his opposite number, Lachlan Ilias, who endured a tough night. He sent two kicks out on the full, one of which led directly to a Parra try, while also missing the crucial tackle for Bailey Simonsson’s first before the break. 

This was a big test for Ilias: while he has been very good in his time in first grade, and has improved on a strong first year with an even better second, he has rarely been asked to dig his side out of trouble from deep. 

It’s a simple aspect of the game to pick out, but it is one at which Moses has always excelled.

His game management is built around the ability to kick long and force field position back on an opponent. Ilias could do well to look and learn, because it is the most glaring deficiency in his game at the moment.

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Souths’ stars keep them in the game

Souths love Indigenous Round and make it a major part of the culture of the club, so it is probably not surprising that three of their proudest First Nations players were at the fore.

Walker was exceptional, at times single handedly rescuing Souths from the various holes that Parramatta dug for them. Mitchell wasn’t as involved as he might have liked, but what he did was superb too, and Alex Johnston’s journey up to the tryscorer’s list continued.

Souths’ two tries are worth describing in full, because even when it wasn’t their night, they provided the two standout moments of the game.

The first saw Ilias take the ball to contact, but offload it straight to Junior Paulo. No bother, as Mitchell stole the ball from the prop, went over to Walker, who was smashed by Will Penisini, but somehow managed to stay on his feet and alive in the play, icing a long pass to Johnston at the corner.

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Then, with the half running out, Walker found Mitchell on the inside out play, who returned it to Walker, who flung it wide to Johnston to score. It was poetry in motion, pure invention. Whenever they tell you there aren’t any footballers anymore, show them that.

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