The Roar
The Roar


ANALYSIS: Souths bludge their way to Dragons win - but on this showing, put the line through them

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12th August, 2023
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It’s a win, but little more. Souths need to stay in the Finals race and did, thanks to a 26-14 victory over St George Illawarra, but it would be hard to say they achieved much more at Barlow Park in Cairns.

This was as bad as we’ve seen this year in the NRL, with the Bunnies miles off it and the Dragons just as bad. Jason Demetrou asked his side to show him something different after last week’s defeat to Cronulla, but he can’t have meant like this.

There were 26 errors and while that isn’t always a problem, it is when they’re coming early in the tackle count in yardage situations. This wasn’t two teams dropping the ball trying to force passes, it was just bad football.

Even the officials got in on the act: a decision to allow a second half try came despite overwhelming evidence that half the Souths team were offside for a kick. As Bunker calls go, it was one of the worst of the year.

Souths, at least, were good enough individually to put together enough moments of quality to settle the result in their favour.


Latrell Mitchell made three crucial interventions that lead to tries, enough to create a margin of victory that looked more comfortable than it was.

The first and last were for Alex Johnston, who inched closer still to Billy Slater on the all-time list, with another excellent offload in the middle for Cody Walker. Beyond that, quality was thin on the ground.

“It’s been a tough week, it’s been a tough week for all of us,” said Demetriou.

“Not because of external noise but because we know we aren’t playing as well as we can. As a coach, that’s what probably frustrates me when the boys don’t play to their potential.

“What I was happy with is our resilience and our (defence). We dropped some ball in the first half, got off to a great start and then probably overplayed a little bit and came up with some pretty ordinary errors.

“(But) if you keep teams to 14 points we’re gonna be hard to beat.”


Interim coach Ryan Carr will kick himself that his side didn’t make more of a game where their opponents did everything to win. It won’t matter on the ladder, but every win means something when you have so few of them.

“Getting on that plane to come up here, we weren’t going to get beat on effort and we weren’t gonna get beaten on fight,” he said.

“And I don’t think we did today in those two areas, which is super pleasing, because people will look at the scoreline and say ‘well, you did get beaten’ – well we didn’t get beaten in those two areas, which I’m super proud of.”

Souths scrape through

It started so promisingly. The Bunnies hit their big two plays straight out of the blocks: a right shift got Taane Milne free and, when he was hauled down, they got the chance to put on their favourite move.

Souths went coast to coast, but crucially, Cam Murray straightened the line up with a 10m dart that attracted three Dragons, before shovelling on to Mitchell for the catch-pass that got Johnston away. It was exceptional stuff.


Then…nothing. The defence took time off to allow the Dragons to strike back, and then the attack went too, with a raft of errors, forward passes and missed connections. It was dreadful stuff.

The only thing that helped, this week, was that St George Illawarra are rubbish. A better team would have been well ahead, but the Dragons’ passing was so awry that it gave them no chance of capitalising.

It wasn’t that they were making errors per se, just that they missed their target with what should be simple passes, allowing the defence to reset and repel with ease.

The second half started in the same vein. The Dragons dropped a kick and then missed the easiest of tackles to let the Bunnies back in front, but Souths dropped the kick off and Ben Hunt struck straight back. It was that kind of game.

There was another passage at the end. Souths had just created a 12-point gap, but from the return set, a horror pass from Damien Cook gifted good ball to the Dragons. Mikaele Ravalawa dropped it on the first play. It was that kind of game.

Where can the Dragons get better?

St George Illawarra were a bit lucky, really, that their terrible performance was met by another, equally bad showing from their opponents. Had Souths played half well, this would have been 50 points.


On the other hand, they were unlucky that they faced a team on a terrible day and it was South Sydney: had this been the Titans or Manly or Parra then they might well have won. Ultimately, these were two teams that are bang out of form, but one had Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker in it, who just about saved the day.

Given that the Dragons have nothing to play for, the hope must be that they learn something. The long-held belief has been that the youth can give them hope going forward, but it was a mixed bag on that front.

The Feagai twins had a nightmare, with errors and poor tackling sprinkled throughout, while Jacob Liddle could barely find his target from dummy half.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Tyrell Sloan remains one of their most threatening players and Toby Couchman continues to impress through the middle. There’s plenty of upside to a lot of what the Dragons are doing, especially in giving young blokes a run.

Ryan Couchman, Toby’s twin, didn’t let anyone down and Connor Muhleisen looked a lot more secure off the deck in his time on the field.

With youth comes errors and inconsistencies, but everyone knows and expects that. In fairness, Hunt has more than 300 games of NRL and was a lot like that today, too.

There’s still a lot deadwood to clear out for Shane Flanagan, but expectations next year will be tempered and they’re finding out a lot now.