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Storm slaughter second-rate Souths as 'a myriad of errors' hammer the final nail into Demetriou's coaching coffin

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25th April, 2024
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Having a week off to recharge their batteries during the bye did nothing to stop South Sydney’s season from hell descending further into the abyss. 

Jason Demetriou received a stay of execution from the Rabbitohs after a spirited performance against Cronulla but the speculation about when, not if, he will get the punt will ramp up after Thursday night’s thrashing in Melbourne. 

The Storm romped to a 32-4 half-time lead before taking their foot off the throttle as they cruised to a 54-20 triumph to improve to a 6-1 record in first place. South Sydney’s record is the opposite, as is their position on the ladder.

Melbourne’s only concern was a hamstring strain suffered by Xavier Coates in scoring his third try late in the first half but the damage appears to be minor with the Maroons winger likely to be back well before Origin I in June. 

Kiwi prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona also felt a tweak and after recently spending time out, he also did not finish the match as a precaution.

Rabbitohs a rabble in all areas

There were worrying signs everywhere for Souths but it all stemmed from a seeming lack of commitment to the contest. 

They looked like boys playing against men as Melbourne manhandled them in the middle of the ruck and then sprinted around them out wide with ease. 

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The Rabbitohs were wearing a Navy-themed outfit for the Anzac Day clash and the puns were overflowing as they looked totally rudderless, all at sea as they sunk without a trace.

Souths were flat-footed in attack, with passes just a fraction behind the ball receiver or players standing still when they should have been running onto it on the burst.

In defence, they were swamped by the Storm on the majority of occasions. 

The Melbourne ball carriers were routinely winning the ruck, accentuating the back-pedalling effect, leading to Jahrome Hughes and Cameron Munster having a surfeit of time and space to launch their attacking raids with nine line breaks and 39 tackle breaks telling the statistical tale. 

And the Bunnies paid the price for allowing offloads as the Storm forwards constantly stood in ineffective tackles with an arm free to set off second-phase play. 

“Very disappointing, especially with the two-week lead-in that we had,” Demetriou admitted. “We started off loose, 10-0 down, and we fought our way back, started getting some resolve in our D, got some field position, scored some points and looked back in the contest but then one kick goes dead and we don’t touch the ball for seven sets and go in at 32-4.

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“It was a myriad of errors in terms of defensively that we’ve practiced. We’re just not nailing them.”

Demetriou welcomed back Maroons forward Jai Arrow early from a shoulder injury and switched NSW second-rower Keaon Koloamatangi to the middle as he again tinkered with his line-up in search of a spark to ignite his side. 

While they were missing suspended fullback Latrell Mitchell and injured stars Alex Johnston, Tevita Tatola and Campbell Graham, the depleted roster will not be enough to excuse the team’s insipid efforts this year under Demetriou. 

On the back of missing the finals last year, the writing appears to be on the wall for Demetriou and he may not get any, let alone many, more chances to save his job, particularly with Wayne Bennett available next year and the likelihood of him returning to Redfern getting stronger by the week. 

“It will be same again,” Demetriou said when asked about the speculation over his future restarting. “It’s not going to change unless we start putting in performances that get the results we want, but, more importantly, performances we know we’re capable of.

“There’s patches in that game where we get back to 36-20, showed a lot of resolve, but it’s either side of half-time again, three weeks in a row where we’ve let the game go. The players have got to take some ownership of that and take some ownership of their own performances and start executing the things that we know we can.”

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Men against boys in a stroll in AAMI Park

Storm coach Craig Bellamy was pleased to see “plenty of energy, plenty of intent” from his team, only docking them for the first 20 minutes of the second half when they let Souths score three tries on the trot.

Melbourne didn’t take long to get on top with a Nick Meaney break leading to Hughes chipping ahead for Ryan Papenhuyzen to collect the bouncing ball from opposing fullback Jye Gray in the sixth minute. 

Coates notched the first of his treble a few minutes later when Munster disregarded the six-again call to catch Rabbitohs winger Taane Milne out of position with a clever kick to the left counter. 

Souths looked like they would hit back in the 15th minute when winger Jacob Gagai crossed the stripe out wide but was held up by Will Warbrick in a brilliant one-on-one try-saver. 

“That’s one of the best try-savers you will ever see,” claimed Immortal halfback Andrew Johns on Nine commentary with a double dose of hyperbole. “He was a thousand to one to stop that.”

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It was a great tackle but hardly an all-timer. 

But it didn’t matter a few minutes later when Cody Walker conjured up their first try after repeated sets on Melbourne’s line. 

He put Meaney in the spin cycle with a mesmerising run to ensure Gagai would have no problems getting the ball down untouched in the corner. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25: Xavier Coates of the Storm breaks a tackle to score a try during the round eight NRL match between Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs at AAMI Park on April 25, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Xavier Coates breaks a tackle to score a try. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

“I’d still love to see him in the six for NSW. He’s a magician,” Johns added. 

Walker is indeed the incumbent after stepping up for the Blues’ Origin III win last year but needs to improve his output to get the nod ahead of Matt Burton, Jarome Luai or Nicho Haynes for the June 5 series opener. 

Just when it looked like the visitors would put up a fight, they dished up some terrible defence with Hughes sucking in the right edge, culminating in Milne rushing up on a decoy for Coates to have a gallop to the stripe. 

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A Shawn Blore offload, followed by an Asofa-Solomona charge led to Harry Grant spinning the ball to the right for Meaney to gift a four-pointer to Warbrick. 

Munster then unveiled a piece of high class when he lobbed another pinpoint kick to the flank despite being off balance in the middle of the field for Coates to claim his third, unfortunately pulling up lame afterwards.

Grant spun over from dummy-half late in the first half and Papenhuyzen did likewise early in the second, with Milne the defensive culprit for a fourth time, as the Storm shot out to a 32-point advantage. 

Papenhuyzen has been mentioned by new Blues coach Michael Maguire as a potential inclusion for this year’s series after a string of injuries have denied him the opportunity in recent years. 

He now has seven games under his belt as he blazed down the comeback trail and Maroons coach Billy Slater, who knows a thing or two about what makes the Storm tick, said on Nine commentary that it was a “scary” prospect for opposition teams that Melbourne now finally have their first-choice spine fit and firing after a couple of seasons of continual changes.  

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“Hughesy has been on fire the last couple of weeks but I thought the other three it was their best game of the year,” Bellamy said.

“They were very effective. Very influential in the score at the end.”

Bellamy addressed speculation about Hughes potentially wanting to return home to Queensland and said he was not taking much notice of the rumour after the star half said he was not looking for the exit.

Gagai and Milne grabbed a try each to lessen the scoreboard embarrassment in the middle stages of the second half. 

And when Cameron Murray crossed for a well-deserved try from a Dean Hawkins high kick collected by Isaiah Tass on the hour mark, the Rabbitohs were sniffing out a miracle comeback at 36-20 down. 

Munster made sure there would be nothing of the sort when he backed up some fine lead-up work from Hughes and Papenhuyzen to reinstate a 22-point buffer with 13 minutes left. 

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Tyran Wishart, deputising for Coates on the left wing, touched down in the closing stages with bench forward Joe Chan also getting onto the crowded scoresheet to complete the rout.

Milne, who has a reputation for foul play, only enhanced that poor record with a malicious tackle at Munster’s legs when he was standing after being held in the final minute, and was banished to the sin bin and should get a lengthy ban for a tackle which could have caused serious damage.

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