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Cowboys snap losing streak against sorry Souths - but don't be fooled, this was still poor from Payten's men

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18th May, 2024
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From the sublime to the ridiculous.

It’s a fair assessment of Saturday at Magic Round, where one of the games of the season, a thriller between the Sharks and Roosters, was followed by North Queensland’s 28-22 over South Sydney.

This was two teams who had not won in weeks – five each to be precise – and while the Cowboys did get over the line here, that was about as much as could be said.

There were errors on errors, plenty in attack and more in defence. Enough of them were by Souths, who are truly dreadful defensively, to ensure that Todd Payten returned to the winner’s circle but beyond that, the positives were thin on the ground.

“I’ve been consumed by the job, more so in the last two weeks than I ever have before – make of that what you will,” said the coach.

“We had to scrap and scrape and came away with an ugly win.

“When you lose more than three on the trot the first one is always hardest to get. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy.”

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Nothing is going right for South Sydney, a fact best exemplified by the two crucial tries for the Cowboys, either side of half time, coming from a player that the threadbare Bunnies released just weeks ago in Braidon Burns.

Their attack remains, Latrell Mitchell’s occasional moments aside, bad and the defence is even worse.

It’s possible they’ll also be without Dion Teaupa next week too after he was binned late for a high shot on Tom Dearden and may well see more from the judiciary. Dearden himself was also sat down, but for a professional foul.

Ben Hornby will have been under no illusions about the size of the task he faced, but even so, he couldn’t have envisaged so much going wrong so quickly.

“I was happy that we are getting closer,” said Hornby.

“It’s another step in the right direction for us.” 

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Latrell has another strange night

A theme emerged last week around the Bunnies’ fullback that continued here.

In attack, he’s the best Souths have, scoring one in the first half that was all individual skill and strength and laying on another for the returning Alex Johnston that showcased his killer long pass.

In the two games since he completed his suspension, Souths have scored seven tries and Mitchell has either scored or assisted six of them.

But in defence, he’s come back worse than ever.

Last week against the Dragons, Mitchell was responsible for several against due to poor kick defence and while tonight wasn’t as obviously poor as that, he was still clearly well below what a million dollar fullback should be.

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With Souths leading 12-10 in the first half, we got a perfect example of the current failing.

Four minutes before the break, the Cowboys had Souths scrambling at the corner after a Reece Robson break, culminating with a kick to the corner that Mitchell eventually snuffed out with tackle on Tom Dearden.

He clung on a little long and appeared to be caught in the eye by Dearden’s boot, staying down momentarily after the ball left the ruck.

When it came back a play later, he was back to his feet but was visibly blowing, on his haunches as teammates made the tackle.

Play went right and, if you paused the tape and looked into the background, it was clear that the fullback was absolutely gassed, making no effort to get across or count numbers.

For the whole set, which ended with Braidon Burns scoring on the right, Mitchell defended on the left wing.

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If we were being kind, he had just copped a bang to the nose and was a little hurt. But plenty of others would have bust a gut to get involved: Tom Trbojevic tore a hamstring on this very ground a week ago trying his heart out to stop a try.

There’s a philosophical argument to be had around where Mitchell is in this team.

He’s the best player Souths have in attack and clearly a massive leader in the group, but also a huge drain emotionally and a target for everything negative.

Moving him to the centres, as many have mooted, might only cause more heat, more pressure and more outside noise for a group that already has too much of it.

It’s a circle that Ben Hornby can’t be expected to square. Next year, it’s top of Wayne Bennett’s agenda.

The Cowboys will take nothing from this

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This is two points in the bag for North Queensland, but it’d be hard to make the case that it was much more.

They played with their food in the second half, making a ridiculous amount of errors as all the intensity in the game floated off into the Brisbane night.

Prior to that, it was defensive intensity that was lacking: the Johnston try was a great pass from Mitchell, but the number counting made it completely obvious where the ball should go.

A better team than Souths would have defeated the Cowboys tonight. In the second half, they completed south of 70% but weren’t punished. That’s not sustainable.

It’s all very frivolous rugby league at the moment, and while they might get away with it against the Wests Tigers at home next week, they have the Warriors, Roosters and Panthers in June and will get flogged if nothing changes in how they approach their footy, especially defensively.

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