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ANALYSIS: Souths lowly Broncos but could drop competitive points for 14th player

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Another week, another statement. The Souths are the real deal in 2023, putting the Broncos ahead of the table at the epee with a dominating 32-6 win at Suncorp Stadium.

The old adage is that championships are won by defense, and this game certainly was. For a long stretch of the first half, South Sydney held off waves of attacks from the Broncos, only to hit the hosts just before the break and then go wild after.

However, the Bunnies are in danger of losing their competitive points after it emerged on Saturday morning that they potentially had a 14th player on the pitch for 30 seconds during the second half.

The NRL is studying footage from the 53rd minute when Jai Arrow entered the pitch before compatriot Tom Burgess headed for the exchange bench. Souths reportedly had at least a few games in possession during that span.

They actually had a brief 14-12 advantage because Brisbane center Herbie Farnworth was in the trash for tripping.

In the past, teams have been heavily fined or lost their competition points for a win when they had an extra player on the field.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Rabbits better than last year

No one ever doubted the Bunnies with the ball – just ask last weekend’s victims, Penrith – but the difference this year is in defence. Their resilience was more than a game for the Broncos offense.

“Resilience and a desire to protect our line was all it took tonight,” coach Jason Demetriou said.

“Defensively I was really happy tonight. After a slow start we had real intention and made it difficult for Brisbane to get off their line. We took their attacking players out of the game and allowed our boys to play at football.

When the Souths had their chance with footy, they did what they always do. Campbell Graham scored three, Latrell Mitchell scored two, Cody Walker got one and Lachlan Ilias proved why the Rabbitohs were so willing to let Adam Reynolds go.

Reynolds was, for his part, by far the best in brown and gold. His time at Souths was fresh in his mind and more than once it was clear he knew the playbook inside out, producing two turnovers by anticipating moves.

For once, however, he didn’t have enough to go with her. Payne Haas and Ezra Mam were both banned after hip tackles last week knocking out two of Brisbane’s most powerful weapons, and Reece Walsh had his quietest night yet in a Broncos jersey.

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It’s not like they haven’t had opportunities either. Cam Murray was ruled out for professional misconduct early on, but the scores were tied when he returned. When Herbie Farnworth sat out for a trip in the second half, Souths made the most of it.

“I thought we started well, but we were on a slippery slope for most of the game,” Kevin Walters said. “We had a good position on the pitch, but a few opportunities that we didn’t take and eventually paid for by not creating any pressure on the scoreboard. The longer the game got, the worse we got.

“You have to seize your opportunities. The Souths have been a good team for a long time and they showed up tonight with a good mentality. They played better than us. We got what we deserved and they got what they deserved.

Forwards beat backs

When the Broncos are at their best, it’s when their back carries the foot. They were much more expansive than expected – perhaps encouraged by a male advantage – but the main thing was the hard stuff.

If Brisbane get a set that goes winger, winger, cross, cross, kick, then they have done something right.

Usually they would have Haas to add that spark, but without him he went into overdrive. The Souths had no position on the pitch to work with in the first half, and that was largely down to the success of the back five in forcing the game to a close. It was attacking as Brisbane’s best form of defence.

The Souths approach things very differently. Kicks from Reynolds forced them to come back through the back, but that was just a phase. Once the great men got started, they didn’t stop.

Tom Burgess and Tevita Tatola started on the bench but both finished with over 200m. Again, it might have been different had Haas played, but as good as he was, it would have been hard for him to stop the roll.

When they won the floor, there were few surprises in how Souths handled his job. Even a man down, Souths played his foot to the left, going through the right tramline hands, and on the right, Ilias looked to find his backrower on his hip.

The big shift to the left that everyone knows is coming has worked, with Alex Johnston taking two breaks and slaughtering more, but it’s now being used as much of a fake as it actually is. The clever scrumbase try that came just before halftime was with the line extended to the left, only for the Souths to go to the right.

For the second week in a row, the Bunnies held off an attack based on big backline yards and answered it with a punch up front. If they can win this piece of the argument, there isn’t a team in the roster that can withstand their attack just yet – as Brisbane have found out.

Brisbane can’t bust bunnies

At first, Brisbane’s attack seemed simple enough: hold the middle, hit the edge with long passes. Reynolds threw six passes at the Souths wingers in the opening 20 minutes, and it wasn’t so much the passes as the half-step save in front of them that shone. Reynolds knew clearly in advance that the Bunnies wingers would block and was ready to exploit it as often as possible.

But Suds are made of tough stuff. 15 tackles on their own line in the first half no longer bother them.

Last year Souths would have certainly conceded more runs than them but the goal line resilience improved dramatically and they came to the end of Murray’s time in the bin with the scores level then later rejected more.

In other games this year, Brisbane would probably have expected to score more as well. Even without Mam as a creative force, Reece Walsh was overpowered and Reynolds left to dig a solitary furrow.

The lack of good ball penetration came back to bite the Broncos on the backhand. Facing no red ball defense, they conceded twice as the Souths entered their end, and obediently too. The second half opened and the same thing happened again.

These are the top margins. The game plan worked for Brisbane, at least for 40 minutes, but they fell behind and wonder what happened.

As many suspected in the build-up, the 7-1 record has flattered them given the opposition they have faced and Souths and Penrith are currently just above. That’s not to say Brisbane won’t be in the fight later in the year, but they got a lesson in the NRL’s sharp end tonight.

Put Graham in a Blues sweater now

There is a blockage forming in the centers of New South Wales. Jack Wighton may be retired, but Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic are back in the mix and last year’s options Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton are still hanging around.

Kotoni Staggs was dropped after one game last year, while Campbell Graham was not even considered, although he later featured in the Kangaroos squad and impressed in the Champions League world.

Tonight, Kotoni and Campbell faced off, and there was only one winner. Staggs was perfectly fine and a huge factor in Brisbane’s best backline yardage job – it’s just that Graham was exceptional.

The try hat-trick showcased his line-running, finishing and kick-chasing abilities, which go hand-in-hand with his widely recognized place as one of the best defensive centers in the game.

It could end up being a matter of horses for the courts, with Graham able to take over for crippled Daniel Tupou on a wing – where he played for Australia – and Mitchell and Turbo resuming their work in the centres.

But Stretch’s form is such that it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Brad Fittler picked his preferred position at center and moved Tommy T to a wing to accommodate.

“He plays well on foot,” said Blues striker and Souths captain Cam Murray.

“He’s one of those teammates that you love to run and you can trust him whenever he’s around. He’s always a good teammate.

“He’s one of those you want to play for and a teammate you don’t want to disappoint. I saw him say for a while that he deserved it, especially after what he did at the World Cup and its form at the start of the year.



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