NRL Tackle: Why Souths are still ‘far from title threat’
Welcome to The Tackle, where our rugby league writers reveal what caught their eye - good and bad - in Round 5 of the NRL.
SEA EAGLES v BRONCOS
Dally M votes: Tom Trbojevic 3, Addin Fonua-Blake 2, Xavier Coates 1. Judge: Mark Geyer
Like: The unsung hero at Manly right now is the bloke who would live his life under the radar if he had his way.
What Des Hasler has done to this footy club since his return is bring back Manly.
Only the best teams fight back like the Sea Eagles have done the last two weeks after trailing by big margins. They missed out on a dodgy call against Parramatta, but it wasn't luck that got them home against Brisbane. That's character, and it comes from team spirit, which is the coach's fingerprint.
It's been an amazing response after where Hasler's reputation was when forced out of Canterbury.
Dislike: There was a time when the Broncos wouldn't complain about a close late penalty like the strip call on Pat Carrigan for reefing the ball from Jake Trbojevic that gave Reuben Garrick the matchwinning shot.
Surely they had enough chances to win the game after racing to an 18-0 lead after 30 minutes.
The fact is referee Ashley Klein had called held and it would have been a bigger issue if Klein didn't blow his whistle.
You'd rather see a ref prepared to make the tough calls than put his whistle away with the game on the line.
- Paul Crawley
WARRIORS v COWBOYS
Dally M votes: Kodi Nikorima 3, Tohu Harris 2, Blake Green 1. Judge: Petero Civoniceva
Like: The fighting spirit of the Warriors. The New Zealand side had every reason to turn it up after being forced to leave their country to set up camp in NSW due to the COVID-19 saga, but the Warriors will go down swinging.
Rising 23-year-old prop Jamayne Taunoa-Brown was outstanding, running for 158 metres, while rugby convert Eliesa Katoa could be the Warriors' next back-row superstar with his rampaging charges on the edges.
Throw in the crafty halves combination of Blake Green and Kodi Nikorima, and the Warriors will be competitive if they stay fit.
Dislike: North Queensland have lost the plot in defence. The Cowboys have lacked defensive steel for the past two years and if they don't harden up in that area, they will miss the finals for a third consecutive season. Leaking 37 points against the Warriors is simply unacceptable and the pressure is building on coach Paul Green to reignite the Cowboys as a playoffs team. The Cowboys are sorely missing the toughness of retired prop legend Matt Scott, while Green is sweating on skipper Michael Morgan's return from shoulder surgery.
- Peter Badel
EELS v PANTHERS
Dally M votes: Ryan Matterson 3, Waqa Blake 2, Isaah Yeo 1. Judge: Dallas Johnson
Like: Forget their start to the season, how about the way Parramatta are finishing games? While all the headlines have surrounded the Eels going undefeated for the first five rounds - and earning the club's best opening to a year since 1986 - the other real highlight is the way these NRL competition leaders are finishing matches. According to the Fox Sports Lab, Parramatta are dominating rivals so easily over the final 20 minutes of games the combined scoreline would read 67-4. Certainly that was the case in the final quarter of this one against Penrith. Still trailing 10-zip, the Eels scored three tries in six minutes to storm home for an outstanding comeback win at Bankwest Stadium.
Dislike: The fact those cardboard cut outs are still in place. If ever a game needed real fans, it was this one. And no matter how you want to cut it, having 500 people inside Bankwest Stadium does not an atmosphere make. Indeed, of all the games played since lockout, few have so obviously missed a blockbuster crowd like this one. In a match with so many ebbs and flows, plus so many big moments, this stadium should've exploded. Hopefully in coming weeks, restrictions are lifted further to ensure it will. And good luck beating the Eels at home then.
- Nick Walshaw
RABBITOHS v TITANS
Dally M votes: Dane Gagai 3, Latrell Mitchell 2, Bryce Cartwright 1. Judge: Ben Galea
Like: Wayne Bennett can often be ambiguous.
"Well what do you think?" he often asks in response to a question.
"You're the expert. You don't need an opinion from me."
On Saturday he started his press conference in typical style.
"Winning," he said when a reporter asked him what the most pleasing part of the Rabbitohs 32-12 win over the Titans was.
But the ambiguity ended when it came to Latrell Mitchell. He made it clear that we needed his opinion when it comes to Mitchell. That we only needed his opinion.
"The only opinion that matters at this stage of his life is mine," Bennett said.
"And he is a fullback. The position suits him. He did a great job as a centre but will do a better job as a fullback."
And maybe he will.
Following a string of unenthused, uninvolved and uninterested performances for Souths, Mitchell finally looked like he wanted to be in the football field.
Proving he may just be able to replicate the success of Greg Inglis and his switch from the centres to fullback, Mitchell scored his first try for the Rabbitohs before setting up another three.
Bennett deserves much of the credit for the performance and will deserve even more should Mitchell go on to become a better fullback than he was a centre. Most coaches would have ended the experiment by now.
Dislike: Souths should have put the Titans away - the Roosters would have. While there was nothing not to like about the Rabbitohs' first half, they were beaten by cellar dwellers the Titans in the second half.
With almost a full-strength line-up, they managed to score just one try in the final forty minutes. While they didn't need the points and won comfortably in the end, they looked far from a genuine premiership threat as they threw it back into second gear and crawled home. They need to find the same type of ruthless edge that saw the Roosters put 59 on the Broncos last week.
Damien Cook may hold the key with the NSW No.9 nowhere near his best form so far this year.
- James Phelps
KNIGHTS v STORM
Dally M votes: Cameron Smith 3, Cameron Munster 2, Ryan Papenhuyzen 1. Judge: Justin Hodges
Like: In the much-hyped match-up between the two star fullbacks, Melbourne's Ryan Papenhuyzen edged out Newcastle rival Kalyn Ponga.
Papenhuyzen was the energiser bunny for the Storm, racking up 148 metres from 17 runs and busting two tackles.
He also denied a certain Ponga try in the first half with a classic tackle on his own line.
Papenhuyzen is the perfect foil for Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster around the ruck.
He constantly pushes up on the ball in attack while his defence is rock solid.
Dislike: The diving has got to stop.
Melbourne forward Dale Finucane is a good bloke, but he deliberately dived when Newcastle prop David Klemmer made contact to milk a penalty late in the game.
It was a poor look while the controversial penalty sealed the loss for a fast-finishing Knights.
Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien made a perfect point post-game.
"Klemmer can't just disappear," O'Brien said.
- Matt Logue
TIGERS v RAIDERS
Dally M votes: Jack Wighton 3, Josh Reynolds 2, Josh Hodgson 1. Judge: Brett Kimmorley
Like: It wasn't gritty but the amount of travelling the Raiders are doing at the moment, any two points are valuable.
Canberra started slowly and were on the back foot for much of the first half. This came after coach Ricky Stuart publicly criticised them for the last-start loss to Newcastle. But they punched on. Even if it wasn't their smoothest of wins, their resilience when things aren't going their way is what builds premiership runs. All good signs for the Raiders.
Dislike: Russell Packer waited 14 months to return to the NRL. His career looked over with a raft of surgeries struggling to repair a badly damaged foot. He persisted. Unfortunately his hard work did not transfer onto the field - instead it was a 12 minute turbulent stint. His poor defence contributed to a Raiders try, he was sin-binned soon after and the Raiders scored the next set. Packer then was placed on report for a high shot which gifted the Raiders an unbeatable eight point lead and a return to forget.
- Michael Carayannis
DRAGONS v SHARKS
Dally M votes: Matthew Dufty 3, Cameron McInnes 2, Ben Hunt 1. Judge: Alan Tongue
Like: St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor made some key pre-game positional switches which worked a treat. Ben Hunt and Matt Dufty were impressive performers, the entire Dragons side showing resilience in the face of heavy and ongoing criticism. They overcame a well-publicised lack of confidence to record just their third win in the past 15 games. Hunt was clever at dummy-half while Dufty was a handful from fullback. There were some nervous moments late but the Dragons held their nerve to record a first win of the season. Mary's job is safe, for now.
Dislike: The Sharks' season is slipping away. Sunday was a game Cronulla would have pencilled in as a win. Coach John Morris' side has won just one game this season. Like McGregor, Anthony Seibold and Paul Green, Morris must now face his own scrutiny. Cronulla's second half was poor. They had some nice patches during the first half but couldn't maintain momentum nor could they stop a Dragons side which gained confidence as the match progressed.
- Dean Ritchie
DALLY M LEADERBOARD
Tom Trbojevic 9
Cameron Smith 7
Jason Taumalolo 7
Benji Marshall 6
Clinton Gutherson 6
Jack Wighton 6
Mitchell Moses 6
Cameron Munster 5
Josh Hodgson 5
Tohu Harris 5
Victor Radley 5
Apisai Koroisau 4
Elliott Whitehead 4
Harry Grant 4
James Tedesco 4
Josh McGuire 4
Matthew Dufty 4
Reed Mahoney 4
Dane Gagai 3
David Klemmer 3
David Nofoaluma 3
George Williams 3
Isaah Yeo 3
James Fisher-Harris 3
Jayden Brailey 3
Jesse Bromwich 3
Jesse Ramien 3
Josh Jackson 3
Josh Papalii 3
Kodi Nikorima 3
Liam Knight 3
Luke Keary 3
Matt Burton 3
Mitchell Pearce 3
Moeaki Fotuaika 3
Nathan Cleary 3
Payne Haas 3
Ryan Matterson 3
Thomas Flegler 3
Tim Glasby 3
Tui Kamikamica 3
Will Hopoate 3
Originally published as NRL Tackle: Why Souths are still 'far from title threat'