Dragons go from bad to worse, Sharks struggle: Good, bad and ugly of NRL round 10
The NRL's Magic Round exposed one major contender and a number of pretenders in this season's competition.
😃 The good: Rabbitohs lay down premiership marker
😔 The bad: Cronulla's defence continues to be found out
😡 The ugly: Dragons' sorry season hits a new low
Rabbitohs the real deal in 2023
South Sydney has teased and tormented its huge fan base since that breakthrough premiership victory in 2014. The Rabbitohs have made the finals in six of the eight seasons since that momentous night nine years ago, finishing in the top four three times and reaching the preliminary final on four occasions.
But apart from the 2021 grand final loss to Penrith, Souths have never really threatened to deliver on all that promise. This year looks different. Much different.
The Rabbitohs are humming along near the top of the competition after a big win over Melbourne in what was promoted as the most evenly fought match of Magic Round. Truth be known, the Storm were never really in the contest.
With their big names Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker on fire – and wonderful cameos from the likes of Tom Burgess, Alex Johnston and Jai Arrow – this was a pure masterclass. The Bunnies coasted to a 28-12 win that was every bit as impressive as the scoreline suggests.
It continues a remarkable run for Jason Demetriou's side over the past three weeks. In that time, Souths have edged past premiers Penrith and belted competition heavyweights Brisbane and Melbourne.
The trifecta of victories has coincided with Mitchell finding some form, fire and flair. He's unstoppable at the moment, and his mates are happily coming along for the ride. Unless injuries hit to derail things, chalk in the Bunnies as one of this year's grand finalists.
Sharks' defence all at sea
Craig Fitzgibbon arrived at Cronulla with a reputation for being a defence-first coach. And in 2022 – at least in the regular season – the Sharks showed plenty of steel in 'D'.
This year that steel is corroding. Saturday night's dreadful 36-point loss to an under-manned Dolphins was the fifth time in nine games the Sharks have conceded 24 points or more this year.
The ease in which Wayne Bennett's side piled on points in the first half was embarrassing. We probably need to go back to last year's finals series to find where the rot started.
The Sharks cruised into second spot but were bundled out in straight sets after losses to North Queensland and Souths. Against the Cowboys, Cronulla conceded 32 points.
A week later they leaked 38 against the Rabbitohs. It was an awful way to exit the premiership race and Sharks fans expected defence to be a big part of the team's preparation for 2023.
But then Cronulla went out and conceded 77 points in its first three games. Admittedly, from there the defence did shows signs of improvement but Saturday's loss was a massive step backwards.
There is compelling evidence leaks remain and Fitzgibbon may be forced into some personnel changes if not fixed immediately.
Dragons continue to fizzle
This St George Illawarra side makes Lloyd Christmas look like Albert Einstein. Dumb and dumber - and getting more stupid by the week.
It was hard not to feel sorry for coach Anthony Griffin as the Dragons slid to another loss at Magic Round. The 18-16 defeat to the Tigers was the Red V's third straight loss by two points or fewer in the last three weeks.
The two preceding losses were by six points and two points respectively. Five straight losses by a converted try or less shows a team having a dig but without the class or composure to finish off games.
Griffin, as coach, cops the blame for that and will get the bullet in coming weeks. But there are plenty of players who have played a part in his demise.
No team features so many players with a PHD in brain explosions. Wrong options, dropped balls, stupid penalties, being forced into touch, wild in-goal passes, grubber kicks a few metres out from your own line… you name it, they all came out against the Tigers.
The play 90 seconds from the end probably best summed up where the Dragons' heads are at. Left with a four on two situation, fullback Tyrell Sloan only needed to go through the hands to seal a match-winning try.
Instead, he throws a cut-out pass to Moses Suli who veers back into traffic but still looks to have the power and momentum to crash over. But why simplify things when you can find a more difficult route?
A metre out from the line, Suli flicks a pass out the back door to Mikaele Ravalawa. The winger is bundled into touch centimetres from the line and another game is blown. It was cruel to watch.
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