South Sydney Rabbitohs players credit defensive brilliance to victory over Penrith Panthers

South Sydney entered last weekend’s qualifying final as a massive underdog, but credits new defensive steel and hyper-aggression from their attackers as the key to reversing their fortunes.

The Rabbitohs have had no trouble scoring points all year, but have conceded 157 in their four games against the NRL’s top two teams, Penrith and Melbourne.

The end result of a game plan built around hard and quick contact was a famous victory, in which they conceded just one try (which came from an ingenious banana kick from Nathan Cleary ).

“I think in the back of our minds as a forward group we knew that was where the game was going to be won,” said mainstay Mark Nicholls.

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The 31-year-old said his team had built and improved defensively all year round, and ultimately managed to put in an 80-minute performance.

“They’ve been one of the best packs in the competition for a few years now, and we knew we had to face them with speed and aggression,” he said.

Rising star Keaon Kolomatangi has been straightforward in his assessment of the team’s performance up front in their previous 2021 fixtures against the Panthers.

“Obviously the last two times we poured (sic) Penrith they gave it to us down the middle,” he said.

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“We knew we had to start strong and fast, and I think that’s what we did. We just had to keep going through the ’80s.

“We know what we can do as a group of attackers when we are on our A-Game.”

“I thought the whole team, our defensive process was on the whole game,” said center Campbell Graham, who was tasked with stopping Penrith’s much-vaunted right edge – and passed the test with flying colors.

“I think only the areas of effort are what the coaching staff are most satisfied with.

“You don’t know if you could be there to make the tackle or not, but as long as you get in the frame and work hard for each other, you can pretty much cover any threats.”

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Graham said that the defensive right edge of himself, Jaydn Su’A, Adam Reynolds and Jaxson Paulo have complete confidence in each other and have built towards a performance like last week.

“I am very confident in the players around me, we have a good system there,” he said.

“I think it will only get more difficult from now on and we’ll just have to keep building on the weekend and keep locking it down.”

Wayne Bennett’s men will enjoy a week off before facing the winner of the sudden death semi-final Friday night between Manly and the Roosters.

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