Sunday, 8 July 2012
Wayne Bennett knows more than most about what it takes to win a NRL premiership and, while he likes what he sees from South Sydney, he says the title contenders will all emerge over the next three weeks.
The game's most successful coach could only watch on as his Newcastle side was pounded by the Rabbitohs 34-14 at ANZ Stadium, Souths finally developing a trait where they beat the teams they are expected to beat.
Along with Manly, who belted Parramatta 40-24 in Sunday's other game, the Rabbitohs remain in the thick of the hunt for a top-four finish along with Canterbury, Brisbane, Cronulla, North Queensland and ladder leaders Melbourne.
"South Sydney, obviously on today's performance, look like one of the top teams in the competition," seven-time premiership winner Bennett said.
"They played as good as anyone else has against us all season. They came here today, with a lot of their top players back, full of confidence."
Rookie halfback Adam Reynolds stole the show in the six-tries-to-three demolition of the Knights but, with the State of Origin campaign done with, Bennett said the influence of refreshed representative stars would be crucial.
It's why Storm coach Craig Bellamy's decision to rest Queensland captain Cameron Smith in his side's heavy loss to Canberra on Friday night might just prove a masterstroke.
"My experience has been the next two or three weeks will start to sort it out, when all the teams get their star players back and the star players start to feel a bit better about themselves," Bennett said.
"Those guys have got to be exhausted that played last Wednesday night.
"Storm captain Cameron Smith didn't play last night, three at the (Gold) Coast didn't play and those that played wouldn't have felt like they were making a great contribution.
"We lost five games in a row at the Dragons after the third Origin last year.
"We lost our way and there may be one or two other teams in that situation as well."
Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire said there was a quiet confidence about his group being able to follow through with what they have started this season.
"There's a really strong belief in the team at the moment and a lot of confidence growing," Maguire said.
"I've said it many times about this team that there's a lot more in front of us to improve on as a team.
"I've been lucky I guess in where I've come from and I can see this team is heading in that direction with the times we've worked together and the hard work we're putting in."
After flexing their muscle as they ran up a 40-0 lead over the hapless Eels, Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey was warming to the occasion.
"We are the current premiers," Toovey said.
"We deserve to be up there at the top of the competition with the players that we've got, and the type of play we play and with what we are capable of.
"We'll give the competition a real shake."