Sunday, 29 July 2012
Try as he might, Michael Maguire is having a hard time keeping a lid on expectations at South Sydney.
The rookie NRL coach has transformed the Rabbitohs from a team that had made the finals just once in more than two decades into one charging into September football and challenging for the minor premiership with five rounds remaining.
Sunday's 32-6 demolition of Wests Tigers, without suspended duo Issac Luke and Greg Inglis, long thought to be the key elements to any South Sydney victory, stamped Maguire's outfit as one of the competition's favourites.
And it gave their success-starved fans any number of reasons to cheer, prompting respected rugby league figure Phil Gould to declare this the best Rabbitohs outfit in half a century - a period that includes premierships in 1967, 1968, 1970 and 1971.
"I think this is the best South Sydney team I've seen in 50 years," Gould said in commentary.
"And they can get excited."
Maguire laughed off comparisons with some of the club's all-time great teams, saying his men aren't even playing as well as they can with the finals looming.
"I'm not that old, so I don't know," Maguire said when told of Gould's comment.
Co-captain Michael Crocker has been with the club since 2009, but is well-versed in the history and is all too aware of the passion of Souths fans.
"They're solid fans. They've been through some tough times and to give back to them is a joy for us," he said.
Star English import Sam Burgess also thought anything could be possible.
"Who knows what we are capable of?" Burgess told AAP.
"The longer we keep working as a group the further we'll go. Everyone's really bought into the process we've put in place and the things that we're doing to improve."
The Rabbitohs never looked troubled, despite the absence of Luke and Inglis, with their replacements scoring all of the home side's first-half tries.
Fill-in hooker Nathan Peats scrambled over for a double from close range before Inglis's replacement at the back, try-scoring machine Nathan Merritt, chimed in after 33 minutes, backing up a John Sutton line-break to score his 12th try of the season.
Not to be outdone, Souths' halves showed off in the second half, delighting the 29,863-strong crowd.
Rookie halfback Adam Reynolds ran circles around debutant Tigers winger Marika Koroibete to set up Dylan Farrell while Sutton continued his hot form in the lead-up to Jason Clark's second-half four-pointer.
The Tigers loss pushes them outside the top eight on for and against, falling to tenth as the top eight squeeze starts to kick in.
Manly's remarkable 24-22 comeback victory over the Warriors in Perth moved them to sixth spot, and closer to safety, while the Warriors and Canberra have fallen two points behind the chasing pack with losses.
St George Illawarra's upset win over the freefalling Melbourne put them within touching difference of a top eight berth, while Cronulla's season is on life support after a shock 21-20 loss to Penrith.
Newcastle kept their finals hopes alive and effectively extinguished Canberra's with a 36-6 victory over the Raiders at Canberra Stadium.