SOUTH Sydney again exposed Newcastle’s physical frailty against the NRL’s heavy hitters with a 34-14 thumping at ANZ Stadium yesterday.
The Knights were chasing a third straight win after victories over the last-placed Eels and the out-of-sorts Tigers but could not match the Rabbitohs for size, strength or speed and never looked like threatening after trailing 12-0 after 13 minutes and 22-4 after 24.
‘‘They were just too big and too strong for us. Too good,’’ Knights coach Wayne Bennett conceded.
‘‘South Sydney on today’s performance looked like one of the top teams in the competition.
‘‘They played as good as anybody else has against us all season. They came here today obviously with a lot of their top players back, and they were full of confidence.’’
Centre Matt King (stomach) and bench forward Eddy Pettybourne (calf) made earlier than scheduled returns from the injured list, giving South Sydney coach Michael Maguire his strongest possible side with the exception of pack leader Roy Asotasi, who is due to return from a torn pectoral muscle in four weeks.
But Bennett stopped short of declaring the Rabbitohs title contenders.
‘‘I wouldn’t start giving anybody a ‘premiership material’ tag right now,’’ Bennett said.
‘‘The competition’s really just starting again after the Origin.
‘‘My experience has been that the next two or three weeks will start to sort it out when all the teams have got their star players back, and their star players start to feel a bit better about themselves.
‘‘We lost five games in a row last year at the Dragons after the third Origin, so we lost our way, and there may be one or two other teams in that situation as well this year.’’
Knights captain Danny Buderus said his team did not show the same resistance or resilience they produced against the Eels and Tigers in the past two weeks.
Controversial former Queensland forward Dave Taylor started the ball rolling for the Rabbitohs with a flick pass for centre Dylan Farrell to score in the seventh minute, then livewire halfback Adam Reynolds created tries for halves partner John Sutton and winger Andrew Everingham with well-placed kicks.
‘‘We’re a team that has to compete on everything,’’ Buderus said.
‘‘As you saw, they scored two tries off kicks in the first 15 minutes and we need to be competing for those kicks, scrapping as much as we can, so that part of it was disappointing.
‘‘We were beaten off the ground a lot as well. That ruck speed was lightning for us, and we couldn’t get any line speed, and as you see they scored some good tries.’’
Dumped NSW winger Aku Uate scored two tries for the Knights, had another two disallowed, and he conceded one when Souths back-rower Chris McQueen stripped him of the ball in Newcastle’s in-goal in the 58th minute.
That came after Souths winger Nathan Merritt was called off-side from John Sutton’s grubber kick in the lead-up, but the play was referred to video referee Bernard Sutton, who ruled a ‘‘benefit of the doubt’’ try.
‘‘The referees have called off-side at the time, on the ground, so Aku’s realised they’re off-side, everybody’s yelling off-side, and he just stopped playing,’’ Bennett explained.
‘‘At the end of the day, it didn’t cost us the game. We’d lost the game by that stage, but the issue is about the referee on the ground calling the penalty and players believing that’s what’s going to happen and stop playing.’’
Bennett stressed the decision did not determine the outcome and he was ‘‘not in a position to criticise referees’’.
‘‘We’ve got to get our own house in order first, ’’ he said.
Maguire won a Challenge Cup and the Super League premiership in the past two years at Wigan, after working as one of Craig Bellamy’s assistants at Melbourne and helping establish the Storm as the NRL’s benchmark club.
He sensed the Rabbitohs were capable of achieving similar success if they continued to improve and be more efficient over longer periods in games.
‘‘The boys performed the way we set out to. We wanted to make sure we built pressure throughout that game. We created that at times, and we came up with some good plays on the back end of it,’’ Maguire said.
‘‘We just spoke there as a team about our composure at the back end of that game, and that’s something we need to continually look at. We had a couple more opportunities there ... so they’re areas we need to look at for next week.
‘‘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, from where I’ve come from, and I can see this team is heading in that direction from the time we’ve worked together and the hard work that they’re putting in.’’
? The Knights suffered a fourth-straight National Youth Cup loss, going down 24-16 to the Rabbitohs, but Newcastle’s NSW Cup team ensured the day was not a total write-off with a 44-12 victory over Manly at No.2 Sportsground yesterday.