Benji Marshall slotted seamlessly into the Rabbitohs side to help off-contract skipper Adam Reynolds guide them to a comfortable 35-6 win over the Broncos at Stadium Australia on Thursday night.
Fullback Latrell Mitchell was at his potent best with two tries and a try assist while Reynolds shut out the huge interest around his contractual future to score a try and boot a historic two-point field goal.
The losses of suspended duo Cody Walker and Keaon Koloamatangi were barely felt as Marshall showed his vast experience to partner Reynolds, supporting to cross for the team's first try and showing lovely touch to create a second-half try.
Jacob Host was powerful on the left edge filling in for Koloamatangi in a performance that will give coach Wayne Bennett food for thought when Koloamatangi is available in round seven.
Match: Rabbitohs v Broncos
Round 5 -
Venue: Stadium Australia, Sydney
Bennett praised the way his side covered for the loss of Walker, with Marshall starring in the halves and Dean Hawkins earning his NRL debut off the bench for the final 15 minutes of the match.
“I always coach teams to play with what we've got, not what we haven't got,” Bennett said.
“I don't think anybody looked over their shoulder that Cody wasn't there this week. We all know what a wonderful player he is for us and what he brings to a team.
Reynolds nails the first two-point field goal
“We had to get on without him and we did that. I thought Benji was outstanding, he did a great job for us. That's what you want, you want guys coming into the team and we did it last year when we had a lot of injuries late in the season and we had guys keep turning up.”
Marshall, who turned the match in the Rabbitohs’ favour in round one when he was injected, has been as valuable off the field as on it so far this year, Bennett added.
“He's been wonderful, it's not only what you see on the field, it's what he does off the field as well,” Bennett said.
“I just can't get my head around why clubs – why we were so lucky to get him.”
Handing Hawkins a debut was also a high point for the veteran coach.
"It was wonderful," said Bennett. "It's one of the great joys of what you do ... since he's been a little boy he's wanted to play for South Sydney.”
After falling down 10-0 early Brisbane rallied impressively to make the running for a large chunk of the first half but ongoing defensive woes on both edges and some coach-killing errors ensured the Rabbitohs were never under serious threat of losing the match.
Souths start with a beauty to Marshall
The worrying signs started early for Brisbane as the home side made easy metres and opened the scoring through Marshall in the seventh minute from a Reynolds cross-field kick.
After a missed conversion, the Bunnies turned down the option of a full attacking set in favour of a penalty kick to make it 6-0 after 12 minutes.
Brisbane's right-side defence was found wanting in the 16th minute as Souths shifted left and a Mitchell cut-out helped Johnston cross completely untouched, with the signs ominous at 10-0.
Mitchell puts Johnston over on the left
However, a couple of huge plays from halfback Tom Dearden turned the tide; he first produced a clean break but failed to beat Mitchell one-on-one then forced a turnover with a big shot when Souths next had the ball.
The attacking territory led to Jamayne Isaako beating Reynolds and Jaydn Su'A to get his side on the board after 20 minutes.
With half-time looming the Broncos were set to take a respectable 10-6 scoreline to the sheds until Dane Gagai ran straight through Jordan Riki to put Reynolds over then the halfback capped the last set of the half with a booming 43-metre drop goal, the game's first since the 1970 grand final, to make it 18-6 at the break.
Marshall draws in the defence for Graham
Despite a scrappy opening to their second 40 minutes the Bunnies went further ahead when Mitchell monstered his way through Brisbane's right-side defence in the 53rd minute.
Isaako put the kick-off out on the full with the game slipping away from Brisbane and some deft work from Marshall created a Campbell Graham try from a scrum play to stretch the score to 28-6.
Mitchell produced a leaping effort to a Reynolds bomb to bag his second shortly before full-time before icing the win with some field goal practice – this one just for a single point – in the dying moments.
Latrell leaps his way to a double