Accor Stadium
It proved a tough night at the end of a tough week for the Rabbitohs at Sydney's Accor Stadium. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

New coach, same Souths in big loss to Penrith

Jasper Bruce May 2, 2024

Ben Hornby’s uphill battle to ignite South Sydney’s season has been thrown further into doubt as Dean Hawkins and Jye Gray went down injured in his first game at the helm, a 42-12 loss to Penrith.

The last-placed Rabbitohs ushered in the post-Jason Demetriou era on Thursday night but it was a case of new coach, same old Souths before 8155 fans at Accor Stadium.

Garner piles over
 Luke Garner scores for Penrith as the defending premiers thumped beleaguered South Sydney. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

This was a performance that epitomised the Rabbitohs’ lacklustre season as injuries, errors and lapses in concentration left their early promise a distant memory.

Despite the scoreline, Hornby found positives for the rebuilding Rabbitohs, who leaked four tries in the last 22 minutes to fall well behind late.

“There was effort all day,” the interim coach said.

“I don’t think they deserved that scoreline but at the end of the day, it is what it is and we’ve just got to move forward.

“We got a chance to make a statement and I thought we did that. Now it’s about taking that same desire, that same commitment, the stuff we showed out there and do it for longer periods.”

 South Sydney players react after conceding a try. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

Frustratingly for Souths, the clunky defending premiers were there for the taking for most of the night, only putting the game to bed with two quick tries midway through the second half; 

Penrith had been up only 18-12 after 57 minutes, coming off a five-day turnaround and without rested halfback Nathan Cleary.

The Rabbitohs ran out to a handy 12-0 lead after Panthers centre Izack Tago went to the sin bin for a hip-drop tackle on young fullback Gray, the hosts reigniting their lethal left edge in the opening 10 minutes.

Penrith appeared rattled in the face of Souths’ steely goal-line defence and coach Ivan Cleary admitted he had feared the clash with lowly Souths could be a danger game for his side.

“It just had banana-skin written all over it tonight,” he said.

“I thought we just stuck at it and grinded our way through that game.”

The Rabbitohs lost Jai Arrow to the sin bin after repeated infringements defending their goal-line midway through the first half and, as has often been the case this year, they crumbled once under adversity.

Only seconds after Arrow went, Cleary’s injury replacement Brad Schneider helped Sunia Turuva over the try-line with a cut-out pass on the right.

Schneider fooled Cody Walker with a dummy to nab a try himself shortly thereafter, putting the Panthers back on level terms.

 It became a tough first game at the helm for Rabbitohs coach Ben Hornby. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

There were moments of madness aplenty for the Rabbitohs, both accidental and of their own making.

Stand-in halfback Hawkins aggravated a right quad injury kicking off after the Panthers’ second try and needed to leave the game.

The injury finally pushed prized recruit Jack Wighton into the halves, and the Rabbitohs were forced into more reshuffling when Gray succumbed to an ankle injury, apparently the result of Tago’s tackle. In his 200th game, Damien Cook moved from hooker to fullback.

“Jye looks like he’s got a syndesmosis, Dean’s got a quad strain,” Hornby said.

“It’s not ideal.”

Wighton was denied two tries, one for the most obvious obstruction and the other when Murray illegally tried to push him over the line.

Wighton and Walker each threw passes over the sidelines attempting to spark their side’s attack, but the Rabbitohs saved their sloppiest move for midway through the second half.

Walker kicked the ball dead and Dylan Edwards ran the ball back up for a quick tap. 

The Panthers fullback practically waltzed through the Rabbitohs, who still had their backs turned, and then found a flying Taylan May on his outside.

The centre sprinted all the way to the tryline as the Rabbitohs wondered how they could have given up a try so soft.