The Rabbitohs cruised to a tight 27-18 win over the Sharks, with young kicker Lachlan Elias stealing the show in a “statement victory” according to Fox League’s Cooper Kronk.
The 22-year-old had a hand in it all, joining Campbell Graham and Keon Kolamatangi in a killer display of attack.
“Lachlan Elias, this is his second season, but it looks like a star was born tonight,” Fox’s Dan Guinan said.
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In the ninth minute, Ronaldo Mulitalo pounded the Sharks’ wing on what looked like a surefire attempt when Elias dived in to get the ball out of his hands.
On the next set, the Rabbitohs carried the ball all the way to the Sharks test line and Ilias was able to attack and score.
Then Sharks halfback Braydon Trendall scored an impressive four-pointer, tipping the ball forward three times before diving in to score.
Cronulla fullback Will Kennedy ignited the move with a chip and chased before his second attempt was kicked off his foot.
Koloamatangi was next to cross the line off a short Elias ball but the Sharks responded on the halftime run.
Sione Katoa managed to finish the match aerially as the score sat 12-all at the end of the first half.
From then on, Elias took control, finding Graham scoring on the right side of the field with two runs before Tig Welton crossed a four-pointer for the Sharks.
Cronulla veteran Wade Graham was also sent to the sin bin for an intervention that “was like a car accident” according to Jannan.
Read below for all the big talking points from Saturday night’s game!
Panic over Mitchell’s injury
South Sydney produced their bravest performance of the weekend to open their season with victory in the Shire, but all eyes will be on Latrell Mitchell after the Rabbitoh star suffered a knee injury that hampered him for 40 minutes.
Mitchell needed help from the coach for the final two minutes of the first half and then badly sprained his left knee at the break, with fears that he had caused serious damage.
Those fears were allayed 10 minutes into the second half when he returned from the penalty shootout and attacked several Sharks with his trademark carry, but there are no guarantees that the World Cup winner will be right in next week’s epic showdown with the Cheetahs.
Not as dominant as it could be, but Mitchell kicked a crucial penalty kick to make it 20-12, then threw the last pass to set up Campbell Graham for the stopper and then kicked a field goal just as the siren sounded.
Mitchell’s fitness will determine how far the Rabbitohs go in 2023, and a five-day shift isn’t ideal for a man who has struggled with numerous hamstring injuries throughout his career, and it often comes at the worst possible time.
The Rabbitohs have another concern with Jai Arrow being forced out with a hamstring injury while Tevita Tatola lasted just one tackle before being knocked out of contention following a head-on clash with Dale Finucane.
There were times in the past year when it seemed like the decision to release Adam Reynolds was one of the worst calls ever, but the South Sydney officials look like geniuses after Lachlan Elias notched a career-best 80 minutes.
The football gods seemed to have concocted a Greek tragedy when Elias entered the first half of last year’s game against the Dragons, but it was Hercules on Saturday in a Rabbitohs side that lost two players in the first half hour.
The young half spoke in the off-season of playing with more confidence, and he delivered on that promise with more touches in dangerous areas as South Sydney’s right edge outperformed the usually dominant left side.
It was fitting that Elias opened the scoring with a solo effort near the line, but only after he had made the try stop this season to deny Ronaldo Mulitalo from a corner – although the Sharks winger did something special in defense minutes later.
Elias then put the ball on board for Keaon Koloamatangi who dropped it cool over the line, but the back-rower made amends before half-time after receiving a great pass from midfield who was also great in defence.
Fox League’s Dan Guinan made a big statement after Elias’ amazing performance.
“This, you have to say, is the best we’ve seen of him as he continues his evolution,” Guinan said.
Souths coach Jason Demetrius was asked if it was the best youth game in the National Football League.
“I don’t know,” said Demetriou, “it was really good there.”
It wasn’t perfect and I didn’t think it would be. I didn’t think anyone would be in the first round.
“But he’s a Year 1 student. He’s got a good Year 1 student and he knows how to play football and I think he identified some areas we could exploit in the first half and in the second half they were very clinical in going after it.
“That first-half effort was a big play,” Demetriou said of Elias’ defense.
“We went up to the other end and scored too, but I’ve watched him do that all pre-season
“I’ve seen him make these efforts every week and I wasn’t surprised to see him put it into it.”
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New rabbit threat
Every NRL side knows how dangerous the Rabbitohs’ right edge can be, and winger Alex Johnston has reaped the rewards, scoring 30 tries in 2022.
Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell often make their mark on the left, often forgotten right side of South Sydney.
But against the sharks, the right side of Elias, Graham and Kulamatangi proved to be the deadliest.
Fox League’s Dan Guinan thought the trio were “making a statement” with a devastating show.
“It’s like they’re making a statement tonight… A big Saturday night, they’re turning to the right before they’re going to the left it looks like,” Guinan said.
“Just a warning everyone in the NRL, they have options for both sides.”
Traditionally The Rabbitohs have relied on the high-profile duo of Walker and Mitchell, but the South Sydney Rifles had no hand in any of the four attempts.
“It’s a great sign for South Sydney, when you don’t count on Cody or Latrell making those great plays,” Alexander said.
“When you have desperation that proves to be a massive threat tonight.”
Wade Graham has a nervous wait for the charge sheet to come out after sending the former captain into the sin bin to hit a stunning shot on Davy Moyle.
It initially looked like Graham had made the year big when he lunged off the line to pack the youngster forward, but referee Todd Smith walked him for 10 minutes after replays showed the tackle was heavy.
“You left the ground to contact the head,” said Smith, sending Graham to the sin-box.
Fox League’s Dan Guinan said the hit was “like a car crash” and that Mawali was able to stay on the court.
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