Souths No.1 a mystery after last-round win

·3-min read

South Sydney found a possible solution to their 2022 halves conundrum but their biggest question for this season remains unsolved headed into the finals after a 20-16 win over St George Illawarra.

With eight of their stars rested including Adam Reynolds, the man expected to be his long-term replacement starred as Souths dominated most the game on the Sunshine Coast.

On debut and with all eyes on him in the Rabbitohs No.7 jersey, Lachlan Ilias scored in the sixth minute and kicked soundly throughout to help end the Dragons' sorry season.

But coach Wayne Bennett was less convinced on Blake Taaffe at fullback, admitting he was still weighing up how to best replace the banned Latrell Mitchell in the finals.

Taaffe and Ilias combined once to set up a Taane Milne try in the second half, while the 22-year-old was solid at the back with the exception of one dropped ball.

A far bigger test awaits in the first week of the finals if Bennett opts to keep Taaffe in the No.1 jersey, with Penrith's Nathan Cleary almost certain to pepper the Rabbitohs with bombs.

"If he goes back there I will be confident he can handle it," Bennett said.

"If I am not confident on it he won't be playing.

"There were lots of things I liked tonight and a couple of things I didn't. But he is a victim of not playing (reserve grade) football (during the pandemic)."

Bennett's other option will be to play Cody Walker at fullback, with Benji Marshall in the halves after another impressive night from the veteran.

"That's still an option," Bennett said.

"My challenge is to make the right decision and best decision on the team.

"They are all on the table, until Tuesday I will think about it and then decide by then."

The scoreline flattered the Dragons, as they ended their season with eight straight losses after Paul Vaughan's infamous barbecue.

They trailed 20-0 with 13 minutes to go, before Tyrell Sloan bagged a double and Mikaele Ravalawa claimed one in the penultimate minute.

But in a fitting end to their year, the off-contract Corey Norman dropped the ball on the last as he went to put up a Hail Mary bomb with 20 seconds to play.

Josh McGuire was put on report for two high tackles, including one in the second half on a falling Peter Mamouzelos that saw him sin-binned.

Tariq Sims finished the night being sent to hospital to see a plastic surgeon after suffering a deep cut to his lip following a head clash with Jacob Host.

Sloan provided some late spark, as he chased down a Corey Norman kick for the Saints' first try and went 30 metres for their next after nice play from Tom Amone and Jack de Belin.

But the fullback's potential for 2022 won't make up for the Dragons' wasted 2021, after Vaughan's illegal party saw his contract torn up, 12 players suspended and a spiral from seventh to 12th on the ladder.

"Everything we have done we have done to ourselves," coach Anthony Griffin said.

"We're not making excuses or being victims about it."

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