South Sydney players have detailed how their 56-12 flogging from Penrith in May changed their season, with Friday night's bumper rematch now a barometer for how far they've come.
The Rabbitohs were pounded by the Panthers in round 11 in Dubbo, making for the second 50-point scoreline against them in the space of 17 days.
It prompted a stony-faced Wayne Bennett post-match who offered players little words, before an immediate change to their defensive structure.
Souths have not lost a game since, conceding less than 15 points per game in that period compared to almost 23 in the opening 11 rounds.
“We had to make a quick change after the Penrith game,” hooker Damien Cook said.
“We've definitely got a different defensive mindset now, we've changed a few things around in our structure and how we defend,
“There was a couple of games before we won but we lost a couple of close ones as well, so it probably didn't highlight the issue too much.
“But that definitely did, especially when we're talking about the Penrith and the (50-0) Melbourne one as well which we lost to big scores.”
Cook insisted that Penrith and Melbourne remain the best two teams in the competition, after having held onto first and second spot since April.
A win over the Panthers on Friday will move Souths into second spot, but there is no real reward for that given they will face off at a neutral Queensland venue in the first week of finals.
“Yeah we're playing some good footy, but you have to remember these two did give us a touch up last time we played,” Cook said.
“This is going to be be the biggest test for us this year so far.
“And we'll be able to actually see how big this defensive process we've got now goes this weekend against a quality side like Penrith before finals.”
Try as they might to create an underdog-status, what the Rabbitohs won't do is play down Cody Walker's form.
Walker entered the last Penrith clash in May as NSW's incumbent No.6 and left Dubbo a fair way behind Jarome Luai in the race for the jersey.
In the 10 games since, Walker has set up 25 tries, with his 34 for the season putting him on the verge of overtaking Johnathan Thurston's record of 37 in 2015.
Cook on Friday backed him to claim the Dally M, with Tom Trbojevic's potential absence inviting Walker and Penrith No.7 Nathan Cleary back into the race.
“Turbo's obviously been big favourite but he has missed a few games at the start of the year,” Cook said.
“I think Cody's been quite consistent all year as well.
“Obviously he has been outstanding in the last 10 games and we've won all those 10 games as well so there's some points there.”Internet Explorer Channel Network