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Demetriou tells Bunnies to hold no punches against Penrith, Origin star OK with bench demotion

Jason Demetriou has told his South Sydney players to come prepared for a war of attrition if they want to knock premiers Penrith off their perch.

By demolishing Cronulla at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, Souths set up a preliminary final – and a tantalising grand final rematch – with the Panthers at Accor Stadium.

In an ominous sign for their reunion with Penrith, fullback Latrell Mitchell and five-eighth Cody Walker remained in second gear in their 38-12 win over the Sharks, which ensured the Bunnies reached a fifth straight preliminary final.

The Panthers, who have lost just four games all season, will go into next Saturday’s game oozing with confidence.

Their first-choice side have played a game a fortnight over the last month, while Souths have been put through the ringer.

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But while Mitchell cheekily said in a post-game interview with the Nine Network he was happy Souths were on the “right side of the draw”, coach Demetriou described the challenge as the NRL equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.

“I think Latrell means it’s a game where we are getting them before the GF,” Demetriou said. “They (Penrith) are a highly motivated team and they work really hard for each other.

(Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

“We’re under no illusions that this is the hardest task in the game at the moment. I think over the last three years, they’ve been pretty hard to beat.

“We can’t just think that to beat Penrith, we can go set for set and hope that we can win 6-4 – we’ve got to challenge the scoreboard.”

Since the start of the 2020 season, Souths have only defeated Penrith once in eight attempts, producing a shock upset in week one of the 2021 finals series before being pipped by the Panthers in the grand final.

The Rabbitohs kept a lid on celebrations, with Souths hooker Damien Cook telling reporters they would need to take their game to new heights next week.

“After the game we weren’t jumping around and carrying on about how excited we are because the job’s not done,” Cook said.

“We can’t be making easy errors and giving up field position because Nathan and Jarome can keep us locked down in our end and do what they did to us in the grand final.

“We’ve got to be really clean coming out of our own end and be disciplined as well.”

There are also injury concerns for forwards Jai Arrow and Siliva Havili along with winger Alex Johnston, but Cook said the Rabbitohs thrived when the odds were against them.

“Backs against the wall brings out the best in us,” he said.

“We just need to make sure stay calm in those situations and stick to our footy and not let the other team dictate how we defend or attack.”

Whoever lines up for the Bunnies, no further motivation will be needed after last year’s loss.

“For this group, it’s about going one better than last year and that’s where the mindset went straight after the game,” Demetriou said.

“We’ll put our gloves on, we’ll step into the ring and we’ll have a crack. We’re here for a reason and we’ve got to believe in that and turn up ready for a war next week.”

Koroisau’s Api with new role

Api Koroisau would be happy to come off the bench in Penrith’s preliminary final with South Sydney, saying he is happy to be injected into the game with tired defenders.

Koroisau has reverted to being a bench hooker in two of Penrith’s last three games, as part of a late-minute switch with regular No.14 Mitch Kenny.

The ploy was initially thought up as a way of managing Koroisau’s minutes in the penultimate round against the Rabbitohs, before the Panthers saw the upside of the move.

Koroisau set up two tries in that match coming onto the field fresh, prompting Ivan Cleary to repeat the tactic again against Parramatta in week one of the finals.

Also crucial is Kenny’s defence in the middle, with figures showing Koroisau misses the second most tackles of any No.9 in the competition.

And the 29-year-old Koroisau is happy to go the same way again against Souths in Saturday night’s preliminary final at Accor Stadium.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to it,” Koroisau told AAP. “I’m finding it great. A bit of fatigue in the game by the time I come on and I can just do what I need to do.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 17:  Apisai Koroisau of the Panthers is tackled by Damien Cook of the Rabbitohs during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the Penrith Panthers and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium on October 17, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Apisai Koroisau. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

“Mitch Kenny does an awesome job starting the game, defensively he is so strong. So I don’t mind it.”

Koroisau’s return to the bench was only the 15th time it’s happened in his NRL career, and he hasn’t done so regularly since his rookie year of 2014 at Souths.

But the hooker does not see it as a relegation.

“I’m having to do my job for the team. Ivan sees it that way and at the end of the day it works so well,” Koroisau said.

“Mitch Kenny’s an incredible defender and starts off the game so well.

“It was a huge forward pack (against Parramatta in week one of the finals). He really went out there and laid the foundation for me.”

Koroisau also says his impending exit to Wests Tigers for next season had still not sunk in, with Saturday’s match his last for the Panthers if they are beaten.

“It’s probably a gift and a curse that you only live day to day. My thoughts haven’t even crossed beyond this week,” Koroisau said.

“It’s literally just been who I’ve been going up as well. It’s a bad thing as well, because I don’t look into the future and set out my life.

“I don’t plan ahead with anything. But at the end of the day, it seems to work out and I use it to my advantage to be able to stay present in footy games.”



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