After all-too-familiar loss, Souths have hard lesson to learn

When Cronulla were swept aside in Round 1, the Rabbitohs were riding high. Their attack clicked, with a boatload of points coming from their 'weaker' right side and halfback Lachlan Ilias heavily involved throughout.

The narrative around the Rabbitohs, Ilias, and their former halfback Adam Reynolds ebbs and flows between "How did they let him go?" and "Looks like they knew what they were doing all along!" with no room for nuance or shades of grey.

After two defeats, the lever has been flipped back to the former -- the Greek international winning six Dally M points at Shark Park now feels like a world away.

Ilias didn't have a great game at Allianz Stadium last night, but plenty around the club are still confident he'll figure it all out. But what about his halves partner?

Cody Walker is one of the sport's finest attacking threats, setting up a whopping 75 tries between 2020 and 2022 and scoring another 40. So far this year he's got just one try assist, zero linebreaks and tries, and is running the ball far less than in any other season.

An aspect of that contract saga that was never really spoken about was that people accepted the club letting Reynolds (currently 32) leave due to his age, while simultaneously extending the contract of Walker (currently 33).

Walker is 'younger' in NRL terms, but relies on his physical gifts just as much as his skill and guile -- certainly more so than Reynolds ever did. And yet, Walker's future with the club was never seriously threatened, nor has it been a hot topic since.

It shouldn't be, by the way -- he's a fantastic player and has proven as such over the past couple of years. Despite throwing an intercept, he was still Souths' best player in that grand final defeat, and was vital in last year's semifinal win over the Roosters.

It's a classic case of trading off a player's good qualities for the bad. Walker can be easily frustrated by the opposition, but can win you a game on his own. In the chaos of that Roosters semifinal, he kept a cool head throughout and was one of the team's best players.

That's why events like last night are so frustrating -- with 15 minutes to go, and the game getting away from his team, Walker sprinted after Roosters halfback Sam Walker and gave him the most comically-late push in the back.

Then, with the game truly gone late on, he seemed incensed by something that was said by former Bunny Nat Butcher, who simply laughed in Walker's face.

The problem is that this is an all-too-familiar sight for Souths fans in big games that they end up losing -- it emerged with Nathan Cleary in that grand final as well -- for all Walker's brilliance, and the maturity he's shown off the field, the red mist remains.

Tight losses to both the Panthers and Roosters are no reason to panic. The Rabbitohs remain one of the competition's best teams and barring injuries, will be around the traps at the end.

But both of those losses have had elements of everything that's gone wrong for them in big games in the past couple of seasons; whether it's a poor completion rate, not taking chances, or arguably their most talented player being more interested in scuffles than in winning the game.

They know what they have to do to turn these narrow losses against heavyweights into wins. The question is if they can get there.