South Sydney coach Michael Maguire may have spoken optimistically about the future but nothing could hide the fact that the present is pretty ugly for the Rabbitohs.
The 2014 premiers barely fired a shot against North Queensland in Cairns on Sunday – and it reflected on the scoreboard – a 20-0 loss to last season’s trophy holders.
It marked the first time since 2009 that Souths had lost five games in a row, the defeat all but putting a line through the red and green for finals football in 2016.
With just five wins this season the Rabbitohs would likely have to win their remaining eight matches to make their fifth finals campaign in a row.
Maguire conceded 2016 was all but over.
“The finals are well and truly down the track,” he said.
Not surprisingly though, the man known for giving little away to the media, remained publicly optimistic about what lay ahead.
“What I do love about this competition is that for us as a club, we’ve had highs and now we’re being challenged about where we sit,” Maguire said post-game in Cairns.
“We get to find out about the strengths of all areas of our club. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead because I’ve seen the effort’s there, but we need to be more clinical.
“If we do that, then the momentum in our organisation and the way we’re playing, will change.”
It was a similar sentiment for fellow stragglers Newcastle, who ran out to a 22-0 lead over top-four hopefuls Canberra before being run down in one of the NRL’s most extraordinary comebacks.
The Knights raced in four tries in the first 25 minutes of Sunday’s match at GIO Stadium, only to lose 29-25 in golden point.
But they fell asleep thereafter, conceding a crucial try just before halftime and then another four straight, including the freaky match-winning effort by Jordan Rapana from a failed Blake Austin field goal.
“We probably stopped playing a bit because we’re not used to being in that situation,” Knights coach Nathan Brown said.
“It probably had a bit of a negative impact on us in the second half. We had a number of things we could’ve controlled a lot better. But the effort that was really really good.”
The defeat keeps the Knights entrenched on the bottom of the ladder, while the Raiders move to sixth and within one point of the top four.
Cronulla maintained their status as the team to beat in 2016 with a 34-24 victory over Parramatta at home on Saturday. It was their 12th win in a row – a new club record.
Wests Tigers earlier toppled Penrith 34-26 on the back of a red-hot James Tedesco, who staked his undeniable claim for a State of Origin debut.
It followed the Warriors 27-18 triumph over Gold Coast, with Shaun Johnson again providing the magic in his side’s fourth win in five games.
In the round’s other matches, Brisbane suffered a record 48-6 loss to Melbourne, while Canterbury beat Sydney Roosters 24-20.
Manly and St George Illawarra cap off round 17 at Brookvale Oval on Monday night.