SOUTH Sydney fumbled their way to a sixth straight win against Gold Coast on Friday night without their State of Origin stars but forced coach Anthony Seibold to sit through one of his side's worst performances of the year.
The lacklustre Rabbitohs, featuring Nowra born Cody Walker, completed at just 64 per cent at Cbus Super Stadium and made 16 errors, dropping the ball time and again in their own half and while attacking the Titans line during the 18-16 win but finished the night in equal second alongside St George Illawarra and have their swag of representative stars to return next weekend.
"We need to be better," Seibold said.
"The same group of players put in a really positive performance against the Sharks a week before.
“We trained together all week, we had a really good preparation, there's no excuses we just weren't good enough in terms of holding onto the footy."
Queenslanders Greg Inglis and Dane Gagai were rested alongside their NSW counterparts Damien Cook and Angus Crichton, the latter two omitted just an hour before kick-off.
It forced Seibold into a host of positional changes.
Robbie Farah filled in at hooker for just the second time this season, young half Adam Doueuhi and Hymel Hunt started in the centres, and Cameron Murray was promoted into the second row.
"It was my decision, they all wanted to play, I made the decision that I wanted to prepare as best we could with the players that we had," Seibold said.
"I had it in my head all week, they played Wednesday night, we played tonight then we play next Thursday.
“I just don't understand how we can expect [them] to play all three games."
For the home side, Jarrod Wallace and Jai Arrow both backed up after their Queensland exertions from two nights before and their inclusion lifted the plucky Titans, who took it to Souths from the opening whistle.
They just didn't quite have the class to overcome more-fancied rivals from south of the border.
For all the frustration Seibold would have felt for his side's inability to protect the football, he would have been just as delighted with their resolve in defence.
Down 18-10 midway through the first half, the Titans, featuring Kiama product Mitch Rein, threatened to stage a comeback when captain Ryan James crashed over for his second try, but the Bunnies held on.
"Our middle was pretty strong today, I thought our edges probably a bit of lack of trust at certain times under the pump," Titans coach Garth Brennan said.
"I just thought they came up with some poor decisions and some one-on-one misses on that edge really hurt us."
Aiding their cause were two injuries to Gold Coast. Max King dislocated a shoulder in the first half and didn't return and Moeaki Fotuaika was heavily concussed after the break and groggily left the field.
The side of his head collided with Robert Jennings and he was knocked out immediately. His head then hit with the ground and for a moment he started convulsing while receiving medical treatment before ultimately making it back to his feet.
Gold Coast was also reduced to 12 men in both halves when Keegan Hipgrave became the first man since Michael Buettner in 2002 to be sin-binned twice in the one game.
"It's just the style of footy he plays, he plays at a hundred miles an hour and that's just Keegan," James said.
"We'll just have to tidy it up and work on it I guess."
Souths began sluggishly and were soon behind when Phillip Sami notched his seventh try of the season.
The in-form winger took advantage of a Campbell Graham misread while trying to diffuse an Ashley Taylor kick.
That was to the satisfaction of the Bunker, but the men upstairs went on to disallow three more tries in a busy first half for the video boys.
Gold Coast coach Garth Brennan thought his side had gone two tries clear inside 10 minutes but the video review showed Dale Copley and Hipgrave made a meal of a perfect AJ Brimson grubber when both players tried to ground the ball.
Souths captain Sam Burgess was denied a try in his 150th NRL game when younger brother George was penalised in the lead-up for taking out Jarrod Wallace.
The bunker was unsatisfied again when Farah scooted from dummy half and appeared to ground the ball beneath the posts, but Hipgrave dislodged the ball before earning his first stint in the sin-bin.
Souths soon went ahead when Doueuhi crossed for the first time at NRL level, slicing through at right centre to finish off a slick backline move.
Cody Walker then did it all himself to extend the Rabbitohs lead before James scored his first, charging over from close range despite the attention of four visiting defenders.