Shannon Meyer reviews a solid win for the Rabbitohs, which keeps them in touch with the top four. Just.
|10th||Try Dane Gagai (South Sydney)||South Sydney 4-0|
|12th||Goal Adam Reynolds (Rabbitohs)||South Sydney 6-0|
|21st||Penalty Goal Adam Reynolds (Rabbitohs)||South Sydney 8-0|
|23rd||Try Corey Allen (South Sydney)||South Sydney 12-0|
|24th||Goal Adam Reynolds (South Sydney)||South Sydney 14-0|
|25th||Try Campbell Graham (South Sydney)||South Sydney 18-0|
|26th||Goal Adam Reynolds (South Sydney)||South Sydney 20-0|
|32nd||Try Luke Garner (Wests Tigers)||South Sydney 20-4|
|34th||Goal Adam Doueihi (Wests Tigers)||South Sydney 20-6|
|35th||Try Tommy Talau (Wests Tigers)||South Sydney 20-10|
|37th||Goal Adam Doueihi (Wests Tigers)||South Sydney 20-12|
|48th||Alex Twal (Wests Tigers) – SIN BIN||South Sydney 20-12|
|50th||Luke Brooks (Wests Tigers) – SIN BIN||South Sydney 20-12|
|50th||Dane Gagai (South Sydney) – SIN BIN||South Sydney 20-12|
|57th||Try Campbell Graham (South Sydney)||South Sydney 24-12|
|59th||Goal Adam Reynolds (South Sydney)||South Sydney 26-12|
|61st||Try Luke Brooks (Wests Tigers)||South Sydney 26-16|
|61st||Goal Adam Doueihi (Wests Tigers)||South Sydney 26-18|
|64th||Try Asu Kepaoa (Wests Tigers)||South Sydney 26-22|
|66th||Goal Adam Doueihi (Wests Tigers)||South Sydney 26-24|
Souths had the upper hand for both territory and possession in the early part of Thursday night’s clash, thanks to the occasional Tigers error, but it took until the 10th minute for the Rabbitohs to turn that advantage into points.
Fresh from a set restart handed to them by the Tigers inside their defensive 20 metre and an earlier Tigers error, Souths went on the attack straight away. It was again the Rabbitohs’ key spine men involved: Damien Cook, Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker with the quick hands to the right, eventually finding Dane Gagai for the first of the night. As ever, Reynolds made no mistake and the Rabbitohs had their 6-0 scoreline to go with their advantage.
The errors and penalties continued from the Tigers, and in the 21st minute Souths took the two points to extend their lead to eight points. The break waiting for the goal was used by an already hobbling Benji Marshall to get some attention; one hopes it is just minor, as a serious injury could rob him of getting to see out his Tigers career on the field.
Those two points not only gave Souths an extended lead, but they also got the ball back from the kick off, and before the next set had finished they went further in front. Souths’ momentum in the set saw them get to the Tigers’ 30 metre line, and Cook scooted from dummy half, found Walker lurking as per recent trends, and eventually fullback Corey Allen was on the spot to get the final pass from Walker to score and continue his good form in the number one jersey. The successful conversion saw Souths leading 14-0.
The Tigers barely had time to catch their breath before the Rabbitohs went even further ahead. Similar to the previous try, some good momentum up the middle allowed Cook to work his magic from dummy half, and once again Walker was nearby to keep the move going. Some slicks hands from Jaydn Su’A saw Alex Johnston in space down the left touchline, and with 10 metres to go he found Campbell Graham on the inside who scored barely two minutes after the last one.
Souths were running riot and it was looking ugly for the Tigers.
A repeat set courtesy of good kick had the Tigers with the ball in decent territory, for what seemed like the first time of the game, in the 30th minute.
The Wests Tigers turned it into points too, with Harry Grant going to a large blindside on the fifth tackle and finding Luke Garner on the charge, who muscled his way through a slightly disappointing Rabbitohs’ goal line defense. The Tigers had clawed the score back to 20-6.
If it was good enough for the Rabbitohs to score back-to-back tries, then the Tigers certainly thought it was good enough for themselves. Luke Brooks combined with Marshall for a move to the left, and the move eventually found Tommy Talau, who had surprisingly little trouble crossing for the Tigers’ second try. The conversion brought the game back to just eight again, and the 20-12 score remained until the break.
It was a reasonably even contest for a large part of the first half, and you could argue that the Wests Tigers had the upper hand; they certainly looked like the more enthusiastic side.
The Tigers couldn’t turn it into points, and then left themselves open for a Souths onslaught when Gagai intercepted the ball but couldn’t quite make it all the way. In the aftermath of all the action, Alex Twal had stayed on the tackled Rabbitohs player for a second too long, and rugby league’s most disproportionate penalty was handed out as Twal was sent to the sin bin.
A few minutes later and more players left the field, this time after a scuffle broke out between Brooks and Gagai. Some contact between Gagai and Brooks escalated when the Rabbitohs player threw the ball at Brooks who took exception, along with the other 20-odd players on the ground. Brooks landed a punch on Gagai’s chin, which earned him 10 minutes in the sin bin, the same punishment for Gagai for starting it all in the first place.
Despite being down one player, the Wests Tigers had the better possession and territory with just 11 players, as Souths continued to look a little off the pace.
Off the pace or not, Souths waited until Twal was just about back on the field before taking advantage of their extra man. On the back of a repeat set from the unlikely source of a Tom Burgess grubber, Campbell Graham scooted down the right side vacated by the missing Gagai to score his second try of the night. Once again the last passes to the right were thrown by Reynolds to Walker. This duo looking as good as ever.
Within seconds of Brooks returning from the sin bin, he had scored for the Wests Tigers, with his halves partner Marshall involved. He ran the blindside, kicked a grubber that went a metre, pulled off one of his signature passes to find David Nofoaluma, who then grubbered back towards the posts and Brooks won the race to the ball. It was back to an eight-point ball game with each side having 13 players back on the field.
For the second time in the game the Tigers scored back-to-back tries, helped by a penalty from the first set after the kick off; Marshall tried another long, flat pass, and this time it paid off as it landed right on the chest of Asu Kepaoa who avoided the Souths cover to score his first NRL try. Adam Doueihi nailed the sideline conversion.
There were just two points in the game now, a just reward for the Tigers’ second half performance, highlighted by their efforts with a man short. There was still time to win it too, with nearly 15 minutes left.
Souths had the best chance of scoring in those last 15 minutes, with the usually reliable Alex Johnston bombing a try that was a simple catch and run 10 metres almost unaided. Perhaps he was distracted by his recent commitment to the club.
The last minutes of the game were entertaining, even if there were a few errors, with some sparkling attack, one-on-one strips and big hits on show. But no points.
No more points meant that Souths still stay relevant for the finals, even if they weren’t at their best at times on the night. The Wests Tigers fought well given the circumstances, but it looks another ninth place finish is waiting for them for the 2020 NRL season.
Although the Rabbitohs’ intensity dropped off for a large part of the second half, Souths looked sharp as ever up until the half-hour mark; one of the highlights of the match was the quickfire tries scored by Souths. When the Rabbitohs are on, they are a great side to watch, with the speed of Damien Cook from dummy half, and both halves Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker heavily involved and usually together.
On the flip side, the Tigers’ tenacity to battle back from 20 points down before the half-hour mark, and to be arguably the better side in the second half, would be encouraging. But sadly being competitive, and playing well enough, still wasn’t enough for the win; another ninth place finish appears likely. Benji Marshall still has some magic, and here’s hoping he can find a club for a few more years somewhere. Hopefully Josh Reynolds and Russell Packer stayed to the end given the excitement.
It’s great to see Alex Johnston re-signing with the club. He may not be the big name for any other club, but is certainly the type of club man. One that takes a pay cut to stay.
Wests Tigers: 4. Adam Doueihi 2. David Nofoaluma 18. Chris Lawrence 19. Tommy Talau 5. Asu Kepaoa 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Harry Grant 10. Thomas Mikaele 11. Luke Garner 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Alex Twal. Interchange: 14. Matt Eisenhuth 15. Elijah Taylor 16. Jacob Liddle 17. Sam McIntyre.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: 1. Corey Allan 2. Alex Johnston 3. Campbell Graham 4. Steven Marsters 5. Dane Gagai 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Liam Knight 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. Jaydn Su’A 12. Bayley Sironen 13. Cameron Murray. Interchange: 14. Mark Nicholls 15. Jed Cartwright 16. Patrick Mago 17. Keaon Koloamatang.