Shannon Meyer reviews the Australian rugby league’s oldest rivalry that ended in a big Rabbitohs win at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night in a game that was spiteful at times and showcased the best and worst of Latrell Mitchell.
Tries: Joseph Manu (16), Sam Verrills (48)
Goals: Siosiua Taukeiaho (18), Sam Walker (49)
Tries: Alex Johnston (5, 68, 79), Mark Nicholls (21, 25), Latrell Mitchell (31, 71), Jaxson Paulo (61, 77)
Goals: Adam Reynolds (6, 14 – pen, 62, 70, 72, 77, 80), Latrell Mitchell (23, 26)
Player of the Year Points
3 pts – Cameron Murray (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
2 pts – Latrell Mitchell (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
1 pt – Mark Nicholls (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
The NRL’s oldest rivalry kicked off another chapter in the unfamiliar surrounds of Suncorp Stadium, with South Sydney looking to bounce back after yet another loss to a top two side, and the Roosters looking to stay ahead in the battle for the top four. Top four ambitions aside, it was still Souths v Easts (in the old language).
It didn’t take the Rabbitohs long to open the scoring, and who else other than Alex Johnston could be the player to do it? Following a well-worn but successful path to the left Cody Walker found a charging Dane Gagai who found Alex Johnston: he simply burned past newcomer Brad Abbey to score in the corner. Could the Souths flyer grab another bag of five tries and seal the leading try scorer for the season?
Souths were well on top after the try, with a very physical performance that was missing in last weekend’s second half against Penrith.
The Rabbitohs went close to doubling their lead in the 14th minute after a fine Cameron Murray run and offload to Tevita Tatola who claimed a drop ball came off his knees after scoring. The Video Referee couldn’t find any evidence of that but Souths got a penalty for a high shot on Murray and took the two to extend the lead to 8-0.
On the back of Souths’ first error of the game minutes later, the Roosters had narrowed the gap to two points after a fine cross field kick from Drew Hutchison found Joseph Manu who took the ball easily scored with ease. The successful conversion left the score on 8-6.
On the first hit up after the try Jayd’n Sua and Mark Nicholls combined for one of the hits of the season. Roosters forward Fletcher Baker was no doubt still smarting from it minutes later.
South Sydney scored their second try a few sets later and Nicholls was the unlikely scorer. With the Roosters expecting the usual Walker left side movement the Rabbitohs changed it up and Nicholls ran off Murray from 10 metres out and charged over the line to score near the posts. The attacking set was set up by Murray also as produced a smart steal. Latrell Mitchell converted as Adam Reynolds was down injured, but continued.
As unlikely as Nicholls’ first try was, very few would have backed him to seal a double a few minutes later, but score a second try he did. Nicholls was this time running the perfect line close to the Roosters try line, and it was set up by a perfect pass from dummy half from Damian Cook. Mitchell added the two points and the Rabbitohs were looking red (and green) hot.
Mitchell had really started asserting his authority on the game and was rewarded with the Rabbitohs’ fourth try of the first half a few sets later. This time Reynolds drifted right to create a 2-1 scenario, found Mitchell who passed quickly to Jaxson Paulo who then drew James Tedesco and found Latrell back on the inside who strolled over to score. Mitchell missed the kick and the score remained 24-6.
South Sydney had put on one of their better halves of the season against the biggest foes, but to get finals-ready they needed to maintain that in the second half, with the added bonus of hurting the Roosters’ top four chances.
HALF-TIME: Sydney Roosters 6 South Sydney Rabbitohs 24
The second half couldn’t have started much worse for the Roosters as they lost interchange forward Ben Thomas in the first tackle of the game and his head hit Liam Knight’s shoulder while trying to make a tackle. It was hard to think that Thomas would return after leaving for a HIA.
To make things even harder for the Roosters prop Siosiua Taukeiaho was injured and left the field a while later after pressure on his knees in a Rabbitohs tackle. The Roosters were down to 15 players but had been holding their own on the second half as the score remained 24-6. Liam Knight was put on report for the tackle.
Fresh from the penalty the Roosters narrowed the gap from the very next set as hooker Sam Verrills scurried his way over from dummy half. He brushed off a big tackle from Tevita Tatola close to the line but continued to burrow (pardon the pun) his way towards the line and managed to place the ball on the line by reaching out over his head backwards as he was turned in the tackle under the posts. The easy conversion made, the Roosters were back in this game and arguably on top at the moment.
The big moment of the game came as the 60th minute approached, and it was almost missed in the hectic pace of the game.
After a Roosters knock on referee Ashley Klein awarded a penalty to the Roosters, which video replays were about to show why.
In an earlier play Mitchell smashed Joseph Manu high and late with a shoulder as the Roosters centre offloaded the ball. Clearly angry with Mitchell, and already sporting a massive lump on his cheek bone and under his eye, Manu confronted Mitchell at the break in play. The players had to be separated, and there was second melee later too, such was the Roosters player’s rage.
Looking at the replays, Manu had every right to be upset. As the referee had every right to send Mitchell to the sin bin. He was only put on report initially for the hit which made the crackdown earlier in the season that ruined Magic Weekend a bigger joke in retrospect. The Souths fullback was eventually sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes after the dust had settled. He’s lucky it was only a 10 minute rest. Given his record judiciary record this season, Latrell Mitchell may have played his last game for 2021. Even if Souths make the grand final.
The game started to turn spiteful after that, and another small melee broke out a few sets later when the Rabbitohs forward Jacob Host was caught in a dangerous tackle by the Roosters’ Egan Butcher. It gave Souths some rare ball in the Roosters territory in the second half. It quickly led to points.
Despite being a man down, Souths managed to create an overlap on the right to extend their lead against the run of play. They went through the reliable hands of Cook and Reynolds, then onto Su’a who ran at the line powerfully then provided a nice flick pass to Campbell Graham who quickly fed to Paulo to score in the corner. The sideline conversion gave the Rabbitohs a 30-12 lead with just over 15 minutes to go.
Amazingly with a player off the field the Rabbitohs were dominating and the Roosters looked tired. The Roosters were operating with a reduced bench.
That dominance was turned into points minutes later and Johnston helped himself to another try as did Walker to a try assist as they went left with success again. Souths had made that look all too easy. The Roosters looked cooked.
Indeed South Sydney extended their lead with the very next set. After an earlier break by Walker and supported by Dane Gagai down the left, the next play saw Mitchell with the ball close to the line and he powered his way over from 10 metres.
But once again we saw the best and worst Mitchell with seconds of each other. After scoring the try the Souths fullback then slammed the ball into the face of Fletcher Baker who was lying on the ground after the attempted tackle. This caused yet another melee with Mitchell in the centre of it all again. No action was taken by referee Klein. But you got the feeling this wasn’t over.
As for the game it was over as Reynolds added the two points and it was 42-12.
Mitchell was in the thick of it straight from the short kick off as his powerful 40 metre run set Souths in great position to score another try from a third try from consecutive set. That didn’t happen but a penalty gave Souths another set on the Roosters line.
Another scuffle broke out with three minutes to go when Walker took exception to a Sitili Tupouniua tackle. The end result was both Tupouniua and Gagai were sent to the sin bin. The game at this stage probably couldn’t end sooner for everyone involved.
Armed with the penalty Souths added another try from the next set through Paulo. The Souths winger came infield after a great diving offload from Mitchell and momentum just carried him over the line to score his second of the game.
But Souths weren’t done yet, and neither was Johnston who scored his third try of the night to extend Souths’ score to over 50 points and extend his own lead of the try scoring competition. It was as simple as a set play from a scrum on their own 40 metre line: Walker went left, found Benji Marshall who then passed the ball onto a flying Johnston from 40 metres out. For added salt, Reynolds kicked the sideline conversion.
The big loss leaves the Roosters at risk for the top four with Manly to play the Bulldogs, and with the likelihood of losing more players to injury.
For South Sydney it was a very good win over their fiercest rivals, but at what cost? Mitchell will be out for at least a few weeks, if not the rest of the season. But does it mean they can go the next step against the top two sides and make/win a grand final?
FULL-TIME: Sydney Roosters 12 South Sydney Rabbitohs 54
to be advised
Match Review Committee
to be advised