The Rabbitohs and Cowboys ran directly onto the field following the Roosters-Raiders clash for the last game of Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday afternoon. This would turn out to be one of the most rousing wins of the 2019 season for the Bunnies so far, allowing Damien Cook, Adam Reynolds and Cameron Murray to demonstrate just how much they have refined their already excellent game during the first part of this year.
Two mistakes opened the match, the first a dangerous tackle from Junior Tatola on Jordan Kahu, and the second a forward pass from Jason Taumalolo midway up the field. Only South Sydney were able to capitalise on the mistake, however, as J.T.’s pass was followed by a linebreak from Kyle Turner two tackles into the next set. He may have been prevented from scoring by an ankle tap from Coen Hess, but Reynolds still trapped Hampton in goal for a dropout at the end of the set.
Cook sent through an equally good kick at the end of the next set. While Taumalolo managed to shepherd the ball away from Murray, Gavin Cooper was still forced to pop it into touch, gifting the Bunnies their second straight dropout. Cook now offered up two great runs, both of which were made with a Burgess in mind. The first time, he brought the footy over from the left edge, helping Tom Burgess to straighten the play down the middle of the field.
The second time, he drifted across to the right, dummied a couple of times, and then sent the Steeden across the chest of Reynolds to Sam Burgess. Cooper didn’t quite get to Sam, who ploughed straight through Hampton to slam the footy down on the line. This would be the first of two outstanding communicative sequences between Reynolds and Cook, who called his halfback inside the play to clear up a gap in the North Queensland defence at just the right moment.
While Reynolds botched the conversion, the Bunnies had all the momentum, and got a chance to make it a converted try lead soon after. Michael Morgan took the kickoff, despite Kyle Feldt having returned from injury, and the Rabbitohs consolidated with one of their best sets of the night so far. A set later, Alex Johnston almost broke through the line, but was stopped by another trysaving tap from Hess. Nevertheless, Reynolds kicked the first penalty goal of the afternoon a few tackles later, thanks to an escort from Morgan.Embed from Getty Images
Two sets later, the Bunnies got a penalty late in the tackle count following a slow peel from Matt Scott. They did even more with it than with Taumalolo’s forward pass, proceeding to score two rapid tries. The first came off another great piece of communication between Cook and Reynolds, who saw his hooker heading into the line and drifting to the right, but barked out instructions to head in the other direction. It was the correct advice, setting up Cook for a try-assisting pass to Murray a moment later.
This time, Reynolds adding the extras, putting South Sydney twelve points ahead. Cook got another try assist on the restart, deciding to run the football on the last play, and dodging out of a tackle from Hampton before shifting the Steeden across to Kyle Turner at the critical moment. Turner crossed over as effortlessly as Murray had a minute before, taking the Bunnies to an eighteen point lead once Reynolds had slotted through another conversion.
It was clear that the Cowboys needed to disrupt the game, and needed one of their key playmakers to come up with some calculated risk. Morgan was that man, providing two game-changing plays over the final ten minutes, both of which would have been fairly questionable had they not both resulted in tries. The first came after a mistake from Reynolds, and a penalty for Ethan Lowe for working on the ground.
In response, Morgan kicked on the first tackle, despite the fact that North Queensland had spent very little time down South Sydney’s end of the park. The kick paid dividends, however, forcing Campbell Graham to ground it, and gaining the Cowboys their first dropout of the game. On the next set, Mitch Dunn came up with a great deception play on the right edge, indicating that he was going to shift the footy out the back, but instead opting to send the lead player, Justin O’Neill, across.
Only Tatola was in place as the last line of defence, as O’Neill put down his sixth try in six games, and Kahu promptly added the extras to narrow the South Sydney lead to two converted tries. Both sides now got a bit of breathing-space following a big clash on the first tackle of the next set, as Liam Knight and George Burgess came together in an effort to clean up Francis Molo. While Molo was cleared, Knight was sent off for an HIA, and replaced with Mark Nicholls.Embed from Getty Images
The Cowboys made the most of the pause in play, marching their way back down the field after a pair of slow peels from Nicholls and Sam Burgess. Once they were within the South Sydney twenty, they directed the play to the right edge, and tried to replicate the rhythm of their previous try. Dunn almost went from try assister to try scorer in the same spot where he’d sent O’Neill over, only to be held up right on the line by a massive trysaver from John Sutton.
It had been Morgan who almost assisted Dunn, and he followed up with the most daring try assist of the season so far – a stunning sequel to his first-tackle kick five minutes before. Finding himself with the footy on the right edge, Morgan made as if to grubber, but instead booted across a banana kick that found O’Neill right on the chest. All O’Neill had to do was dodge around Turner to score, while the ball remained live after Dunn showed some quick thinking to get his head out of the way of Morgan’s boot.
This felt like a definitive moment in Morgan’s evolution in Johnathan Thurston’s absence – it was a Thurston-like play – and made for a galvanising end to the first stanza for North Queensland, even if Kahu didn’t manage the conversion the second time around. The Bunnies didn’t take long to respond when they returned from the sheds, as Cody Walker answered Morgan’s dexterity with an equally exquisite play, setting the stage for a dominant opening ten minutes for the home team.
Collecting the footy on the left edge of the field, Walker got through five players – O’Neill, Bolton, Morgan, Dunn and finally Kahu – to land a metre over the line. What made the try so incredible, however, was that Walker almost lost the football at the start of it all, brushing it with the tips of his fingers, and allowing gravity to take over, only to scoop it up a millisecond and a millimetre before it contacted the ground.
Five minutes later, a dropoff play sent George Burgess through the line. Burgess didn’t score, but the strength of his run and the speed of his play-the-ball was enough to ensure that Cook could continue his momentum right on the line. Tapping into that rhythm, the South Sydney hooker gathered the Steeden and slammed through the straggling North Queensland defence as if he had the bulk and armature of a forward to support him, putting the Bunnies 30-10 once Reynolds added the extras.Embed from Getty Images
The Rabbitohs had now responded to the pair of North Queensland tries with another pair of their own. They’d only score two more points over the rest of the game – a penalty kick a minute out from the siren – but they’d made enough headway to guarantee a comfortable win. By the time that Tom Opacic crossed over at the seventieth minute it was a mere consolation try for the Cowboys, who never managed to recapture their burst of momentum at the end of the first half.
South Sydney are now in a good position to travel to Canberra next week to meet the Raiders, who must be smarting from their close loss to the Roosters, and will be keen to recover their pride with a home win. On the other side of the Steeden, this was a bit of a mixed game for the Cowboys – another disappointing loss, to be sure, but proof of Morgan’s vision and dexterity when he is really firing. They’ll be looking to tap into that vision, and make the most of the Eels’ shattered spirits in the wake of their 64-10 loss to Melbourne, when they host them next Saturday in Townsville.