The Rabbitohs were coming off a win over the Cowboys, and the Raiders off a loss to the Roosters when they met at GIO Stadium on Saturday night, for what turned out to be a fairly slow-scoring game, with neither team scoring a try until the second stanza. Even then, the Raiders only scored one, and the Bunnies two, with a couple of penalties in the first forty to round out the scoreline. South Sydney were keen, from the outset, to extend their winning streak to six games, while Canberra were just as determined to make up for a disappointing second half against Sydney City at Suncorp for their first home game after three consecutive weeks on the road.
Nick Cotric and Ethan Lowe were both playing in the centres for the first time in their careers, but you wouldn’t have known, as both teams made big strides on their first sets, and went set for set for a while, with Charnze Nikoll-Klokstad proving particularly reliable beneath Adam Reynolds’ boot. Jack Wighton broke the rhythm five minutes in, sending a superb bomb down to the left corner, where Mawene Hiroti almost brought the footy back in field, but was dragged back in goal by a staunch Canberra defence, getting the home team the first dropout and repeat set so far.
Jarrod Croker glimpsed some space on the left, and did well to stay in the field of play, but Corey Allan neutralized Wighton this time around, gathering up his grubber on the last tackle after it ricocheted off Reynolds. Dunamis Lui made a mammoth tackle on the first play, as if to recoup some of the momentum of the previous dropout, but Dane Gagai was still able to make a strong run at the line on the fourth, before Cody Walker corrected with a clutch kick that Michael Oldfield only just cleaned up as Campbell Graham tried to drag him over the sideline.
Sam Williams kicked next for the Raiders, and sent the Steeden over the edge, giving both teams their first real breathing-space so far as they packed the scrum. Graham took the first tackle, and milked the first penalty of the game – a slow peel from Wighton – as the Bunnies now got their own early burst of field position. Despite a massive hit from Lui within the twenty, Cameron Murray made the best offload of the game so far, before an offside penalty from Ryan Sutton set up Reynolds to boot the first two points of the match through the posts.
South Sydney enjoyed their best attack so far on the next set, although CNK responded with his gutsiest take of the night, leaving himself wide open to a massive kick chase from Gagai and Walker, who didn’t quite converge on him in time. Allan was just as courageous beneath a torpedo from Wighton, before CNK contained a torpedo from Reynolds, as both teams started to settle back into the give-and-take groove of the opening minutes – exactly the rhythm you’d expect when 2nd plays 4th.Embed from Getty Images
The Bunnies got their next chance when Oldfield lost the footy, gifting them a fresh set, which turned into a repeat set only for Tevita Tatola to lose it to Ryan Sutton. This abrupt shift in momentum seemed to galvanise the Raiders, and unsettle South Sydney, who now conceded three consecutive penalties, all of them from Sam Burgess, who responded to Sutton’s steal with a flop, crowded in on the third tackle, and then made a second effort on Papalii on the penultimate play, setting up Croker to level the score with a penalty kick of his own.
Seeing Burgess scramble and panic was the last thing the Rabbitohs needed at this point, especially since the Raiders amped up in response, with Josh Papalii building on a second effort from Cameron Murray to make the first linebreak of the game – a scintillating run up the right edge that Sutton and Murray would never have contained if the right post hadn’t helped them out. Still, with another tackle up their sleeve, the Raiders forced another dropout, and Croker sent another two through the posts, after Burgess was – incorrectly – held to have crowded in on Corey Hosburgh just before he knocked on while playing the ball.
There was a pause in the game when Liam Knight was sent off for an HIA, and replaced by Mark Nicholls, before George Burgess made an unforced error for his first big play of the night, and then followed it up with a pair of dangerous tackles, in what was turning out to be a fairly unfortunate match for the Burgess clan. This time Croker missed the kick, but he got a second chance when Sam Burgess made a ball strip on the first tackle after the Raiders recovered the football, putting Canberra four points ahead without either team having scored another try.
South Sydney were barely behind, but they’d also conceded eight penalties in a row, and really needed to score next to get back in the game, especially since the Canberra home crowd was starting to cascade behind their team as half time approached. It felt critical, then, when Sam Burgess got the footy back for the Bunnies a minute later, weathering an enormous tackle from Horsburgh to cement a sustained period of position for South Sydney, and three successive penalties from Canberra – an obstruction from Ryan Sutton, a flop from Iosia Soliola and a strip from Josh Hodgson.
Now it was the Bunnies’ choice to turn an accumulation of field position into two points, as Reynolds sliced the Steeden through the posts seconds before the siren ran out. Canberra had conceded three penalties pretty rapidly, but the refs couldn’t bin anyone, given that they’d let the Rabbits get through eight in a row, five of which had come from Sam Burgess alone. Both teams would have to wait for their first try until the second half, which started with Knight returning from his HIA, before a mistake from Young and second effort from Whitehead broke a relatively stable opening rhythm much as Wighton and Hiroti’s combo had in the first forty.Embed from Getty Images
The second half was more remunerative for both sides, but still pretty sparsely paced, consisting of three tries – one every ten minutes for the next half hour. Wighton got things rolling with a great kick, and the Raiders responded with one of their best kick chases of the night, while Cotric proved pretty difficult to contain on the following set. Still, the Rabbitohs got the first big chance of this second stana, when Whitehead was pinged for a second effort on Gagai, setting up Mawene Hiroti to break through the line on the right edge. George Burgess followed by barging down the middle towards Horsburgh, before Sutton seemed like he might have scored on the last, off a crafty Reynolds grubber.
However, the on-field ruling was no try, and the replay showed that Sutton had lost the Steeden onto the ground before he had a chance to score. This was a big relief for CNK, who had been the last line of defence, and for the Raiders as a whole, who now got a twenty metre restart instead of conceding the first try of the night. A set later, though, Cody Walker collected the high ball in goal and made his way thirty metres up the field, restoring the urgency that had led to Souths almost scoring at the end of Hiroti’s linebreak and Sutton’s run, before collecting the footy from Cook at the end of the set to smash over in Sutto’s shadow and put down the first four.
Once again, CNK was the last line of defence, after Walker jumped over a low tackle from Sezer and launched himself at the line. Full credit has to got to Cook as well, for the best run and pass out of dummy half all night – a classic play that cemented this as South Sydney’s game for the next thirty minutes, even if Reynolds botched an early kick on the restart, allowing the Raiders to notch up some decent field position almost immediately, as George Burgess headed off the park. Cotric now came very close to a crucial offload to Oldfield on the right edge, but Sam Burgess collected the Williams grubber and made his way back infield at the end of it all.
The Bunnies were bunched into their own end over the next set, but Sutton made a big run on the third tackle, before Cook made the first 40/20 attempt of the night – and almost succeeded, only for CNK to wrap up the Steeden on the left edge of the field, getting a bit of closure for letting Sutton and Walker through a couple of minutes before. South Sydney needed a shift in momentum, and Cameron Murray provided it with an inspired strip on Bailey Simonsson, before a loose carry from Allan was deemed to be an attempted strip from Croker, gifting the Bunnies the scrum feed twenty metres out from the chalk.
Murray made a mammoth run on the first, but the Rabbits only just glimpsed a rapid left sweep before Liam Knight put the ball down while trying to collect a high pass from Cook. Once again, a subsequent Canberra error gave Souths another shot, with Siliva Havilii now putting down the ball in turn, early in the tackle count. For a moment, a cut-out pass from Reynolds to Gagai looked like it might pay dividends, but the Raiders were there to contain him, before Reyno made an unusually long kick, skittering the footy into touch and granting a much-needed seven tackle to Canberra, who made the most of it for the best try-scoring sequence all night.Embed from Getty Images
It started with Cotric collecting an early ball from Williams, muscling his way into three defenders, and poking his nose through the line, where he popped the footy across to Whitehead just as Ethan Lowe was completing the tackle. Whitehead now broke through the line, dodging around a low tackle from Allan, and holding the Steeden close to his chest until Cook was almost upon him, before shooting it out to Williams to bookend the play by scoring to the left of the posts. With Croker adding the extras the Raiders had recovered their two point lead, but the Rabbitohs still had another try left in them, which they scored about ten minutes later.
Interestingly, this final four-pointer was preceded by one of the burliest defensive efforts of the night – a massive hit from Hudson Young on Tevita Tatola right on the line. Yet the Rabbitohs seemed galvanised by this challenge, and on the very next set Reynolds glimpsed some space on the right edge of the field when they were halfway up the park, shifting the footy to Walker who showcased some brilliant timing as he ran towards Simonsson, and then displaced him with his footwork, before a bullet pass sent Hiroti across in the corner for his first NRL try, which he got down just before he lost possession, and just before he was dragged into touch.
It was a consummate moment of organisation and leadership from Reynolds, who had proved critical in ensuring this four-point lead in a low-scoring game for both teams. The cardinal and myrtle will be keen to continue this momentum with a big win over the Tigers when they host them at ANZ Stadium for Indigenous Round next Saturday night, while the Raiders will be looking for a better home game, and more points on the board, when they host the Cowboys at GIO Stadium earlier the same afternoon, as the premium hot climate and cold climate team come together in wintry Canberra.