FINALS WEEK 2: South Sydney Rabbitohs v. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (ANZ Stadium, 20/9/19)

The Sea Eagles started their sudden death match against the Rabbitohs by applying some early pressure, culminating with an offload from Marty Taupau that saw Daly Cherry-Evans make the first linebreak six minutes in. Nevertheless, Adam Reynolds responded with 40/20 on the next set, in the first big play of the game, although his boot was less successful a couple of tackles later, when he missed a penalty kick after DCE was pinged for being offside within the ten.

This was a bit of a worrying sign for the Rabbits given that the last two games against Manly were decided by one point. Still, they got on the board on the next set, when Cody Walker ran right into the line and shifted the footy to John Sutton, who caught and passed in turn to Alex Johnston, who was back on the left wing after last week’s match against the Roosters. All Johnston had to do was accelerate through Brendan Elliot and Jake Trvbojevic to put down the first four points of the night.

It remained four points, too, as Reynolds shanked the Steeden once again, suggesting that his hamstring issues still haven’t been properly resolved. Still, this was a great moment for Johnston after his struggles against Sydney City last Friday, while Reynolds proved that he could still manage the football in general play, sending it deep at the end of the next South Sydney set and isolating Elliot at the other end of the field for the third time so far.

A couple of tackles later, Liam Knight gave away the first South Sydney penalty, but an error in the play-the-ball from Brad Parker meant that the visitors were unable to capitalise upon their extra field position. Instead, Souths scored at the end of the next set, when Damien Cook ran into the line and sent the footy across to Cameron Murray, who put in one of his very best plays of the season, in a halfback-like sequence that saw him make the most of a decoy to give Walker room to score.

Once again, Elliot was the casualty, unable to prevent Walker from ploughing through him right on the chalk before putting down the footy with his right hand. This time, Reynolds added the extras, and the Bunnies really felt in first gear, which made it all the more dramatic when the Sea Eagles scored a minute later. Reynolds himself now became the casualty, as Dylan Walker drew him in to send Brad Parker over the line, before Reuben Garrick also missed his first kick of the night.

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The next few minutes were a battle of the halfbacks, starting with DCE being put on report for a crusher tackle on Cook, and Reynolds booting through his first penalty kick. An offside penalty from Reynolds then provided the Sea Eagles with the field position for their next try, which started with DCE squaring up the play, before a second assist from Walker targeted Reynolds, who slid across in the defensive line as Corey Waddell squeezed through the gap to score another four points.

This time Garrick added the extras to make it a two point match, before a volatile period about thirty minutes in effectively reset the game. It started with a DCE kick off the side of a the boot, which Adam Doueihi gathered five metres out from the line, only for DCE, Trbojevic and Gosiewski to drag him back in goal under the uprights. Tempers flared after Gosiewski pushed down on Doueihi’s face, with Gagai leading a bunch of Bunnies into the fray, before Gosiewski was penalised for a dangerous tackle, but Cody Walker was sent off the field for an open-handed slap.

The Sea Eagles had been on the cusp of their first dropout, but instead conceded the ball to South Sydney, who had to contend with only twelve men on the park. The adrenalin that had gathered around Gosiewski and Walker made for some of the most intense sets of the night, especially for the Rabbitohs, with Campbell Graham and Sam Burgess making the best trysaving tackle so far after Brad Parker found some space on the left edge of the field.

A set later, Doueihi got halfway up the field on the kick return, bringing the Bunnies to the ten by the first tackle, before Tevita Tatola got right to the posts on the second, only for a harbor bridge pass from Reynolds to find Garrick after coming forward out of the hands. Both teams were at their most desperate so far during this sequence, but the Sea Eagles finally made the most of the shifting momentum, thanks to a wide pass from Taupau that found Suli on the right edge.

Although Suli slipped while fending Gagai, he got back up, fended off Sutton, and popped the footy out to Garrick, who made it to the five metre mark, shifting the footy across to DCE while dancing over a low tackle from Gagi to remain in the field of play. All DCE had to do was receive the ball and curve around to ground it behind the posts, before throwing it up in the air with an emotional exuberance that spoke to the intensity of these last five minutes of football.

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Manly were now in front for the first time, and made it a four point lead once Garrick added his second conversion. Still, Souths recovered as soon as Walker returned to the field, gaining a repeat set a minute out from the siren. Cook responded with one of his deftest moves of the night, passing the Steeden directly behind him to Murray, who ran into the defence and then jumped straight over Taupau, superman-style, before landing Steeden-first on the turf.

Murray couldn’t have asked for a better image to cement his superstar status in 2019, levelling the score as the siren blew, before Reynolds added the extras from right in front to put the Bunnies two points ahead. This didn’t dampen the Sea Eagles’ spirit, though, since they gradually built momentum over the first five minutes back, as DCE got things rolling with a 40/20 kick before Waddell broke through the line a couple of sets later.

In the last few minutes of the first stanza, the Sea Eagles had tried to set up Suli for another tryscoring run – and he came close, fending off Gagai once again, but unable to make it any further up the field. Six minutes into the second half, DCE gave Suli another shot with a harbor bridge pass that mirrored Taupau’s earlier cut-out effort. Once again, Suli put the left hand fend on Gagai and dummied to the right, but this time elected to keep the Steeden, sliding past Johnston to score the next try.

Garrick missed the extras, meaning that it was now Manly’s turn to be two ahead, before Reynolds levelled the score after Parker was sent off for a professional foul fifteen minutes in. Yet a Sam Burgess error set up the Sea Eagles for the only try during Parker’s time in the bin, as DCE made a pinpoint kick past Cody Walker for Gosiewski to score beneath Douiehi and Johnston, both of whom were taken off the field after clashing heads while trying to stop him.

This time Garrick added the extras to make it a six point lead – a pretty considerable margin given how close the game had been so far. Two massive hit-ups from Jorge Taufua on Ethan Lowe meant the Sea Eagles barely felt like a twelve man team by the time Parker returned, which was just as well, since they didn’t have thirteen men for very long. A set later, Trbojevic was sent off for grabbing hold of Gagai while trying to reach Murray on the left edge, leaving Manly with twelve men once again.

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The Bunnies made the most of it, taking a six point lead for themselves after scoring on the first two sets after Trboejvic left the field. Sutton crashed over at the end of the first set, after Tom Burgess had come close under the posts and on the right edge respectively, locking up the game at 26-26 once Reynolds added the extras. A handling error from Taufua under a Reynolds bomb got the Bunnies their next chance, as Murray scooped up a wide ball from Liam Knight that bounced on the ground, gathering it under his chest and getting past Suli to score a double.

After such a close game, things ended pretty agonizingly for Manly. At the very moment Trbojevic returned to the park, Parker conceded a penalty by tackling James Roberts in the air. Reynolds then won the battle of the boot with DCE, trapping Elliot in goal with one of his very best kicks, before DCE leaked the final penalty by getting prepared to go short on the dropout, only for the dropout clock to beat him.

While the game had started spottily for Reynolds, he controlled how it finished, lining up the penalty kick in front of the uprights, and waiting until the clock got down to two seconds before he booted it through the posts. This, then, was the last play of the game, meaning that South Sydney have a date with Canberra next week, before the winner of tomorrow night’s clash between Melbourne and Parramatta goes on to play the Roosters on Saturday evening.

About Billy Stevenson (751 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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