The Bunnies were back at Suncorp for the first time since Round 1 when they rocked up to play the Broncos on Friday night, keen to compound Cody Walker’s massive performance against the Dragons in the first match of Indigenous Round with Adam Reynolds back on the park. Meanwhile the Broncos were raring to come back from their last-minute loss against the Sharks last Friday night, while the recent rivalry between these two teams was exacerbated by the absence of Wayne Bennett, who was blacklisted after breaching quarantine protocols earlier in the week, just as Anthony Seibold would be locked down after personal time in Sydney soon after.
Reynolds was a bit rusty for his first set, booting the ball out on the full, but the Bunnies regathered when Dane Gagai and Alex Johnston collaborated on the first big defensive gesture of the night – dragging Kotoni Staggs, the other big hero of Indigenous Round, into touch. Reyno did much better with his second kick, taking advantage of the greasy surface to sit the Steeden up in goal, forcing Darius Boyd to tap both hands to it to avoid the try. At first, it looked like Boyd might not have made contact, but the replay showed he’d made the softest dropout concession of the year – the start of a particularly deft game to offset his recent falling-out with Brisbane management.
The Bunnies got the first restart off a ruck infringement from Herbie Farnworth, and put their messy opening behind them with the first sustained field position for either team, only for Reynolds to make another last-tackle error, spilling the Steeden as he was setting up for a right-side kick. Brisbane responded by returning the favour for the effort on Staggs, as Farnworth spearheaded a big push to drag Jaxson Paulo into touch at the end of the next South Sydney set. Yet this just reiterated how deft Gagai and Johnston had been, since Farnworth was pinged for a second effort, gifting the Bunnies another surge of momentum.
Boyd now did well to clean up a fourth-tackle chip from Walker, but fumbled an awkward offload from Tevita Pangai three plays later, trying to roll the footy out to the right side but still conceding the field position to the Rabbits. Once again, though, Reynolds couldn’t complete, sending out a bad pass right where he’d coughed up the footy a few sets before, as the ball ricocheted off Cameron Murray’s chest to get Brisbane rolling down the field again. Still, the Bunnies had a good overall rhythm, and scored off their next set, which started with a strong run from Latrell Mitchell, and proceeded through a driving tackle from Jake Turpin on Paulo.Embed from Getty Images
Turpin, however, took a double hit, both conceding the first offside penalty of the night, and taking jab in the face from Paulo as tempers briefly flared from both sides, although this flex ended up working to steel Souths over the next few tackles. Liam Knight sent a good ball out the back to Damien Cook, Tevita Tatola swivelled up through the ruck, and Reynolds finally got into first gear, commencing a clinical left sweep that shifted through Walker and Latrell for Gagai to put down the first try in the corner – a deft demonstration of the South Sydney spine in action, ending with some great love between Gagai and Latrell.
Reynolds capped it off with a superb sideline conversion, curving the footy at the last minute to put the Rabbits six on the board, while Knight repeated the same offload on the restart, and Murray followed his lead with more second phase play on the next tackle. Reynolds ended with a good bomb under pressure from Pangai, and then added two more when Brodie Croft was pinged for an escort in backplay. Souths were finally in first gear, with 62% of possession, although Brisbane had their fastest set a minute later, thanks to a volatile run from Tom Dearden, who busted through a couple of tackles for Boyd to make more metres up the right edge.
Darius now stepped into the spotlight, kicking at speed to the right corner, where he regathered the footy on the last and set up Staggs to put his body on the line, right on the line. This was the first time Staggs had accelerated into his superb form from last week, and it galvanised the Broncos further when it produced their first restart, with Boyd now drawing on some good ball play from Haas and Croft to complete a sweep on the other side of the park, where Farnworth crossed over in the corner, reducing the South Sydney lead to two points when Staggs booted through the extras.
Both teams more or less went error for error over the next seven minutes, before the Bunnies reset their rhythm with a tryscoring sequence that seemed to come out of nowhere – a catch-and-pass from Reynolds to Paulo, who threaded the footy through a clump of Brisbane defenders on the right edge, giving Reynolds enough time to get about half a metre back inside before he chased it down for the next South Sydney try. It was novel to see Reynolds at the end of a last-tackle kick instead of executing it, but he returned to boot duties quickly, adding the extras to resume the eight point lead.Embed from Getty Images
The Bunnies got a boost on the restart, when Matt Lodge was pinged for a ball strip on Patrick Mago, and Damien Cook supported him with a Captain’s Challenge, despite the poor record of challenging frontrowers in 2020. No surprise that the call was upheld, giving Murray and Mark Nicholls space to lay a good platform on the next two carries, before Latrell did well to collect a clutch pass with Staggs right in his face, and Reynolds forced his second dropout from Boyd, who had to take the ball dead this time instead of grounding leisurely in goal.
Staggs went long on the dropout, and the Rabbits enjoyed their fastest accumulation of field position all night. Paulo deftly danced around a difficult bounce, Cook rotated 360-degrees on the first tackle, Souths got a restart a play later, and Lodge bookended the broader restart sequence with another dangerous hit, setting up Mark Nichols to slam over on the next tackle – although even calling it a tackle is probably too generous. Instead, this was a simple miss from Tom Dearden that allows Nicholls to slice past Pangai and Lodge, using them to smooth his passage as he put down the softest try all night.
Brisbane give up more tried in the middle of the field than any other team, and this was possibly their worst of 2020, especially since a Croft error prevented them capitalizing off a dangerous tackle from Murray, and then a restart, on the cusp of half time. They came back quickly though, despite a great first set from South Sydney, taking advantage of Murray’s next error – a second lost ball off a Reynolds pass, although this time the mistake lay with the young second-rower, who took his eyes off the footy for a second too long in these greasy conditions.
With two successive restarts, and then an offside penalty from Reynolds, the Broncos had to score now, or else concede the momentum back to the Bunnies. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, as David Fifita provided exactly the one-man effort his men needed to motivate them into a big second half of football. Dearden got some joy back with the assist, taking the ball into the line and setting up Fifita to get on the outside of Walker, and then skittle the second line of defence, slamming down on the chalk with Jack Johns on his back, before Staggs missed the kick from beside the posts.Embed from Getty Images
Even a second-rate Brisbane outfit would have built on this shift in momentum, but it was a sign of the Broncos’ third-rate form that they couldn’t score another point, as the Bunnies resumed control pretty seamlessly. A few minutes later, Gagai returned the favour for Latrell’s try assist with a linebreak assist, sending his fullback up the right edge, where he trampled over Boyd and set up their fastest sequence since their last try. The Bunnies swept left, Nicholls carried Pangai and Lodge towards the posts, and the Broncos only regathered by the time that Keon Koloamtagagi took the third hit.
Dearden did well to tackle Cook as he was preparing to pass out of dummy half, and Turpin collected the footy after Campbell Graham tapped back a crossfield kick from Reynolds, but Souths just tightened the screws with the next set. Graham started by repeating Latrell’s right side raid, and Reynolds ended with possibly his best short-range kick of the night, trapping Fifita in goal for the next dropout. The same occurred at the end of the next set, except that this time Fifita collected the footy two metres out, only for Walker to take advantage of the slippery surface to slide him into touch.
Walker actually came close to scoring himself, since Fifita almost bobbled the ball, taking over kicking duties at the end of the next set with a superb grubber that sat up perfectly for Tom Burgess to scoot around Dearden, and outrun Staggs. The big man bounced it off his right wrist instead of securing a clear grounding – a huge let-off for Brisbane – but got his try a few sets later, while also repeating the superb softness of Nicholls’ putdown. Collecting the ball from Cook, and finding Pangai exhausted with his hands on hips, Burgess only had to contend with Croft as last line of defence.
This was a David-and-Goliath effort that David was never going to win. In what was quickly becoming a near-perfect second half of footy – not unlike the Panthers’ first half against the Raiders the night after – Reynolds added the conversion, putting Souths eight points ahead. Reyno had also booted through a penalty goal on the back of a string of Brisbane penalties at the fifty minute mark – offside from Turpin, verbal dissent from Ofahengaue, escorts from Farnworth – and didn’t need to get the last kick, a minute out from the end, for Souths to come away on a resplendent high.Embed from Getty Images
Apart from this kick, and an error from Cook, the last ten minutes were all Rabbitohs, as they built on one Brisbane mistake after another to finally come away with 57% of field position and an 89% completion rate – a staggeringly good result given the slippery conditions. You could say this last sequence was a testament to Brisbane’s defence, but in reality the Bunnies had settled back into second-gear, as if conserving their energy already in preparation for their game against the Cowboys next week. Brisbane have an even bigger challenge with the Raiders, and will be looking to draw on their best moment tonight when they rock up at GIO without Seibold on Saturday.