ROUND 22: South Sydney Rabbitohs v. Gold Coast Titans (Cbus Super Stadium, 14/8/21, 36-6)

No NRL team had ever posted thirty points in eight straight games until the Bunnies made history on Saturday night, completing their heroic journey back from their losses to the Storm and Panthers in Rounds 9 and 11 respectively. This was a record-breaking game in other ways too, as South Sydney nabbed ten in a row for the first time since 1989, and reached their most ever points in a single season, while Adam Reynolds is getting dangerously close to Eric Simms’ record for most ever points in a season, after beating him for career points last week.

In fact, the closer Reynolds comes to departing for Brisbane, the more he galvanises the South Sydney mythology around his presence on the park, lifting every player around him to new heights as well. When he’s playing at his best, it’s hard not to believe that he can’t lead the Bunnies to one more premiership under his watch, for a win that might even eclipse the 2014 victory over the Bulldogs as the single most mythical moment since the Rabbitohs returned.

While Reynolds was the driving organisational force on the park, his methodical approach cleared up space for some exceptionally flamboyant plays from Latrell Mitchell, whose genius expands and elasticises with each new match, especially when it comes to his left edge attack. He capped of the game with one of those runs, setting up Josh Mansour for a late double in the corner, but he was big all over the field, running rings around the Titans, who only put down a single converted try to commemorate Anthony Don’s retirement as a one club man.

Jarrod Wallace celebrated his 100th match as a Titan by taking the opening carry, and Tino Faasuamaleaui took the third, but Gold Coast couldn’t reach the South Sydney half on this first set. Conversely, Jaxson Paulo took Ash Taylor’s kick on the full, and Tom Burgess had the Bunnies over the halfway line by tackle two, while a deft play from Damien Cook out of dummy half, and a strong run from Keon Koloamatangi, saw Adam Reynolds made his first kick on the cusp of the Titans’ red zone, where the visitors remained for their next three plays.

In other words, the Bunnies were already winning the battle of field position, as Braidon Burns made the first significant metres up the left edge on the next set, and big Tino fumbled the footy on tackle one of the subsequent set, into a tough tackle from Cameron Murray. Gold Coast opted not to risk their Captain’s Challenge at this early stage, and South Sydney scored straight off the scrum, when Latrell took a pass from Cookie and burned straight through the defence, withstanding a legs tackle from Wallace, and AJ Brimson over the top, to score four.

The Bunnies had scored off their very first opportunity, making it a point per minute when Reynolds slotted through his first conversion, while Latrell had now scored in all seven of his games against Gold Coast – his best strike rate against any other club, and only rivalled by Manu Vatuvei. Cody Walker’s strike wasn’t quite as good at the end of the restart, although his instinct was strong – chipping at speed up the left, only to boot it over the dead ball line.

Gold Coast initially made good use of the seven plays, thanks in part to a tough run from Moeaki Fotuaika, who stood in the tackle for a good four or five seconds, steeling his men for their first real foray into South Sydney territory. Yet Souths packed the scrum again a mere tackle later, after Patrick Herbert coughed up Toby Sexton’s first spread to the right edge. Again, Burgess spearheaded the drive over the halfway line, while Murray set up a sustained passage of second phase play with a deft, late offload to Cookie on the right side of the park.

Still, the Titans had another seven tackles to play with when Reynolds followed Walker with an overlong grubber that Paulo came agonisingly close to grounding at the back of the in goal. They got six again a moment later, off a ruck error from Mark Nicholls, ushering in their first significant bout of field position, bolstered by a sharp dash up the left by Brian Kelly and a questionable pass inside to Corey Thompson, who broke through the line a moment later.

Walker made up for missing a dropout by eluding a dropout, storming under the crossbar to collect a Taylor kick, and finding the momentum carrying him right to the dead ball line, while somehow managing to elude the oncoming Gold Coast chase and plant it back in the field of play. Latrell was even more elastic at the back end of Brimson’s next kick, curving in goal to collect it on the bounce with one hand, before arcing back over the try line in one deft motion.

The very speed of Latrell’s save turned out to be its downfall, however, since all Herbert, Greg Marzhew and Kevin Proctor had to do was deflect him slightly as they congealed into a pack effort to drag him over the sideline. It was as if Latrell had always been heading into touch, and they’d simply helped him along the way, parlaying his acceleration into their first full set inside the Bunnies’ red zone. For a moment, it looked like they might accelerate too quickly, as Sexton booted through a grubber just after they received six again off a Burns ruck error.

Luckily for the rookie halfback, the slippery surface and a tough chase from Proctor meant that Josh Mansour was (just) trapped in goal, turning the repeat set into a dropout. Latrell soared it back to the Gold Coast forty, and Wallace was so anxious to recoup the metres, and pop it out to his fullback, that he lost it on tackle one, while Sauce got some joy after conceding the dropout by ending it, scooping up the Steeden and shifting it on to Burns, who had some catharsis, in turn, after making the ruck mistake that had preceded Sexton’s kick.

Still, the hosts weren’t immune to the greasy conditions either, as Murray became the next Bunny to cough it up, this time right on the Gold Coast line. Wallace was more conservative with his next carry on the second, clearing up space for Taylor’s first real question with the boot – an end-over-end bomb that Latrell had to take right on the South Sydney chalk. Burns was slow to return to his feet a tackle later, and Mitch Rein contained a shot at the line from Nicholls, before Brimson eluded Sauce to prevent another potential Walker-assisted dropout.

Both sides were finding it difficult to complete convincingly on the cusp of the second quarter, but especially Gold Coast, as Kelly now made the worst error yet – a lost ball midway through the tackle count. Jai Arrow slammed over the line four plays later, but he (apparently) didn’t score against his former club, since the Bunker deemed that Sexton had done enough to keep the footy off the ground. This was certainly a heroic effort, as the young no. 7 got a hand under the Steeden at the last, but even in slow motion it looked like the ball grazed the grass.

This had the potential to be a momentum-changer, especially when Paulo lost the next high ball into Kelly, and Kolatamatangi conceded six again with an offside a mere tackle later. No surprise that it produced the first big Gold Coast play of the afternoon – a linebreak from Beau Fermor, who palmed off Reyno at the Titans’ forty, headed for the left wing, and made it all the way to the Bunnies’ twenty, where he tried to parlay this sudden speed into a grubber for Brimson, but ended up booting it too far, exhausting the Titans’ newfound pace in an instant.

If anything, the Rabbitohs absorbed that rhythm back into their next set, when Walker finally got his dropout, showing Fermor how to boot it at speed, and finding Brimson where Fermor had been unable to, as the Gold Coast fullback was forced to tap it on in goal. Arrow took the footy thoughtfully, assessing his options before barging into the wall of Titans, and this set the scene for an especially methodical South Sydney set, culminating with a clinical right sweep – Reynolds to Walker to Mansour, who scored untouched in his fourth straight game.

This last month of football has represented a comeback of sorts for Sauce, who channelled his glory days at Penrith in the ease and elegance with which he curved around to plant it down as close to the crossbar as possible. Full credit to Murray, too, for setting up Reynolds, who added his first conversion to make it twelve unanswered points, while Walker is easily dominating try assists this year – 32, compared to Nicho Hynes at 25, and Tom Turbo at 24.

Jaydn Su’A took a strong run to get the restart rolling, and Walker ended with another beautiful kick that Marzhew had to leap a full metre to collect, leaving him vulnerable for Burns to hold him up and then pair with Mansour to spearhead a big pack to drag him over the edge. Burns was pretty unlucky to get pinged for a second effort here, but Gold Coast didn’t do all that much with the extra position, even when Murray charged down Sexton’s kick, and Sexton charged another twenty metres back to secure it and nab an additional set.

Any question of a Gold Coast resurgence was put to bed at the end of the next South Sydney set, when Reynolds came up with one of the best individual plays this year – and the best single self-assist. He bombed it beautifully to the right side of the park, where Brimson went for it, but Koloamatangi got the jump on him, reaching up one arm to bat the ball backwards, before it tumbled onto his head, and then onto the turf, where Kelly bent down, both arms outstretched, for what seemed like it must be an easy clean-up, a dropout at best for Souths.

Instead, Reyno executed the best one-on-one strip of the year – a strip so preternatural that he took the footy before Kelly even made contact. Just as the ex-Eagle seemed destined to get both hands on it, Reynolds scooped it up one-handed, avoided knocking on into his quarry, and arced around behind the posts to set up his 100th conversion of the year. This was sublime stuff from the little general, who now had the most points he has ever scored in a single season, rivalling his groundbreaking early seasons for South Sydney in his last stint for the club. 

In fact, Reyno is now on the verge of breaking more records, since with 221 points in 2013, 2014 and 2020, and 224 in 2021 so far, he only has three more thresholds to beat before putting down the most ever South Sydney points scored in a single season – Simms’ 233 in 1967, 241 in 1970, and 265 in 1969 – a real possibility as the Bunnies make their way into finals footy. He added two more a few minutes later, when the Rabbitohs chose to play it safe on the back of successive Gold Coast errors – dangerous hit from Fifita, leg pull from Sexton.

You could have questioned whether a penalty kick was the right option here, but the decision turned out to be part of the same methodical approach that had guaranteed Mansour’s try – a willingness to play it conservative at key moments for the sake of greater overall elasticity. Sure enough, the Bunnies scored on their very next play, when Cook collected a late offload from Arrow, and got it out to Walker, who eluded a Herbert legs tackle, made it to the ten, and got his fiftieth linebreak assist – more than any player since NRL stats have been recorded. 

The next sequence was like seeing the Bunnies’ methodical self-correction and consolidation in miniature, as Burns lost the pass off his chest, bobbled it in his right hand, eventually regathered it, and twisted through a Marzhew tackle to slam down his first try of the year. The play looked precarious even in slow motion, and yet that made it even more poetic when Burns got the chocolates, even if Reynolds missed his first kick to keep it 24 on the board, although this was no lead to scoff at heading into the sheds, especially with 0 from Gold Coast.

South Sydney didn’t show any signs of slowing down after the break, thanks to a pair of errors from Taylor – a ruck error a few plays in, and then a knock-on as he attempted to intercept a Walker ball that was destined to send Koloamatangi into open space. Mansour tried to nab a double on the wing off a Burns pass, and then Burns returned to the left edge for a double of his own, bookending the break by taking another Walker ball, and busting through another Marzhew tackle, before Reynolds lined up the tee to attempt another piece of NRL history. 

His aim was true, and so the Bunnies became the first ever team to post thirty points or more in a single season, with three more rounds to go, while Walker wasn’t that far from the try assist record either – eighth on the ladder, but only six points shy of the record, behind Luke Walsh at 35 (2010), Brett Finch at 36 (2004), Johnathan Thurston at 36 (2014) and 37 (2015), Benji Marshall at 37 (2012), Cooper Cronk at 38 (2012) and, at the top, Tim Smith at 40 (2005).

There were still thirty-five minutes of football left, but this try was like the Garrick-Walker combo later in the night – it was so emphatic, with such a weight of history behind it, that it guaranteed them the game. They’d only score one more, and almost glimpsed another a set later, when Burns finally lost the contest with Marzhew, dropping the footy cold before he made contact, and trying to reframe it as a kick – a kick that would have become an assist if the Bunker hadn’t deemed it accidental, since Sauce kicked again for Latrell to ground in goal.

Gold Coast now accelerated for the first time since the sheds, as Thompson nabbed his second linebreak up the left, but deflated just as quickly, when Tyrone Peachey was called offside downtown beneath the kick. Just to rub salt in the wound, Souths brought on Benji, who made an immediate impact, helping to usher his men into the Gold Coast red zone, where he tried to start a left sweep with a superb wide ball that fragmented in its later stages, making this the least convincing South Sydney attack of this meeting so far, despite Benji’s contributions.

On the other side of the Steeden, the Titans seemed genuinely galvanised by even this brief chink in the Rabbitohs’ armour, absorbing their momentum and building on an offside from Su’A into one of their toughest journeys up the middle – strong enough to take the whole game up a notch. For a brief period, you could forget that there were thirty unanswered points on the board, and almost believe that we were watching an evenly-paced contest – at least until Taylor made his back-half errors a hat trick with a wayward ball over the sideline.

The Bunnies got six again on tackle one, when Sam Lisone found himself offside, while Jaimin Jolliffe was put on report for a dangerous hit a few plays before, and yet the Titans didn’t capitulate as quickly here as they might have earlier in the game, as Kelly curled himself around a Reynolds grubber to withstand a tough kick chase. Now it was Gold Coast’s turn to get a restart, off a Walker ruck error, and then a penalty when Murray was offside within the ten, as all the volatility of the last few sets crystallised around a pair of big plays from Fifita.

The first was a linebreak, as the big prop charged onto the Steeden at close range, taking a Peachey pass and plunging at the chalk. The second was Fifita’s loose carry, the most painful moment – literally – for the Titans in the whole game. Big David was in so much discomfort that the play was scrutinised pretty heavily – surely there had to be some kind of illegal contact – but the footage showed that Benji’s pass had been legit, while Latrell had only got a knee to Fifita’s torso after careening awkwardly off the turf himself, with no intention in it.

In any case, this wasn’t the critical contact, since the replay clearly showed Fifita landing with the whole weight of his body on his bent knee. Somehow he remained on the park, while the Bunnies got the ball back after a brief question as to whether Host had obstructed Rein in backplay. Fifita still has the most tries by a forward in 2021, at 14, three ahead of Sitili Tupouniua, and the Gold Coast big men rallied well to drag Su’A back a few plays out of the scrum, but Paulo gave them a lesson in what tough footy looks like at the end of the next set.

It came after a series of massive South Sydney tackles that forced Sexton to kick at his own thirty, and Rein to toe it forward twenty metres down field, only for Paulo to put his entire body on the line as he wrapped himself around the Steeden in the face of the Gold Coast chase. Reynolds shaped to kick on the fourth but instead commenced a right sweep, got his men six again, and then booted through his second penalty kick off a cascade of Gold Coast errors, culminating with a Wallace strip.

This was another one of the methodical consolidation moments that had punctuated the Bunnies’ game. They’d made such headway on the Titans’ line, including a near-hattrick from Burns, that this was basically kicking practice for Reyno, who slotted it through without missing a beat. Earlier on, this conservative approach had opened up space for South Sydney points, but the Titans capitalised more on it now, starting with a combined tackle from Fifita, who came in low on Host, and Sexton, who added pressure on the top to rock the footy free.

Walker and Murray seemed to sense a shift in momentum, surging in to contain Brimson out of the scrum, and while Murray was pinged for dangerous contact, he bounced back with a rollicking tackle on Rein in front of the crossbar four plays later. Still, Kelly did well to elude a Paulo hit on the left edge, taking a fragmented sweep much further than initially seemed possible, while Fifita followed his near-try on the right with a dropout assist – a beautifully weighted grubber that Latrell attempted to clean up on the line as Herbert slammed on top.

Seeing Latrell lose the footy was a motivator in and of itself for Gold Coast, even if Mansour just managed to ground it behind him. To their credit, they made the most of their first dropout too, correcting their last left sweep, but also building on Kelly’s momentum at the end of it, as the ex-Eagle now timed the pass perfectly to assist Thompson, who consolidated his two left edge linebreaks by crossing over the line untouched, and elduing a last-ditch Cookie grab to ground it behind the posts. Taylor was always going to convert from this angle.

This was a real rhythm-builder for Gold Coast, especially on their left edge, where Peachey built on Kelly and Thompson’s slipstream with a superb linebreak on the restart. He looked set to score for all money, until Paulo came up with another one of the clutchy plays that puts this in his top tier of games, wrapping his arm around Peachey at the very last moment to tumble him to ground before the chalk. Yet Gold Coast still had petrol in the tank, and continued the adrenalin of their try until Herbert spilled it forward at the end of the next set.

Host scooped it up, Latrell got on the outside of Marzhew, and then skipped over a second effort from Marzhew, slamming into Brimson, who brought him to ground, but came off worse for wear himself. Even if Tevita Tatola knocked on a moment later, and even if the Rabbitohs wasted their Captain’s Challenge to contest it, they’d still stolen the momentum back from Gold Coast, who wilted over the new few minutes with a trio of errors including a double from Fotuaika, who cost them their own challenge when he sent the second upstairs.

With eight minutes left, the Bunnies only needed one more try to secure their best season ever – and they got it pretty quickly, despite a forward ball from Benji that went unchecked, and a rare Reynolds fumble, that made you briefly question whether that second penalty kick had put a dent in their game. Yet Reyno bounced back immediately, surging in for the first tackle on Thompson, and helping to bunch the Titans in their own end, meaning there was extra pressure on Marzhew to take Su’A and Burgess on play two – pressure he didn’t handle.

Make no mistake, the Bunnies would have still come away with a strong win if they’d remained at 34, despite this slump in the last quarter. Yet they came back big with the best single play of the game – or, rather, Latrell had the best single play of the game, building on his sublime left side breaks over the last few weeks with an utterly astonishing effort off a Benji ball. Drifting, dancing and dummying, he wrong-footed Herbert, palmed off Sexton, and banged over a second, lower effort from Herbert before popping out his best offload of 2021.

Latrell was playing more like a forward here – or as much like a forward as a backliner – so the dexterity of this second-phase play after all that brute strength was quite amazing. Cantilevering in the tackle, he flicked it at just the right moment, effectively handing it at high speed to Mansour, who smashed over for a double, and returned to give his assister the most emphatic high five of the season so far. Just when the Rabbitohs had briefly wilted, Latrell and Sauce had made Souths history, so it didn’t much matter that Reyno missed his final kick.

The Bunnies have a couple of tough games ahead of them when they take on the Roosters and Panthers, but then again they’ve become the first team in NRL history to score thirty or more in eight successive games, along with the first ever South Sydney outfit to reach 689 points in a single season, with three fixtures to go until finals footy. They’ve also won ten in a row for the first time since the cardinal and myrtle outfit of 1989, so with the weight of all that history they’ve got a real shot at making more history over the next couple of months.

About Billy Stevenson (692 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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