NSW's hopes of breaking Queensland's State of Origin stranglehold may rest with the match review committee after Blues enforcer Greg Bird was placed on report for a lifting tackle in the Titans' 40-18 loss to South Sydney on Saturday night.
Bird, who was engaged in a running battle with the referees for much of the evening, was part of a three-man tackle that got Rabbitohs winger Bryson Goodwin into a potentially dangerous position in the 60th minute of a lopsided encounter.
It was a controversial moment that could potentially overshadow a memorable evening for South Sydney centre Dylan Walker, who showed that he is as quick between the ears as he is with his feet with four tries at Cbus Super Stadium.
A week after enduring a tough afternoon in his senior representative debut opposing Jamal Idris in the City-Country fixture, Walker toyed with the Titans defence from his very first possession and had three tries by the 43rd minute of the game, adding a fourth in the 66th minute courtesy of a Greg Inglis offload close to the Titans' line.
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And it wasn't just Walker who staged his own coming-out party, with fellow 19-year-old Alex Johnston adding two more tries to his four-pointer on debut against the Broncos in Round 8 and Kirisome Auva'a proving a handful for the Titans' right-edge defence.
In front of a crowd of 19,107 who created an atmosphere more reminiscent of Redfern than Robina, the Rabbitohs bounced out to a 22-0 lead inside the opening 20 minutes before the Titans worked their way back into the game with two tries of their own before half-time.
Walker's third try in the third minute of the second half extended the Rabbitohs' advantage to 16 points and they continued to pressure the Titans tryline. Walker was denied a fourth try before later righting the ledger, while Johnston's 90m effort was brought back as last year's preliminary finalists asserted their premiership credentials against a side still trying to convince many that they are genuine contenders.
After Walker scored his fourth try in the 65th minute, Johnston showed how quickly his NRL education is developing by following George Burgess up the middle of the ruck and being perfectly positioned to take a flick pass from the rampant Englishman and racing 20m to score under the posts.
The Titans may have been given first use of the football but from the moment Inglis collected an Aidan Sezer kick on his 20-metre line and charged into the Gold Coast defence the Rabbitohs completely dictated the terms of play.
From the very next tackle Walker went skirting around the Titans' left-edge defence and by the time he got to Gold Coast winger Anthony Don on the very outside and still had Auva'a in support the fast break was on. Auva'a was set free down the left and managed to hold off two Titans defenders for long enough to position Walker on his inside, his left-hand offload sending his centre partner on an unimpeded run to the line.
From the very next set George Burgess – who made 39 metres in his first two hit-ups – rumbled through the middle of the field on a trademark charge and in the seventh minute Auva'a went from provider to try-scorer, when he collected a John Sutton kick that deflected off Titans second-rower Dave Taylor before landing in his arms six metres out from the line.
Auva'a then burrowed his way towards the line and when the video referee had decided there was insufficient evidence of a possible double movement to overturn the on-field official's ruling the Rabbitohs had their second.
Just three minutes later they had their third when Walker danced around at dummy-half before using his speed and power to bullock his way over in the right-hand corner and the visitors had converted 65 per cent of possession into 16 points by the 10th minute.
George Burgess, Sam Burgess and Kyle Turner continued to make inroads in the middle of the field and when Inglis stepped in to first receiver with the Titans on the back foot the alarm bells should have reached maximum volume.
Inglis did a number on Sezer 35m out before releasing Adam Reynolds on a run into the backfield, where he sized up the chasing David Mead before sending a perfectly-timed pass for winger Johnston to score on the right and a 22-0 lead after 15 minutes.
The Titans finally began to work their way into the contest and although they wasted some attacking opportunities inside the Rabbitohs 20m line, they turned momentum against the run of play when Anthony Don seized a floating John Sutton pass before running 60m to put the home side on the board.
It was Don again just before half-time who gave Titans fans some glimmer of hope to cling on to at the break when he soared high above Auva'a and Bryson Goodwin to snatch a flat Albert Kelly cross-kick, Sezer's subsequent conversion making the deficit a manageable 10 points at the break.
It wasn't a night without some nervous moments for Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire, with Reynolds having to leave the field with concussion in the 52nd minute and battling a back injury, and Inglis looking troubled by a leg injury throughout proceedings.
The Titans must now pick themselves up for a showdown with Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium next Friday night which will take on extra significance with the gruelling Origin period looming large on the horizon.South Sydney Rabbitohs 40
(Dylan Walker 4, Alex Johnston 2, Kirisome Auva'a tries; Bryson Goodwin 4, Adam Reynolds 2 goals) defeated Gold Coast Titans 18
(Anthony Don 2, Dave Taylor tries; Aidan Sezer 3 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium. Crowd:
19,107. Half-time: Rabbitohs 22-12.