SOUTH Sydney have rekindled memories of their glory days by leaping to the top of the NRL ladder for the first time in 20 years with a stunning 22-16 win over competition heavyweights the Warriors in New Zealand.
The Rabbitohs came back from 12-0 down midway through the opening half to score their third win from four games in 2009, leapfrogging the Gold Coast, St George Illawarra and Brisbane in the process.
Ironically, their only loss this year came in Round 2 at the hands of Parramatta – who looked anything but premiership contenders with an insipid performance against the Roosters on Saturday night.
But after coming back from the dead in consecutive matches, Souths have shown enough to suggest they’re in it for the long haul this season.
The Warriors were hamstrung by the absence of nine first-graders – including captain Steve Price – through injury yet it took some moments of individual magic and a rare eight-point try for the visitors to eventually steal the points.
Down by two converted tries after just 15 minutes, John Sutton was the man to inspire his side’s recovery mission, setting up two tries quick tries to have the Rabbitohs down by just four at the break.
And while Wade McKinnon’s try right as the half-time siren sounded appeared to have halted South Sydney’s momentum, they were unstoppable in the second stanza as they powered home against their injury-plagued rivals.
The Game Swung When… Warriors winger Stacey Jones launched a cross-field bomb in the 68th-that unluckily evaded his own players and fell into the hands of Souths winger Fetuli Talanoa.
Talanoa showed far too much pace for his opponents in a 90-metre sprint to the tryline that gave the Rabbitohs the lead for the first time in the match – one that they would not relinquish.
Who Was Hot… John Sutton was the man at the centre of South Sydney’s revival, laying on both first-half tries, while Talanoa was also crucial – earning his side an eight-point try in the 26th minute and then running the length of the field to put his side ahead for the first time late in the game.
Strangely enough though, the Warriors dominated most statistical areas of the game including a massive 55 per cent of possession.
Particularly impressive despite the final result were young prop Russell Packer – who ran for 156 metres in the absence of Price – and fullback Wade McKinnon who topped 200 metres and scored a try.
Who Was Not… Warriors utility Nathan Fien will be ruing two baffling kicks he put in early in the tackle count that led to zilch – just when the home side looked set to bury the Rabbitohs’ challenge.
It was a disappointing day all round for the Warriors’ playmakers, who had enough chances to win two games but barely looked like cracking South Sydney’s line again after their quick start.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… It’s rare to see an eight-point try these days but South Sydney were the recipients of one in the 26th-minute when John Sutton’s clever kick from halfway stopped perfectly in-goal.
Talanoa was always going to win the race but Warriors winger Aiden Kirk stepped in to make life difficult and eventually brought the flying winger down before he could reach the ball, leaving video referee Chris Ward with an easy decision.
Injuries… Shaune Corrigan (Rabbitohs) – broken fibula, 6-7 weeks.
Refs Watch… A decent outing by referees Gavin Badger and Tony De Las Heras, although there are some question marks over why Aiden Kirk wasn’t sin-binned for dragging Talanoa to the ground moments before South Sydney was awarded a penalty try.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – John Sutton (Rabbitohs): Orchestrated his side’s comeback out of the blue with two superb pieces of skill in the first half; 2 points – Wade McKinnon (Warriors): Back to his best after missing much of 2008 with injury, scoring a try and running for an impressive 205 metres; 1 point – Russell Packer (Warriors): Stepped up in the absence of captain Steve Price and showed maturity well beyond his years.
Rabbitohs 22 (A Kirk, M Luck, W McKinnon tries; D Kemp 2 goals) def Warriors 16 (F Talanoa 2, L Capewell, N Merritt tries; C Sandow 3 goals) at Mt Smart Stadium. Crowd: 19,386.