INEPT defence from both sides kept the fans entertained and guessing in a game where the excitement came from wondering who would be left ahead on the scoreboard when the full-time siren sounded.
Souths appeared to have the two competition points banked when they dominated early to lead 16-0 after 23 minutes but that all changed in the blink of an eye when Craig Wing was forced to leave the field after copping a heavy knock with six minutes left in the first stanza.
Sharks winger Luke Covell scored a margarine-soft try from dummy-half, scooping the ball up around 10 metres out, running sideways and backwards before resetting his compass and brushing off eight feeble defenders. That made it 22-12.
Then in the 39th minute their other flanker David Simmons was the beneficiary of a lovely decoy ploy on the right side of the field – and incredibly all of a sudden the Rabbitohs were trudging to the sheds with a flimsy 22-18 lead.
Disappointingly, instead of rewriting their plots at half-time both sides followed their existing scripts, with the Rabbitohs scoring two tries in quick succession to once again seem safe at 32-18 after 53 minutes.
But Sharks Centre Ben Pomeroy narrowed the gap to 32-22 when the red-and-green defence failed to shut the gate on a cutback inside and when their skipper Paul Gallen capitalised on a spilled Chris Sandow bomb to make it 32-26 with four minutes on the clock, well, it was anyone’s game.
The overall stats told the story: both sides made a total of 151 runs, both sides made 281 tackles… but the Sharks missed 40 tackles to their opponents’ 37. And that was enough to determine the outcome.
The Game Swung When… In the 34th minute Craig Wing appeared to be on the receiving end of a careless high swinging arm from Sharks captain Paul Gallen. Wing was obviously rattled but rather than stay down and force the video ref to sneak a peak for any illegality he bravely but gingerly returned to his feet, shook his head to clear the cobwebs and played on.
In the next set Luke Covell scored the first of the Sharks’ two recovery tries to put them right back in the game; but if Souths had been awarded a penalty for the Wing incident it would have sent them deep on the attack inside the Sharks’ 20-metre line with, given the trend of the game, every likelihood of going 20 or more points clear.
It was a real ‘Sliding Doors’ moment that thankfully didn’t come back to haunt them.
Who Was Hot… No great overall performances, rather some moments in isolation. Roy Asotasi scored a great bullocking try off an Issac Luke short ball; overall he ran for 194 metres from 18 charges in just 55 minutes. Chris Sandow had a better attacking game and upped his involvement in defence with 17 tackles (although he missed seven). And Beau Champion had his best game in the red and green, scoring two tries and setting up another.
For the Sharks, Gallen and Tupou never stopped trying while fullback Mitch Brown made a mountain of territory (183 metres).
Who Was Not… So many blunders: David Kidwell was penalised twice in the opening four minutes… Issac Luke tried a short grubber kick-off that backfired… Corey Hughes threw a no-look pass from dummy-half that sailed five metres behind the attackers and left his captain Gallen shaking his head in disgust… Trent Barrett grubbered for his wingers but bullet-fired it into touch instead.
But the clanger of the night – and quite possibly the decade – came from Sharks winger David Simmons who butchered a certain four-pointer when he failed to retrieve a cross-field grubber that sat up perfectly at chest height on the Rabbitohs’ try line. There wasn’t an opposition player within 15 metres of Simmons, who instead of grabbing and scoring knocked on and fell into the turf. Inspector Clouseau at his bumbling best.
Had To be Seen To Be Believed… Souths’ second try was a cracker: Colin Best sailed high for a fifth-tackle cross-field bomb, batting the ball back infield to his supports. The ball was fed quickly by Issac Luke to Chris Sandow, who juggled it from out in front with his right hand to his left hand to his right hand, before offloading to David Kidwell and finally Beau Champion to score. It was the dazzling highlight on a night that didn’t offer much.
Bad Boys… Did the match review committee see the Wing-Gallen incident the way NRL.com saw it? Yep – he’s set to spend a week on the sidelines.
Refs Watch… With so many points scored there wasn’t much for Ben Cummins and Alan Shortall to do but point to the spot and blow the whistle.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 Points – Beau Champion (Rabbitohs): Two tries, three line breaks and two offloads in a great performance out wide; 2 Points – Roy Asotasi (Rabbitohs): Was unstoppable up the guts and was a brick wall in defence; 1 Point – Anthony Tupou (Sharks): At last displayed some urgency in attack (three offloads) and defence (37 tackles) but unfortunately didn’t have much assistance.
Rabbitohs 32 (B Champion 2, N Merritt, D Kidwell, R Asotasi, D Fa'alogo tries; C Sandow 4 goals) def Sharks 26 (L Covell 2, P Gallen, D Simmons, B Pomeroy tries; L Covell 3 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 11,208.