A SURFACE greener than a billiard table at the Sydney Cricket Ground greeted two teams who turned on a crackerjack game of rugby league decided by a freakish field goal with five seconds left. And nearly 30,000 fans provided yet another advertisement for afternoon games.
Souths looked out-gunned and chasing for large sections of this match, the Tigers for the most part played with better precision. On the back of slick, focused work in attack, the Tigers’ outside backs ran hard and their ball-players hit them in the chest. Their big men trucked it up with purpose and defended stoutly.
Yet Souths won the game. They never gave up, never lost hope and kept on hammering away at the Tigers’ line, knowing that if they kept at it the points would come. They probably didn’t think they’d win with a field goal with five seconds left. But they did, and there was much rejoicing.
The Game Swung When… With five (5!) seconds left and the scores tied 22-all, Souths’ winger Nathan Merritt – who until that time had done very little – struck a superb field goal from 10 metres inside the touchline and 20 metres out that sailed between the posts like a missile. And the Bunnies mobbed him like Man U on Ronaldo.
Earlier the teams had traded field-goal misses, Robbie Farah’s sailing high but wide, Craig Wing’s charged down.
The major turning point (arguably, as there were plenty) came when Chris Heighington was penalised for a strip with six minutes to go, his team up by six points. A few plays later Beau Champion split the Tigers’ defence and went over untouched; Issac Luke’s conversion making it 22-all.
Earlier it looked like the Tigers could take a stranglehold in the game. A great 40/20 by Farah led to the Tigers’ fourth try. After fine backline play, Beau Ryan followed through his own chip kick and in a pack of Rabbitohs the ball fell back for fullback Shannon Gallant to score. When Benji Marshall converted from the sideline, it was 22-10 Tigers with 20 minutes to go.
But the Bunnies came back. Following a Tigers knock-on, the Rabbitohs attacked before Issac Luke floated a pin-point cross-field bomb for Fetuli Talanoa to pluck the ball from Ryan’s arms and score his second try. Luke then landed a booming conversion from the sideline and it was well and truly game on.
Ten minutes to go Marshall chipped for the corner but the ball was gathered by Merritt who promoted upfield. But again the Tigers threw everything down the left. Marshall passed to the impressive Dene Halatau to the more impressive Taniela Tuiaki. The ball came back inside to Marshall who scythed diagonally across field, popped the ball back inside with one of his trademark flick passes and… the Bunnnies’ defence held firm. And probably won them the game.
Who Was Hot… Talanoa scored two fine tries and ran with menace down the left. Issac Luke schemed and tried hard all day, and kicked a huge, game-tying conversion from the sideline. Luke Stuart (17 runs, 139 metres, 30 tackles) was strong while Eddy Pettybourne (13 runs, 122 metres, 21 tackles) was impressive in his 52 minutes off the bench.
But the Bunnies’ best was David Fa’alogo: 16 runs, 111 metres, 25 tackles, 3 offloads, a line break and a try.
For the Tigers, Heighington was his usual busy self in the middle of the ruck. Can’t be too far away from a rep jumper. Perhaps needs a better publicist.
Tuiaki scored two barnstorming tries, broke the line three times and looked dangerous with each touch. Also cleaned up Tigers grubbers well.
Marshall was his usual mesmerising self. Watching this bloke play is one of the best things in the game.
Todd Payten playing lock ran with purpose, Farah kicked a great 40/20 and scored a try, while Halatau ran with menace down the left.
Who Was Not… Souths’ fullback Luke Capewell didn’t want to get up and in the face of Tuaiki when the big Kiwi ran down the wing for his second try. Capewell should have rushed Tuiaki and cut off his options. Well, at least cut of the option that Tuiaki took: run through Capewell.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Michael Crocker in the scarlet and myrtle. What a buy for the Bunnies.
When Keith Galloway went off with a knee injury in the 8th minute, the little Tigers doctor walking beside the big Ranga looked like Beaker from the Muppets next to a giant, flame-haired Gandalf. Twenty minutes later Galloway came back on. One minute later he went off again, his season in jeopardy.
Souths’ first try featured David Kidwell – not noted for being especially light on his feet – bouncing among Tigers defenders like a pinball before offloading for Fa’alogo who plunged over.
The Tigers’ first try to Tuiaki featured the usual bag of feet-tricks by Marshall, followed by a flat, hard netball pass that Liz Ellis would have been proud. It’s easy to become complacent about a talent like Marshall given we see him do these things each weekend. But sports fans, we should not be. This bloke is a beaut.
Super piece of play from the Bunnies in the 25th minute. A grubber bounced in-goal for Merritt to retrieve. In the tackle he spat a netball pass to Capewell who somehow got back into play, managing to stay there despite defence that threatened to smash him several ways from Sunday.
In the 38th minute the try of the match: two long cut-out passes found Colin Best running free down the left. The big centre strode down field, his long legs flying before he found Talanoa on his outside who did the business, going over to score out wide then leaping the advertising hoardings like a drunk hurdler.
Bad Boys… Dane Laurie and a couple of Tigers mates were penalised for a tackle some judo person might call a Strangler. Match review types thought nothing of it.
Refs Watch… Souths recruit Crocker was penalised for playing the ball off the mark. But he played it where he ended up, where his momentum through the tackle took him. Or maybe it was because the ref wanted him to play on. In any event a dud call – but one of only a few. In a heated game in front of two sets of fired-up, passionate supporters, the two refs – Ashley Klein and Jason Robinson – had pretty good games.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – David Fa’alogo (Rabbitohs): A hyper-enthusiastic game from a largely unheralded back-rower; 2 points – Taniela Tuiaki (Wests Tigers): Two tries, three line breaks and powerful running. One of the hardest men to stop in the game; 1 point – Chris Heighington (Wests Tigers): A game-high 40 tackles, a game-high 21 runs.
Rabbitohs 23 (F Talanoa 2, D Fa’alogo, B Champion tries; I Luke 2, C Sandow goals; N Merritt field goal) def Wests Tigers 22 (T Tuiaki 2, R Farah, S Gallant tries; B Marshall 3 goals) at Sydney Cricket Ground. Crowd: 29,970.