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Embarrassed by a 34-point defeat at the hands of the Wests Tigers last week, Souths turned it all around to snap their five-game losing streak with an enthusiastic six-tries-to-two win over an under-strength Panthers side at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.

With beleaguered five-eighth John Sutton calling the shots in rainy, greasy conditions the Rabbitohs played almost mistake-free football in the first half. They completed their sets, respected possession and were fanatical in their quest to wrap up the opposition ball carrier and stop offloads in defence. It was a steely effort. Finally.

They put the writing on the wall in just the fourth minute when Eddy Pettybourne steamed onto a Sutton short ball to cross to the right of the posts for a 6-0 lead before the rain came and forced both side into dour tactics.

However, a Sutton break and inside ball to a flying Nathan Merritt threatened more points in the 25th minute before the Panthers spoiled the attacking raid by loitering offside as they ran back to their try line. A Chris Sandow penalty goal extended the margin to eight.

Shortly afterwards towering Rabbitohs no.16 Dave Tyrell was ruled to have tackled Panther Wade Graham late after the five-eighth had kicked and the Panthers settled into a period of sustained pressure. But rather than posting points their raid yielded some more for the Rabbitohs, with winger Jamie Simpson gifted an intercept on the left fringe to race 90 metres under the posts for a 14-0 lead.

Worse was to come for the mountain men though…

The Game Swung When… After Simpson’s try the Panthers were penalised for being in front of kicker Luke Walsh on the restart. Replays appeared to show it was a harsh penalty; yes a player was in front of the kicker but it was no more of an offence than any side any game any season.

Three tackles later the Rabbitohs were pressing their opponents’ line yet again; John Sutton was thrown the ball, he showed and dummied outside twice before charging for the line and crashing over for a 20-0 halftime lead.

When Nathan Merritt received a fine Shannan McPherson pop pass at the advantage line on halfway and turned Panthers fullback Jarrod Sammut inside out to score it was game as good as over at 26-0.

Although… two Panthers tries in seven minutes, the first a burrowing effort from dummy-half by Paul Aiton, the second a bizarre benefit-of-the-doubt decision in favour of Panthers centre Geoff Daniela (see HTBSTBB) had Souths fans on edge as the scoreline was bridged to 26-12.

But Sutton sealed the deal with a try from dummy-half in the 68th minute, before Colin Best iced the cake with a final try in the dying stages.

Who Was Hot… Sutton (two tries, 113 metres gained, two line-breaks and four offloads) was unstoppable. Told in no uncertain way by coach Jason Taylor that his first grade career was on the line after some mediocre efforts of late, Sutton responded like a whirlwind. He was Jarryd Hayne-like.

Eddy Pettybourne charged hard and straight (113 metres, 16 hit-ups from 46 minutes). Nineteen-year-old debutant Dave Tyrell made his presence felt carting the pill up and hitting hard in defence (24 tackles). Issac Luke made plenty of scurries from dummy-half (five runs) and directed the ruck well.

And Nathan Merritt (156 metres) was devastating on occasion.

Luke Walsh (14 kicks) tried hard for the Panthers, while Paul Aiton orchestrated some good attacking raids from dummy-half (six runs and a line-break).

Who Was Not… The Panthers weren’t bad but they certainly missed Michael Jennings, Trent Waterhouse, Petero Civoniceva, Frank Pritchard, Lachlan Coote and Luke Lewis. While other top-eight contenders are finding a way to get the job done minus their stars the Panthers are struggling with their depth. If things don’t improve soon for them it’s curtains for 2009.

Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… In the 57th minute the Panthers put in an attacking kick close to the Souths’ line on tackle two. The ball took a rebound backwards off halfback Chris Sandow but was cleaned up by fullback Nathan Merritt just in the field of play, although Merritt lost possession as he was hit around the shoulders by the Panthers’ defence. With the ball bobbling on the tryline Merritt thrust out his right hand to seemingly ground the ball – although referee Ben Cummins ordered the matter upstairs for video ref Phil Cooley to determine whether Panthers centre Geoff Daniela had actually grounded before Merritt.

Replays seemed to indicate Merritt had got a touch while the likelihood of Daniela having any involvement looked slim – certainly Daniela’s body language was indifferent and he had not claimed to have been involved in the play. But no – Benefit Of The Doubt Try. Easily one of the least convincing rulings of 2009. Thank God it wasn’t the grand final…

In the 63rd minute Panthers fullback Jarrod Sammut took a pass one off the ruck and was monstered six metres backwards into his in-goal area for a line dropout restart. No fault of his but you don’t want pint-sized guys running the ball out of danger off your line.

Also, why were the Panthers support attackers pushing the ball carrier forward? That’s called a maul, and the game is called rugby union. Guys, this is rugby league.

Refs watch… See above. Also Cummins’ decision to penalise the Panthers for being offside at the kick-off was petty and out of line with rulings all season. Pedantic and unnecessary. Give them a warning first and then blow the pea if needed.

Rabbitohs 36 (J Sutton 2, C Best, N Merritt, J Simpson, E Pettybourne tries; C Sandow 6 goals) def Panthers 12 (G Daniela, P Aiton tries; L Walsh 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 9,017.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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