The Gold Coast all but ended South Sydney’s finals hopes and guaranteed themselves a maiden top-eight berth after powering home in the second half to secure a hard-fought 22-14 win at ANZ Stadium.
Trailing 14-12 at the break, the Titans scored two second-half tries and kept the home side scoreless with some desperate last-ditch defence to maintain third spot on the NRL ladder with three weeks of the regular season remaining.
Key to the win were two try-saving tackles with the match on the line after John Sutton broke clear to seemingly put Nathan Merritt away.
Instead, Gold Coast captain Scott Prince tore back to pull off a crucial tackle metres short of the line, then Anthony Laffranchi cut down Craig Wing inches short from the ensuing play.
Leading 18-14, the Titans made Souths pay with flyer David Mead capitalising on a backline move to score the clincher out wide.
Both sides did their best to entertain the crowd in a thrilling first half that saw the lead change three times.
The Rabbitohs opened the scoring 18 minutes in when Colin Best found space out wide, but the Gold Coast raced to a 12-4 lead with Matthew White and then Mark Minichiello crashing over within minutes of one another.
They looked set to race away with the game but Souths fought back again to lead at half-time – Chris Sandow closing the gap with a fortuitous try from a bomb and Fetuli Talanoa given a saloon passage to the line by Best down the left side.
They couldn’t hold off the strong-finishing Titans, however, and must now win their final three games to have any chance of scraping into the finals.
The Game Swung When… Scott Prince came from nowhere to haul in a flying Nathan Merritt midway through the second half and maintain the Titans’ narrow four-point lead.
In a see-sawing game that saw both sides throw everything at one another, that one play proved decisive.
Who Was Hot… Titans forwards Mark Minichiello and Luke Bailey were both inspirational for the visitors with over 200 metres to their names, while rookie winger David Mead again showed he is one to watch with a try and a spectacular 60-metre run from a kick-return.
South Sydney fullback Nathan Merritt was spectacular with the ball in hand and topped his side’s metre-count with 166.
Who Was Not… The Rabbitohs’ forwards struggled to fill the void left by injured captain Roy Asotasi, with only Luke Stuart and Issac Luke topping 100 metres.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… A furore erupted on the field early in the game after South Sydney winger Jamie Simpson accused Titans fullback William Zillman of biting.
Simpson raced over to referee Tony Archer and pointed to his arm before lodging an on-field complaint.
The dramatic episode also sparked angry responses from both teams afterwards.
The matter was referred straight to the judiciary.
Injuries… Michael Crocker (South Sydney) – foot, TBA; Beau Champion (South Sydney) – knuckles, indefinite.
Refs Watch… A solid performance by Tony Archer and Gerard Sutton despite some difficult moments.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Mark Minichiello (Titans): Scored two tries and ran for 236 metres in a brilliant performance in the back row; 2 points – Luke Bailey (Titans): Crucial to their go-forward with 216 metres from 25 hit-ups. He also added 35 tackles; 1 point – Nathan Merritt (Rabbitohs): Tried to kick-start the Rabbitohs in the second half, coming within inches of scoring a crucial try and pulling off a try-saver himself on a runaway David Mead.
Titans 22 (M Minichiello 2, M White, D Mead tries; S Prince 3 goals) def Rabbitohs 14 (C Best, C Sandow, F Talanoa tries; C Sandow goal) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 11,977.