Manly stayed with the red-hot Rabbitohs for 65 minutes but eventually crumbled under the weight of huge pressure in attack and defence to go down 23-4 in front of more than 27,000 fans at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
We've been here before: Maguire
They wrestled the crap out of us: Toovey
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The final score didn't do justice to the highly physical and entertaining clash, which was a close arm-wrestle for 65 minutes.
An early match-ending shoulder injury to Manly centre Steve Matai crippled their usually devastating left-edge attack, while young Souths half Luke Keary had the ball on a string throughout the night with a probing array of kicks.
The match also featured the return of Sam Burgess, who overcame a shoulder injury to put in a powerful man of the match performance, scoring a try and making 202 run metres, 31 tackles, and two line breaks.
Although the final scoreline didn't look pretty for Manly, they repelled a huge number of attacking raids from Souths with defensive determination that showed why they will remain a force throughout September.
The ladder leaders made the early statement on the back of some poor discipline from the Rabbitohs. An early Ben Te'o knock on was followed by a penalty to hand Manly a full set in the South Sydney half and a well-rehearsed right-side shift from Daly Cherry-Evans, past decoy runner Tom Symonds, found Jamie Lyon.
Lyon's dangerous draw and pass provided just enough space for Peta Hiku to push his way into the corner and draw level with Parramatta's Semi Radradra as the season's top try scorer with his 16th four-pointer of 2014 in just the sixth minute of play.
While Lyon was lining up the conversion, which was unsuccessful, centre Steve Matai left the field holding his left shoulder and did not return, forcing Tom Symonds to left centre.
From that point the Rabbitohs were by far the more dominant side for the rest of the half and were unlucky not to be up by more than their eventual 12-4 half time advantage, largely due to some resolute Manly defence.
The Manly halves struggled to pull up the ball in the in-goals on the hard Sydney Cricket Ground pitch, handing their opponents too many seven-tackle sets and failing to build pressure. Their traditionally lethal left-side shift, which has been so effective this year, also produced a number of turnovers rather than points in Matai's absence - as much due to misfired passes from Brett Stewart and Kieran Foran than through any fault of stand-in Symonds.
The Rabbitohs hit the lead in the 13th minute after Issac Luke drew a marker penalty, with Adam Reynolds firing a pinpoint flat ball at the chest of impressive youngster Kyle Turner, who bounced over next to the posts.
They stretched their advantage with an incredible passage of play on the back of a breakdown from Manly on that left side play, when Jamie Buhrer fumbled a Foran short ball and it was picked up by Lote Tuqiri, with the 34-year-old winger showing a surprising turn of pace to race 70 metres and keep his distance from opposing winger Jorge Taufua in pursuit.
He was eventually reined in by Cherry-Evans but with Manly very short on their right with players still chasing the play up field, a spread from Souths found Kirisome Auva'a who pushed his way over in the left corner, Reynolds sniping the tricky conversion for an eight-point advantage.
With all the momentum they threatened to go in again off the very next set when a Sam Burgess offload put Greg Inglis into space, but a brilliant covering tackle from Brett Stewart brought him down short of the line and Auva'a, in a rush of blood, went himself on the last and was tackled just short as Manly held on.
The second half resumed at full pace, with some furious defensive sets from South Sydney in particular, while Manly continued to be troubled by the absence of Matai on the left edge and lacked fluidity in attack, with several passes hitting the ground.
A brutal defensive set from Souths 15 minutes into the half piled massive pressure on Manly before Cherry-Evans produced a top drawer 40/20 to hand his side a chance but again they weren't able to capitalise.
Moments later Manly were again defending their own line, before a line break down the left from Taufua and Symonds threatened to get Manly back in it but Symonds' pass to a supporting Buhrer floated forward.
The first points of the half finally came after 65 minutes on the back of a dubious crusher tackle penalty against Josh Starling after Luke Keary stayed down, with Starling finding himself on report. The weight of possession finally told via a regulation left side shift as an Inglis offload put Walker into space before prolific youngster Alex Johnston was on hand to cross in the corner for his 15th try in his 11th career game.
Sam Burgess charged through a gap from the next set and flattened Stewart who bravely put himself in front of the rampaging Englishman and stave off another Rabbitohs raid.
But when the highly physical South Sydney defence bundled Cherry-Evans into touch shortly after, Burgess was again on hand to burst onto an Issac Luke flat ball and score the try that put the match officially out of reach of the Sea Eagles. Reynolds took the chance for some field goal practice as the clock wound down to make the final margin 19 points.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 23 (Turner, Auva'a, Johnston, S Burgess tries; Reynolds 3 goals; Reynolds field goal) defeated Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 4 (Hiku try). Crowd: 27,062.