Super Souths make statement against Manly
The Rabbitohs have flexed their premiership muscle and crushed Manly's title prospects in the process, smashing out an emphatic 40-24 victory at Allianz Stadium.
Souths have been burnt too many times to be singing 'Glory, Glory' in the streets just yet, but they took a giant stride toward doing so in three weeks time with an emphatic display against the runners-up for the minor premiership.
Toovey in pain with dummy-half headache
Maguire unimpressed by late wilt
King confident Sea Eagles can dig deep
Modest Reynolds deflects praise
WATCH: Tries galore in Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles highlights
WATCH: Lote Tuqiri soars for sensational try
WATCH: Rabbitohs press conference
WATCH: Sea Eagles press conference
As it happened: Relive NRL.com's live match blog
Just short of 12 months ago the Bunnies were bundled out of the semis by the Sea Eagles, who engineered one of the great finals escapes from 14-0 down after half an hour of play.
This time around the Rabbitohs went on from an 18-0 advantage at the same 30-minute mark and at one stage led by 40 points before taking their foot off the pedal, with the boot of Adam Reynolds well and truly banishing the maroon and white nightmares of 2013.
Under the pump for much of the year and returning from suspension, the smallest man on the field produced the biggest performance of his career, tallying 20 points from two tries and six goals and laying on another three meat pies via both sleight of hand and a near-perfect kicking game.
Again the Bunnies find themselves just 80 minutes away from a grand final the red and green faithful have waited 43 years for, while the brutal defeat continues the lowering of the curtain on one of the finest eras Manly has seen.
With every game from here out potentially the last for retiring club favourite Jason King, who will join Glenn Stewart in departing the Northern Beaches at the end of the year, Manly will now await the winner of Sunday's Melbourne-Canterbury elimination final and must somehow dust themselves off from one of the more resounding finals losses in recent memory and four losses from their last six games.
The Sea Eagles' woeful night was compounded by the loss of hooker Jayden Hodges, who was taken to hospital for scans on a neck injury, while Jamie Lyon, Anthony Watmough and Kieran Foran all wound up on report.
For the Rabbitohs it was on for young, old and everyone in between. Nineteen-year-olds Dylan Walker and Alex Johnston collected three tries between them, while Lote Tuqiri – 13 years senior – terrorised opposite number Jorge Taufua as Reynolds peppered the Manly winger with a pinpoint aerial assault.
From the opening whistle referee Shayne Hayne trained an eagle on eye on the ruck, and off the back of Manly's first penalty they rolled downfield to go within a bee's appendage of opening their account, Brett Stewart just failing to ground a Kieran Foran grubber in the seventh minute.
Instead it was Reynolds who bagged the first four-pointer four minutes later, touching down on a kick dribbled in behind the line by Dylan Walker, and it all went to hell in a red and green hand basket for Geoff Toovey's men from there.
Having been put into space in the lead-up to the Bunnies' first try, Walker then extended the favour to centre partner Kirisome Auva'a, sending him on a merry gallop downfield deep into Sea Eagles territory.
Two plays later Reynolds turned provider himself, rolling a simple grubber through the scrambled Manly defence for five-eighth Luke Keary to push the Rabbits' advantage out to 12-0 after 19 minutes.
The Sea Eagles were battered, bruised and set for the deep fryer when Greg Inglis put a big old don't argue on the chest of Anthony Watmough before belting off on a 60-metre run. Only Johnston's dropped ball over the line prevented Souths from stretching further ahead.
Johnston's error only delayed the inevitable, as Tuqiri – the oldest man in the NRL – wound back the clock with a flying leap over Taufua for the Rabbitohs third.
Johnston's 18th try in 16 games – coming off the back of a simple wrap-around move putting him on the outside – sent the 'visitors' into the break up 22-zip.
Reynolds' kick and chase effort in to open the second half added another meat pie to his account, and answered emphatically those wondering out loud whether lightning could strike twice in the form of a repeat Manly comeback.
Tries to Walker and Johnston, coming within two minutes of each other, hammered another couple of nails into the Manly coffin.
A consolation try to Brett Stewart, courtesy a blatant forward pass from Taufua, stemmed the flow momentarily, while late tries to Jamie Lyon in the 67th minute, Tom Symonds in the 75th and Cheyse Blair two out from full-time pegged the Rabbitohs back but came far too late to have any effect on the outcome.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 40 (A Reynolds 2, A Johnston 2, L Keary, L Tuqiri, tries; A Reynolds goals) defeated Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 24 (B Stewart, J Lyon, T Symonds, C Blair tries; J Lyon 4 goals) at Allianz Stadium. Crowd: 25,733