Rabbitohs bounce back to beat Cowboys
South Sydney have fired a warning shot to the NRL Telstra Premiership competition after their most dominant performance of the season, disposing of the Cowboys 31-18 in Townsville.
It was a game that screamed September and the reigning premiers did not let the opportunity slide as they put forward their most emphatic statement of the year on the back of the Burgess twins who ran for a combined 271 metres.
Souths had the middle of the field on lockdown for the bulk of the 80 minutes as Cowboys co-captain Matt Scott failed to fire after a week's rest, with just 102 running metres.
Illustrating South Sydney's game plan, Scott and fellow prop James Tamou expended most of their energy tackling – with 40 and 41 apiece.
Tamou (143 metres) and Taumalolo (163 metres) provided the only resistance in an otherwise disappointing showing up the middle by the hosts.
It was billed as a finals preview and that's exactly what the large North Queensland crowd got with Greg Inglis landing the first blow just over two minutes in with a freakish feat of both physical ability and football nous.
The Bunnies rank 14th in the competition for left-side shifts with eight per game, but they had no qualms about playing some football early as Inglis got the ball out the back from John Sutton, getting to the outside of Matthew Wright and toying with Justin O'Neill, palming the ball and showing a one-handed dummy before slicing through the Cowboys line.
The visitors came out meaning business while North Queensland showed the kind of early form they are known for.
Souths' aggression up the middle surprised the home side who gave away a couple of holding penalties in the ruck trying to slow the pace.
But, realising the urgency of the situation, the Cowboys' usual 20-minute slump was abbreviated by a couple of big hits from Matt Scott who generated a tougher defensive stance.
The Rabbitohs continued to build pressure off the boot of Reynolds, but it was the Cowboys next in through Justin O'Neill with a nice tap-on from Michael Morgan.
Meanwhile, the home side's engine room, led by Taumalolo (nine hit-ups for 91 metres and 11 tackles in the first 20 minutes alone), had wrested momentum.
But it was Taumalolo failing to wrap up a charging Tom Burgess close to the goal line that led to the Bunnies next points.
The Cardinal and Myrtle threatened to make the task a lot harder for North Queensland if not for a Johnathan Thurston try-saver when winger-turned-second-rower Chris McQueen showed some toe to burn a hole through the Cowboys' right edge.
Adam Reynolds was the next to tick the scoreboard over with a surprise 25-metre field goal with two minutes left in the half, but the Cowboys could thank the mysterious ways of the oval ball for their buzzer-beating try on half-time
With his side up seven, Luke Keary tried to kill the play with one minute left but his drilling kick kept trundling toward the line and crept over the touchline in-goal.
From there the Cowboys worked it over half way before shifting right, out the back to Morgan who drew and passed to O'Neill who showed enough finesse to grubber an inch-perfect kick ahead to a supporting Coote on the inside.
The game then degenerated into niggle which was highlighted early in the second half when Coote made a break off a kick return before being tipped on his head further down field by Isaac Luke, who was put on report for the play.
After an end-to-end 10 minutes, Luke made amends for his tackle on Coote, venturing left out of dummy-half and finding Jason Clark one pass off the ruck for a try – in all too familiar fashion after Michael Ennis burned the Cowboys on this ground with three such try assists back in Round 16.
Emotion continued to escalate and after a period of multiple stoppages it was Alex Johnston putting his side up double digits after Antonio Winterstein failed to clean up a Reynolds bomb.
Knock-ons coming out of Souths territory continued to plague the home side who were getting pummelled up the middle.
Luke put the icing on the cake, scooting around a lazy James Tamou and finding Johnston in support who linked with Dylan Walker under the posts.
Michael Morgan had the game's final say with a big right-foot step on a rushing Luke Keary before scything through for a try, but it was all too late as the visitors owned the bulk of the contest, consigning the Cowboys to their second-straight defeat.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 31 (Greg Inglis, Thomas Burgess, Jason Clark, Alex Johnston, Dylan Walker tries; Adam Reynolds 5 goals; Adam Reynolds field goal) def North Queensland Cowboys 18 (Justin O'Neill, Lachlan Coote, Michael Morgan tries; Johnathan Thurston 3 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Half-time: Rabbitohs 13-12. On Report: Issac Luke (Rabbitohs, 43rd minute)