Sharks v Rabbitohs: Five Key Points
South Sydney never really got going in an often spiteful 28-12 loss to Cronulla in the second elimination final. Here are five talking points from the result that ended the Rabbitohs title defence and booked the Sharks a ticket to Townsville for Saturday.
The eight-point turnaround
Possibly the cruellest moment of the match for last year's premiers came in the 50th minute. Down 18-0 and under all sorts of pressure, Michael Ennis dabbed a deft grubber behind their try line (not for the first or last time in the game). On this occasion five-eighth Luke Keary was ready, racing onto the ball and through the Sharks line then 100 metres to score under the posts. However the space was created by Jason Clark's hip-bump on Michael Gordon. The referees immediately called obstruction but allowed the play to unfold in case the video referee saw it differently. He did not, and the no-try call correctly stood. Souths players and fans were understandably livid but it was the correct call.
The ball. Catch it.
It didn't end up costing them but there were some nervy moments early for the Sharks when no fewer than three bombs were allowed to bounce in the opening 13 minutes. The first – the first kick of the game – was let go by winger Valentine Holmes, who had to retreat to field the ball and was almost pinned in goal. The third looked a miscommunication between Holmes and fullback Michael Gordon and could have been disastrous for the Sharks had Souths not been penalised for being in front of the kicker. Luckily for Cronulla the Souths kickers' radars weren't working and plenty of subsequent chances were marked on the full deep in the in-goal.
One-legged Inglis tries to drag Bunnies home
For much of the game, Rabbitohs skipper Greg Inglis appeared to be badly hampered by a knee injury, just a fortnight after minor arthroscopic surgery.
But the Bunnies skipper – after at one point looking like he may struggle to finish the game – sparked into life late in the game, though it wasn't enough to drag his team over the line.
It seemed Souths desperately needed him back if they were to be a chance after appearing somewhat rudderless in their past two losses in his absence.
Asked if they noticed if he was struggling, the Sharks weren't having any of it.
"Have you tried to tackle him? He's a freak of a player!" laughed Sharks skipper Paul Gallen in the post match press conference.
Added coach Shane Flanagan: "I thought in the last 20 minutes he sort of put his foot down and got confidence as the game went on. I thought he was a little bit dodgy at the start but at the end he tried to get them home and tried to get some points for them and really played a part."
Bird's rocks and diamonds and clutch play
Young Sharks five-eighth Jack Bird is entering his first NRL finals series and did not seem overawed by the occasion, though he did produce a couple of uncharacteristic errors – as well as a brilliant solo try.
His 21st minute try was the first scoring play of the game and came at a crucial time with both sides struggling to gain the ascendency. He beat Luke Keary (twice), Kirisome Auva'a and Greg Inglis on a powerful, match-turning run to the line.
Elsewhere, he dropped a kick off cold late in the first half with his side up 18-0 that could have been costly if it reduced the halftime margin to 18-6.
He also had an early knock on plus a tough one from a sharp offload he wasn't expecting late in the game but also produced a clutch bomb defusal around the 60-minute mark in a good all round game he should be proud of.
Souths leave it too late
The defending premiers were right out of sorts in the first half, going to the sheds 18-0 down then falling 28-0 behind before scoring two late tries to win the second half 12-10 and make the final score more respectable.
It's cold comfort though for the side that can now start looking towards Mad Monday, but fans will be left wondering what might have been if the intensity of the final 20 minutes was there in the opening 40.
The Sharks did well to repel a few raids but from the time Inglis regathered a short kick off in the 65th minute after Cronulla had gone 28-0 up it was all the Rabbitohs. They went on a run from that set, drew a late penalty and attacking centre Dylan Walker showed what he is capable of when he shredded the Sharks' left side defence shortly after.
Despite making plenty more errors of their own in the final stretch they got in range again and Chris Grevsmuhl dove over when Cronulla failed to clean up a kick and Souths got a six again call.
There was more razzle dazzle two minutes later and Souths looked like getting their third before the play broke down when Kyle Turner knocked on – and it was all a case of too little too late for the 2014 premiers.