The South Sydney Rabbitohs picked up their first win since Round 11 on Saturday night, severely denting the Warriors’ finals hopes along the way with a commanding 41-22 victory at Mt Smart Stadium.
Five first-half tries saw the visitors take a 31-6 lead into the break, and despite their hopes of playing post-season football being dashed weeks ago, Michael Maguire’s side played some immaculate rugby league to finish the match with an 88 per cent completion rate.
An early feature of South Sydney’s Round 23 win was the pinpoint tactical kicking of halfback Adam Reynolds, who repeatedly got the ball in behind the Warriors’ big outside backs, assisting three tries off kicks in the first half.
Reynolds left the match early in the second period with a hamstring tear and didn’t return, but by that point the result was already beyond doubt.
The Warriors had opened the scoring after Solomone Kata barged over from dummy-half on seven minutes, but the joy, and 6-0 lead, would be short-lived.
Winger Alex Johnston then got the Bunnies going when he latched on to a Reynolds kick behind the advancing Warriors line, before the the NSW Origin playmaker replicated the play on the other side of the field to set Aaron Gray up.
Souths were helped through that period by a glut of opposition errors, with Tuimoala Lolohea kicking out on the full from the restart, followed by a number of penalties from others in general play.
A double from Joe Burgess in the space of four minutes stretched South Sydney’s lead out to 24-6 on the half hour mark.
Greg Inglis pierced through for a converted try in the final minute of the first stanza and Reynolds kicked a field goal to cap off a dominant half for the 2014 premiers.
A 50-metre intercept try from Solomone Kata opened the second-half action after just five minutes, but any hope of a miraculous comeback for the home side was extinguished when Hymel Hunt picked up a woeful Shaun Johnson kick to run 80 metres and restore the 25-point lead.
A swift left-side shift saw Manu Vatuvei cross in the corner, but a spate of errors once again meant the Warriors built no momentum following points, with South Sydney adding another four via the boot of Damien Cook inside the final 20 minutes, blowing the lead out to 41-16.
Rookie dummy-half Jazz Tevaga darted over for his first NRL Telstra Premiership try in the 78th minute to give the 17,409-strong Auckland crowd something to cheer about on an otherwise miserable night for the Warriors.
While the victory will do little but restore some pride for South Sydney, the result means the Warriors now face an uphill battle to make the top eight, dropping them behind both the Titans (25 points) and Panthers (24 points with a superior differential).
South Sydney Rabbitohs 41 (Joe Burgess 2, Alex Johnston, Aaron Gray, Greg Inglis, Hymel Hunt tries; Adam Reynolds 5 goals, Damien Cook 3 goals; Adam Reynolds field goal) defeated Warriors 22 (Solomone Kata 2, Manu Vatuvei, Jazz Tevaga tries; Shaun Johnson 3 goals) at Mt Smart Stadium. Half-time: Rabbitohs 31-6. Crowd: 17,409.