Rabbitohs v Panthers: Five key points
It was all one-way traffic from the 15-minute mark as the Rabbitohs came back from 8-0 down early to pile on 42 unanswered points including a stunning five-try haul to Alex Johnston at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
Johnston joins illustrious list
Since Harold Horder bagged five tries in a game for the Rabbitohs not once but twice all the way back in 1917 (both against North Sydney) it has happened six more times – but only Redfern favourite Nathan Merritt achieved the feat on the modern era.
For the record, the other men are: Eric Sladden v Parramatta, Cumberland Oval – Rd 16, 1957; Ian Moir v Parramatta, Redfern Oval – Rd 7, 1957; Johnny Graves v Eastern Suburbs, Redfern Oval – Rd 14, 1949; Don Manson v University, Sports Ground – Rd 1, 1937; Alan Quinlivan v University, Earl Park – Rd 9, 1936.
There was a 54-year wait between Sladden and Merritt's efforts but it took just six years for Johnston to join the illustrious list. In fact, current Rabbitohs John Sutton, Dave Tyrell and Jason Clark played in both games. Current squad member Greg Inglis played in Merritt's game but is currently out injured while Sam Burgess played in Johnston's game but missed Merritt's in 2011 through injury.
The fact that Johnston – a local junior of Indigenous background – equalled the record with the club suited up in their Indigenous jerseys for NAIDOC week – made the moment even sweeter.
Turning point derails Penrith's season
It was the horror 18th-minute pass that sent Penrith's season into freefall. With his team up 8-0 and seemingly in control, skipper Matt Moylan fired a loose long ball out to the right.
It was probably ill-advised given right-edge winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak had been sin-binned two minutes earlier for his part in a scuffle leaving that side undermanned with Waqa Blake out wide on his own.
It became worse when the pass landed in no-man's land and sat up perfectly for the fleet-footed Johnston to pick it up and streak 90 metres to score. A devastated Moylan blamed himself after the game for the momentum shift though coach Anthony Griffin insisted it takes more than one pass to ruin a game. Nevertheless, it kicked off the first of South Sydney's seven unanswered tries and Penrith never got back in the game.
Reynolds puts it on a dime
Bunnies playmaker Adam Reynolds has been under fire somewhat this year, wearing more than his share of the blame in a stuttering season as he has carried a troublesome knee through the middle part of the season.
Those worries looked a long way behind him on Sunday as he ran the ball alertly (for four tackle busts) and most importantly kicked with complete and utter precision.
A series of long kicks, cross-field bombs and cheeky grubbers behind the line were almost all so pinpoint that it wouldn't be overstating the matter to call them perfect. Four of the team's seven tries came either directly or indirectly from his attacking kicks while he also created two line drop-outs off his boot and kicked a phenomenal seven from seven conversions – mostly from right on the touch line.
Mansour's high ball worries
Tackle-busting Penrith winger Josh Mansour is still feeling his way back from a long-term layoff as a result of a ruptured ACL in last year's Four Nations tournament and subsequent knee reconstruction.
You would hardly know it though as the one-time Rabbitohs under-20s star galloped his way to 600 metres in his first three games, with 24 tackle busts.
Even in a badly beaten team on Sunday, the 'Sauce' managed 100 metres, two tackle busts and a try. But what may take him a bit longer to get right in his return from such a major injury is leaping to contest high balls.
Last week he was outleapt by Cowboys flanker Kyle Feldt, who scored a try from a spectacular mark, and this week Rabbitohs rookie Braidon Burns got the jump in taking a speccie of his own in the first half. Whether it a bit of innate caution that goes with the risk of landing heavily on his knee or just taking time to get the leaping strength back, it could be an area future opponents look to target when they meet the Panthers.
Burgess boys get mojo back
It has been something of an up-and-down season for Michael Maguire's squadron of Burgii; while Sam has been largely consistent and occasionally game-breaking despite tallying 14 errors and 14 penalties this season, but George has been restricted to nine games through a combination of suspension and form with only four of those eight netting him over 100 metres.
All three played important roles though against Penrith alongside strong games from 150-gamer Dave Tyrell, bench prop Zane Musgrove and another huge stint from explosive youngster Angus Crichton.
George, in particular, shook off his early-season woes to produce his first game this year that did not include a single missed tackle, handling error or penalty conceded, drawing praise from his coach.
"George has gone away and worked hard at his game. I thought he played well for us. He ran hard and defended well for us," McGuire said.