A potent hat-trick from Eels flyer Semi Radradra – on the back of a four-try haul last week – has saved the blushes of a lacklustre Parramatta side who have scraped home against an understrength but plucky South Sydney to seal a top-four finish.
The spirit and energy of the Rabbitohs' performance belied the inexperience in their reshuffled team that was missing Adam Reynolds (ankle), Aaron Gray (hip) plus forward leaders Sam Burgess and Angus Crichton (both ill) from the 21-man squad named earlier in the week.
However the Eels – boosted by the inclusion of Manu Ma'u and return from injury of Beau Scott – showed none of the vigour they displayed in an early blitz in Brisbane last week.
The win earns them a trip to Melbourne next week for a qualifying final against the form team of the competition.
The Eels started brightly enough when an early Michael Jennings line break – burning past his brother Robert – saw the in-form centre put a nice move on makeshift fullback Damien Cook to open the scoring in the corner.
An offside finding from the Bunker denied Bryson Goodwin the hit-back try shortly after but the younger Jennings then got his revenge when he cashed in on an overlap on the Eels' right edge.
Some poor errors and cheap penalties conceded by the Eels helped Souths to plenty of attacking chances and they claimed the lead for the first time in the 27th minute when Kyle Turner scored an alarmingly soft try through the middle of the Eels defence.
Souths only just failed to ice a couple more attacking chances before the injection of fresh blood from the bench energised the Eels for one last assault before half time and a slick left-side move saw Will Smith throw the final pass for Semi Radradra to charge over in the corner. Mitch Moses's two precision sideline conversions allowed his team a narrow half-time advantage.
Radradra's second try, in the 50th minute, stretched the Eels' lead as the winger burst onto a lovely Norman cut-out pass and the Eels looked every chance to push on with a comfortable win.
Continued disrespect for possession hurt the Eels and a sloppy pass put Souths on the attack for a quick hit-back, with Robert Jennings bagging his double after a nice piece of deception from Cody Walker.
A scoreless 20 minutes at 18-16 had the largely blue and gold 21,533-strong crowd on the edge of their seats fearing a Rabbitohs go-ahead try but instead, five minutes out from the final siren, it was Radradra's third try that all but sealed the result.
The winger showed great awareness and desperation to outleap teenager Graham and wrestled the ball to the ground, though Moses's first missed conversion of the night kept the margin to six. However the Eels held out their opponents' final attacking raid to bag their first top-four finish since 2005.
Parramatta Eels 22 (Radradra 3, M Jennings tries; Moses 3 goals) defeated South Sydney Rabbitohs 16 (R Jennings 2, Turner tries; Goodwin 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Half-time: Eels 12-10. Crowd: 21,533.
Unofficial Dally M votes: 3 points: Corey Norman. 2 points: Robbie Farah. 1 point: Semi Radradra.