Wests Tigers have stunned the Rabbitohs with a big win in Robbie Farah's 250th game for the club, ruining John Sutton's historic 300th game milestone and keeping their finals hopes alive.
The 22-6 loss puts Souths at risk of surrendering their spot atop the Telstra Premiership ladder and snaps a nine-game winning streak but keeps the Tigers in striking distance of the top eight.
There was no love lost between Farah and his recent teammates following his mid-season move from Redfern; he was ironed out in the first half by a Sam Burgess high shot, with the Englishman then screaming at a prone Farah accusations of taking a dive to milk a penalty.
Farah may have patchy memories of his victorious milestone game, however; he was stretchered off after he became the fifth Tiger forced to the concussion bin following a head clash with George Burgess in the 71st minute.
Impressive youngster Luke Garner also failed an HIA while Michael Chee Kam, Elijah Taylor and David Nofoaluma all had to go for checks at different times.
The hallmark of the win was some robust Tigers defence that harked back to their early season dominance over heavyweights like Melbourne and the Roosters, squashing Souths inside their end and restricting their traditionally huge yardage sets to a fraction of what they have grown accustomed to in their nine straight wins.
Match: Wests Tigers v Rabbitohs
Round 19 -
Venue: ANZ Stadium
- LIVE PASS
Their middle forwards in particular produced close to a season-best performance, with Ben Matulino being forced into extra minutes and work by the spate of concussion checks.
Souths may be able to chalk up the performance to an off night where nothing seemed to stick and the usual high energy levels just weren't there after a sapping few months.
The signs were good for the Tigers from the get-go; after a couple of early-game penalties handed them some useful field position, Esan Marsters bagged just his second try of the season when he cut back on the angle running onto a neat Luke Brooks short ball in the eighth minute.
Tempers frayed at the 20-minute mark when Sam Burgess laid out Farah – his teammate up until a month ago – with a high shot that landed him on report.
As Farah lay on the turf Burgess doubled up with a colourful, expletive-laden spray accusing the milestone man of lying down for a penalty.
The officials weren't convinced though and if the Match Review Committee agrees Burgess has a case to answer, his poor judiciary record is likely to see him miss more game time after already serving two suspensions this season.
The Tigers extended their lead from the next set as Marsters continued his strong start to the game, producing a flick pass so picture-perfect it should be in a museum to send David Nofoaluma over in the corner.
The 10-0 score-line held solid through to half time with the Rabbitohs squandering a couple of attacking chances and the Tigers defending stoutly.
They should have gone further ahead right after half time but Kevin Naiqama spilled a pinpoint Brooks grubber over the line.
Souths also continued not to make the best of their attacking chances with half breaks from Angus Crichton and Cam Murray – arguably his team's best – leading to nothing.
Instead it was the Tigers that stretched their lead further when some great footwork from Michael Chee Kam created a try for Moses Mbye.
The killer blow came when Corey Thompson defused a Souths right-side raid with a well-judged intercept and 80-metre sprint to the try-line to make it 22-0 with just over 10 minutes to play.
Cody Walker broke his team's scoring drought shortly after the resumption from Farah's concussion, producing some good footwork to score inside the final five minutes but it was too little too late.
News and Notes... John Sutton became the first Rabbitohs player to play 300 first grade games... Robbie Farah brought up 250 games in Wests Tigers colours... Dane Gagai played his 150th NRL game... Sam Burgess placed on report for high tackle on Robbie Farah... Next week Wests Tigers are away to Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Friday night... Rabbitohs host the Eels at ANZ on Saturday... Crowd: 25,963