Damien Cook has lit up ANZ Stadium and rubber-stamped himself as the next Australian hooker as South Sydney came from behind to beat Melbourne 30-20 in a see-sawing, finals-like clash on Friday night.
And the result could have ramifications for Melbourne with Cameron Smith hobbling from the field with five minutes left with a right ankle injury.
The battle of the No.9s dominated the talk pre-game with Cook going head-to-head with incumbent Australian hooker Smith, who has now retired from rep football, for the first time this season.
But in the end it was Cook who came up with the big play to deliver Souths an eight-point advantage, splitting the Storm defence up the middle in the 62nd minute before weaving his way around Billy Slater and Josh Addo-Carr to the line. It was 45 metres of magic from the NSW Origin winner, now destined for higher representative honours it seems.
Minutes earlier play was stopped for Cook as he battled an ankle complaint, but there was no denying the hooker's 173 metres and 39 tackle-effort against the defending premiers.
Match: Rabbitohs v Storm
Round 21 -
Venue: ANZ Stadium
- Nine Network
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
It was an emphatic win for the Rabbitohs, who dusted off their lacklustre month of form to make a statement against a Storm outfit who were in control at halftime 16-12.
In the only sour note, the win looks to have come at a cost with Rabbitohs rookie Adam Doueihi suffering a suspected ACL injury.
Doueihi's left knee buckled after placing a kick and he was stretchered from the field.
But the night belonged to Cook, who drew first blood against his opposite number in the third minute with a quick dart earning a penalty in front of the posts - the Rabbitohs opting for a two-point lead early.
Smith was next to respond with a deft pass sending Dale Finucane over close to the line as the Storm forward wrestled his way to plant the ball down in-goal.
Melbourne veteran Ryan Hoffman fumbled the ball from the restart and the Rabbitohs were creating enough half chances to strike next.
The Bunnies went down their favoured left edge with Cody Walker delivering a cut-out pass for Hymel Hunt to dive over in the corner.
South Sydney looked to have the visitors on the ropes with Tom Burgess (96 metres) and George Burgess (108 metres) strong in their first stints, but in typical Storm fashion the defending premiers struck twice to jump to a 16-6 lead.
A slick backline movement with Cameron Munster and Billy Slater send Josh Addo-Carr over in the corner, before the NSW flyer broke through some clumsy defence from Cameron Murray to send Curtis Scott over under the posts.
Confusion occurred on halftime with Referees' Bunker incorrectly ruling a 'Try' on the big screen despite replays clearly showing a knock-on by Souths winger Campbell Graham – the match officials quick to communicate to the players it was human mistake of not pressing the right button.
But there was no confusion as Cook came to the party once more to send Sam Burgess over from close range and ensure the Rabbitohs went into the break with the momentum (16-12) despite trailing by four.
An incorrect play-the-ball from Nelson Asofa-Solomona after halftime put further pressure on the Storm as the Rabbitohs muscled up in defence to starve the defending premiers of any territory.
Melbourne's uncharacteristic night of errors were continuing with halfback Jahrome Hughes caught on the last tackle in the middle of the paddock.
The Rabbitohs' confidence grew as the second half went on and Adam Reynolds, who admitted to a below-par game last week against the Eels, stepped up to help send Doueihi over the line.
Rookie teammate Graham was enormous for the Bunnies against strike weapon Addo-Carr, who had the final say late in the game with an acrobatic try of his own – his second of the night.
News & Notes: Adam Doueihi left the field in the 59th minute with a suspected ACL...The Rabbitohs had not defeated the Storm since 2013 before tonight.....Souths have won 11 of their past 12 games...Sam Burgess could come under the spotlight after he was penalised for a shoulder charge a minute before fulltime... Next week the Rabbitohs take on arch-rivals the Sydney Roosters, while Storm hosts Cronulla at AAMI Park. Crowd: 15,132