A Damien Cook try saving tackle for the ages on Corey Oates in the final minute and all-round masterclass has inspired a stunning and brave Rabbitohs to a 22-20 win over the Broncos in a game worthy of the intense and controversial build-up that preceded it.
The lead-up focused on the coaches but it was the players that delivered an end-to-end spectacle worthy of a grudge match that had plenty on the line.
With the Broncos storming home and the Rabbitohs ahead by two, Darius Boyd turned Oates inside and he powered towards what seemed certain to be the winning try.
Cook cut the flying winger down like an axeman felling a giant oak tree, just centimetres from the line. Souths somehow held the Broncos out with last-ditch defence but it was the Cook tackle that will be replayed for a long, long time.
The Rabbitohs hooker’s speed and game awareness was on song as he set up two Bunnies tries and finished another to lift South Sydney back into the top four.
The Rabbitohs victory had plenty to recommend it with Souths playing with 12 men for 20 minutes of the match due to former Broncos James Roberts and Jaydn Su’A spending time in the sin bin.
Match: Broncos v Rabbitohs
Round 23 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
South Sydney’s spine was the difference in the clash with Cook and halves Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds on fire.
The Broncos were inspired by 19-year-old back-rower David Fifita whose power and speed earned him 16 tackle breaks in an awe-inspiring two-try display.
Roberts returned to Suncorp Stadium keen to make a point to his former coach Anthony Seibold.
Cook sparks a long range try to Gagai
The Rabbitohs centre had a killer look in his eyes and soon found himself in the sin bin after applying his forearm to the head of Oates after the Brisbane winger had lost the ball over the tryline.
Oates left the field for an HIA assessment as well but the Broncos were unable to make the most of the one-man advantage and it was Souths that landed a penalty through Reynolds.
South Sydney’s first try was a cracker. Cook out of dummy half was greased lightning and John Sutton motored up in support to throw a trademark offload to Cody Walker who timed his inside pass to Dane Gagai to perfection. Reynolds added the extras and the Rabbitohs led 8-0.
The Broncos looked in deep trouble until Fifita scored a freakish try with a 30-metre charge which showcased his raw power and game sense. He sliced past his former teammate Su’A, raced around Adam Doueihi and then did a trademark swivel move near the line to score.
Fifita busted through again minutes later before deciding to kick for himself. It was scintillating stuff and ignited a late Brisbane surge to end the half.
Rabbitohs stretch their lead with Cook try
The latent tension that was building in the match exploded early in the second half when Ben Te’o clone Su’A went high on Alex Glenn before players from both sides piled on each other on cue.
The forearm that Su’A finished off with on Glenn earned him 10 minutes in the sin-bin and Jamayne Isaako landed the penalty to level it up at 8-all.
The desperation of both teams was epitomised when an Anthony Milford bomb was somehow caught by a flying Oates who sent Darius Boyd scurrying under the posts. But Campbell Graham and Reynolds appeared from nowhere to hold the Brisbane captain up.
Roberts sin binned for brain explosion
A Roberts 70-metre special got Souths close and a penalty soon afterwards was slotted by Reynolds.
Then came what seemed certain to be the coup de grace when Cook put on the afterburners out of dummy half. Reynolds, who minutes earlier had been down for the count, sprinted up in support and put a sublime kick on the toe for Walker to finish other classic.
A minute later Cook screamed over after Gagai sliced past a Matt Gillett tackle and the Rabbitohs led 22-8.
Fifita scores from absolutely nothing
The Broncos weren’t done and from a short kick-off the ball eventually found that man Fifita again who wrestled and rumbled his way over from close range and the margin was back to eight with 12 minutes remaining.
Souths appeared to have the game in the bag before veteran Gillett busted the line out of nothing in the 77th minute to link with a rampaging Kotoni Staggs to cut Souths' lead to two.
When Isaako broke clear in the final two minutes the Broncos faithful were on their feet. Then Joe Ofahengaue stole the ball off Gagai in a one-on-one strip and the Broncos had one last chance to win it.
It was then that Cook somehow chopped down Oates to give the blockbuster clash the finish it deserved.
The Broncos remain in the top eight after Penrith’s upset defeat by the Cowboys and on their outstanding showing on Friday night will be favoured to secure a finals berth.
The Rabbitohs have their mojo back and the win may well be the one that gives them the momentum coach Wayne Bennett was seeking into the finals series.