South Sydney survived a late Shark attack to record a 32-22 victory over Cronulla at Suncorp Stadium but the game could have enormous ramifications for the Queensland Origin side with two incumbents placed on report.
The Rabbitohs looked on the path to certain victory when they raced to a 20-0 lead inside 30 minutes only for Cronulla to launch a second-half fightback and pull within sight of victory to trail 20-16 with 14 minutes to play.
But Cronulla’s late fightback was thwarted when the referee Chris Sutton halted play in the 73rd minute to place Chad Townsend on report for what appeared to be an innocuous neck contact tackle two tackles earlier.
The penalty gifted the Bunnies field position and they scored on the next set of play when Cody Walker scored for his second try of a Tevita Tatola offload.
Jai Arrow then sealed the Bunnies’ eighth victory of the season when he barged through four defenders in the middle of the Cronulla defence while Mawene Hiroti added a late four-pointer for the Sharks as they crashed to their sixth straight loss.
Match: Sharks v Rabbitohs
Round 10 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
It was a relieving victory for the Rabbitohs after last week’s humiliating 50-point loss to Melbourne but coach Wayne Bennett will know they need further improvement if they’re to match ladder leaders Penrith next Sunday.
Bennett bristled at suggstions his side has struggled to put in 80-minute performances and praised their ability to withstand the fightback and pull away at the end.
"That's not a fair assumption, we haven't struggled to play the 80 minutes," Bennett said.
"We've won most of our games late in the game, we just need a couple of players back. A couple of players that mean a lot to the team.
Bennett backs rule changes, wants Bunker involvement tweaked
"We've won three out of four without Latrell playing. There's a lot of things I like about the way we're playing.
"We could have easily lost it but we did hang in, we're pretty good at that."
Bennett also praised the current crackdown on contact with the head as long overdue, but questioned a new trend of going back multiple plays for penalties.
"I've been on this for a long time on the head stuff," he said.
"I'm totally supportive of that but I'm not supportive of the game going on for a minute after it then we come back and we all stop the whole game and go through the video then we put somebody on report then we give a penalty."
Arrow cuts back through the middle from a Cook pass
The Sharks almost pulled their own Rabbit from their hat with a stunning second half comeback, but the big news will be the nervous wait for Maroons pair Jaydn Su’A (shoulder charge) and Dane Gagai (neck contact) who were each placed on report.
If either player attracts more than a two-week suspension they will be ruled out of State of Origin I on June 9.
While all eyes were on Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds in his comeback from thumb injury and playing on his future home ground just two days after signing with the Broncos, it was Benji Marshall who stole the show with his sharp passing in the first half.
Townsend gets Kennedy into open space
Marshall’s short ball to Keaon Koloamatangi set up their first try but then a trademark Benji bullet set up the Rabbitohs’ second try, with Alex Johnston leaping high to catch the double cut out pass above his head before diving into the corner in the 19th minute.
Cronulla showed plenty of character to keep fighting back in the second half, with Andrew Fifita providing the spark off the bench in his first NRL game of the season.
Fifita created headlines on the morning of the game with claims now sacked coach John Morris had told him to retire in round one as the pair fell out of his form and role with the team.
But the former Test and NSW Origin prop had a superb cameo role off the bench by setting up Aaron Woods for a try on the hour to ignite the Sharks while he finished with five runs for 46 metres in his 15-minute performance.
When Matt Moylan put Briton Nikora over in the 66th minute the Sharks looked like they had all the running to steam home, but the Bunnies were able to find a way home and consign Cronulla to a sixth straight loss heading into next Saturday’s derby clash with St George Illawarra at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.