Alex Johnston became South Sydney's greatest ever tryscorer as a second-half surge gave the Rabbitohs a 44-18 win over Wests Tigers at Accor Stadium on Saturday night.
Johnston's hat-trick and a double to Cody Walker were the catalyst for the Bunnies' win, avenging a loss to the Tigers just five weeks ago.
As the game celebrates Indigenous Round it was fitting that Johnston and Walker stood tall and steadied Souths' season after three losses in their previous five games.
It was all the Tigers in the early going with Asu Kepaoa intercepting a Lachlan Ilias pass and racing 90 metres to grab the opening try of the night in the sixth minute.
Johnston levels it
Veteran Tigers winger Ken Maumalo then made it a double strike when he touched down in the left hand corner after Jackson Hastings launched a bomb which Brent Naden tapped down to Daine Laurie who found his skipper.
A penalty goal to Luke Brooks in the 15th minute extended the Tigers' lead to 12-0 before the Rabbitohs hit back in the 24th minute through prolific winger Alex Johnston, finishing off some slick lead-up work by Cameron Murray, Cody Walker and Campbell Graham.
Johnston try took his career tally to 145, just short of Nathan Merritt as the Rabbitohs' greatest ever tryscorer.
Havili crashes over
With six minutes remaining in the first half the Rabbitohs drew level when Siliva Havili crashed over from close range and Kodi Nikorima knocked over the conversion.
The Tigers regained the lead on the stroke of half-time when Laurie produced a superb cut-out pass to put Maumalo over for his second try of the night and 10th of the season.
Kepaoa goes the distance
A spilled bomb by Nikorima early in the second half put the Rabbitohs under pressure but they hung on and went up the other end to lay on another try for Johnston - equalling Merritt's record of 146 tries.
Four minutes later Graham forced his way over from dummy half and the Rabbitohs had the lead at 22-18.
When Brooks kicked out on the full in the 59th minute the Rabbitohs pounced, Graham getting an offload away to Johnston for his record-breaking 147th try for the club.
Another of the Rabbitohs' Indigenous champions Walker got in on the action with 15 minutes to play, scooping the ball up and diving over after Luciano Leilua had fumbled an Ilias grubber.
Walker made it a double in the 71st minute before a runaway intercept try to Jaxson Paulo heaped more pain on the Tigers and made it 44-18.
After trailing 18-12 at the break the Rabbitohs ran riot in the second term, piling on 32 unanswered points to notch their sixth win of the season.
Match: Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers
Round 12 -
Venue: Accor Stadium, Sydney
- The Rabbitohs have won five of their past six games against the Tigers at Accor Stadium.
- Daine Laurie returned in great style for the Tigers with 116 metres, two try assists and three line break assists.
- Damien Cook racked up nine tackle breaks and ran for 112 metres in a perfect tune-up for State of Origin.
- Tigers forward Joe Ofahengaue left the field in the 33rd minute for a HIA which he passed and returned to the fray early in the second term.
- Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook played his 150th game for the club.
- Siliva Havili enjoyed a night out for the Rabbitohs with the sixth try of his 113-game career to go with 175 running metres and six tackle breaks.
- Tom Burgess produced a barnstorming 52-minute performance with 235 metres from 19 runs for Souths.
Play of the Game
Alex Johnston's place among Rabbitohs royalty was already assured but his third try of the night in the 60th minute took him into a whole new stratosphere. In his 178th career game, the 27-year-old racked up his 147th try to surpass Nathan Merritt as the foundation club's greatest every tryscorer. A premiership winner for Souths in his debut season in 2014, Johnston has gone on to carve out a great career and the all-time premiership record of 212 tries held by legendary speedster Ken Irvine may be within reach if he continues at his current strike rate. Johnston also became the highest tryscorer at Accor Stadium with 72 tries in 76 games at the Olympic stadium.
Hat-trick hero Johnston becomes Rabbitohs all-time leading try scorer
What They Said
"I'm still pinching myself. I don't want to play in any other colours and to score 147 tries in the red and green it means a lot to me and my family and I'm just speechless at the moment. We all know what happened a few years ago, I was almost not here, there was a petition going around and a lot of fans signed and I like to think the top dogs had a look at that and thought 'we might need to keep this bloke' and I'm very thankful to the fans for doing that. It all worked out and I'm just so happy here." - Rabbitohs record holder Alex Johnston
Rabbitohs: Round 12
"What we're trying to do at the moment is make sure we build really strong foundations to be able to win those sorts of games. I think we've actually shown that over the last couple of months where there's periods in the games that have hurt us but there's also some really good passages. We had really good control in the first half but we went from 86 per cent completions down to 60-something in the second half and that applies pressure and you have to be able to handle it better than we did tonight." - Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire
Wests Tigers: Round 12
The Rabbitohs have a bye in round 13 before squaring off against the Titans on the Gold Coast three days after Origin One.
The Tigers also get a rest in round 13 and a chance to freshen up ahead of a big home game at Campbelltown Stadium against Manly in round 14.