Rabbits win first finals game in 25 years
Sam Burgess scores during the NRL Finals Week 2, South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Canberra Raiders, at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Robb Cox)
South Sydney, the team rugby league bosses didn’t want a bar of at the turn of the century, showed tonight they could project the code to dizzy new heights over the decade.
In scoring an emphatic 38-16 finals triumph over a gallant Canberra, the Rabbitohs powered through to a preliminary final showdown with minor premiers Canterbury at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night next week.
That mouth-watering match-up, in which the winner is rewarded with a grand final berth, is likely to attract a staggering 60,000-70,000 fans and could set a new rugby league finals attendance record in this country.
It has been a long and often painful road back for the famous South Sydney club which was sensationally thrown out of the competition at the end of 1999 for “failing to meet the criteria” set by the League hierarchy of the day.
The famous old club has subsequently survived ferocious court battles, three wooden spoons, internal bickering about the sale of the Leagues Club, controversy over privatisation of the Football Club and now – finally – the famous cardinal and myrtle colours will be seen again in a preliminary final.
Souths last appeared in a finals series in 1987 and after last week’s miserable loss to Melbourne Storm in Melbourne, the Rabbitoh community feared their heroes might exit the 2012 series in straight sets.
They were facing a Canberra team on a rampaging run – six straight wins and gunning fearlessly for a seventh.
But the Rabbits got on the run early and despite a hiccup or two midway through the first half, they had built a 20-10 advantage (tries by Adam Reynolds, Andrew Everingham and Sam Burgess) by the changeover.
Centre Dylan Farrell pounced on a clever Reynolds kick to make it 26-10 to Souths after just 43 minutes and Canberra, from that point, were pretty much chasing a grand final dream, and a band of red and green shadows.
The man who orchestrated it all was the 2012 Rookie of the year, Souths’ exciting young halfback, Adam Reynolds.
He had a hand (or a boot) in almost every significant play or try – and landed seven goals from eight attempts into the bargain. Reynolds’ goal-kicking has been sensational all year and he richly deserved to eclipse the 200 points mark in this game, joining the legendary Souths man Eric Simms as the only Souths player to rack up a double ton in a first grade season.
Reynolds’ performance was a thousand percent better than the hesitant effort we saw against Melbourne the previous week. The Waterloo junior clearly suffered from first time finals jelly that night but he has well and truly beaten them and become a finals rock.
Don’t be surprised if this young man plays Origin football under new NSW coach Laurie Daley next year. He has all of the skills in attack, a shrewd and sharp football brain and his defence in his debut first grade season, has improved with every outing.
Souths had many terrific performers against the Raiders.
Englishman Sam Burgess was a colossus from beginning to end, hooker Isaac Luke started the game ahead of Nathan Peats and had enormous impact, John Sutton continued his purple patch while the likes of Michael Crocker, Greg Inglis, David Taylor and the surprise packet winger/centre Everingham, had many fantastic moments.
Souths looked to have Canberra’s measure for most of the game but there were some alarming passages when they clocked off, allowing their opponents to get a sniff. If they can eliminate such “smokos” and play a full-blooded 80 minutes against the Bulldogs this week, their grand final dream could become reality.
If Souths managed to make a title decider, modern day League bosses would do cartwheels. The club, with 20 top grade premierships to its name, enjoys a massive and passionate following. Such an achievement would stand it in good stead for at least a decade.
It’s easy to forget Souths’ vanquished opponent in the wash-up to the game which, thank the heavens, was not at any time marred by refereeing or video ref controversies.
The David Furner-coached Raiders did an astonishing job to finish sixth (technically fifth) in the NRL comp and have the material to make a strong challenge for finals honours next year and beyond providing they get a decent run from Lady Luck with injuries.
Against Souths, halfback Sam Williams was terrific, scoring one try and sparking his team continuously with darting runs, pinpoint kicks and some excellent passing.
Winger Sandor Earl also had a top game and had strong support from centre Blake Ferguson, utility ace Shaun Berrigan and lock Shaun Fensom.
Souths were just too good on the night and it is going to be one heck of a contest when they lock horns with fellow Sydneysiders Canterbury in one week’s time.