South Sydney have held on for a closely fought 22-18 victory over Penrith at Panthers Stadium to keep pace with the Roosters and Storm at the top of the competition ladder.
Whilst the match began as a likely cardinal-and-myrtle procession, the Panthers dug in bravely after a third minute try to Kyle Turner stunned the home side.
Corey Allan added another Rabbitohs four-pointer after 24 minutes, and despite some uncharacteristic goal-kicking errors from Adam Reynolds, Souths held a 10-0 lead just seconds before the break.
How a duo of Rabbitoh defenders avoided the sin bin in the final moments of the first half is beyond me, as they clambered all over Moses Leota shortly before the siren.
It was another appalling display of officialdom with the attacking team punished and professional fouls rewarded.
The Panthers took the two points on offer, but probably deserved more.
Perhaps aggrieved, Penrith began the second half with vigour. James Maloney crossed under the posts after 44 minutes before the Mountain Men launched wave after wave at the Bunnies’ line.
Wayne Bennett’s words of wisdom about defensive diligence must have rung in the ears of his charges, as Souths’ defensive effort lifted and the Panthers were consistently denied despite promising field position.
Cody Walker crossed on the fringe in the 58th minute to build a 16-8 lead for the Rabbitohs before possession swung back to the home side once again, and the Panthers hammered Souths’ line for what seemed like a solid ten minutes.
It came to nothing, despite the Panthers’ total tackles in the red zone heading north of 50.
Dane Gagai then scored from a clean break on the right fringe to re-establish the Rabbitohs’ dominance at 22-12 before Viliame Kikau scored a colossal individual try in the 76th minute to set up a grandstand finish.
Souths controlled the final moments with their resolute defence, despite having far less possession in try-scoring positions over the 80 minutes.
Defence won the day against a Panthers side that enjoyed more than enough possession and field position to take the two points.
In the early Friday night clash at ANZ Stadium, the popular favourites for the 2019 wooden spoon dealt a decisive blow to the North Queensland Cowboys’ season as the Bulldogs held on for a gritty 24-12 victory.
After an uninspiring first 40 minutes with both sides intent on a safety-first approach, the game came to life in the second half, with the Bulldogs taking the initiative early and scoring three quick tries to establish a match-winning 24-6 lead.
The teams had gone to the sheds at 6-all after the Cowboys opened the scoring with a Justin O’Neill try in the 13th minute.
The Dogs levelled after Jayden Okunbor found the line in the 35th. Rhyse Martin’s conversion and a penalty goal to Jordan Kahu saw parity at the break before the potential buy of the season went ballistic early in the second half.
Corey Harawira-Naera came to the Bulldogs with the club under obvious salary cap pressure. He was no million-dollar signing but had been a consistent player with the Panthers for the previous two seasons.
On Friday night, he was simply outstanding against the Cowboys.
The former Panther ran for 149 metres, made 43 tackles and produced a stunning try-saving defensive effort on Gavin Cooper with the blue-and-whites under the pump on their own try line.
The veteran front-rower appeared to be over the line and about to edge the Cowboys a little closer to the Bulldogs in the second half, before Harawira-Naera slung an arm around the ball and prevented it from reaching the grass.
Two of the three second half tries scored by the Bulldogs were Harawira-Naera’s, with Josh Jackson’s bullish effort close to the line sandwiched in between.
With the Bulldogs leading 24-6, the Cowboys did manage the final try of the match when Ben Hampton scored in the corner with just 14 minutes remaining, yet it was to be the Doggies’ night.
Whilst inconsistent, the Bulldogs are displaying the fighting spirit for which they are known. On Friday, the Cowboys were no match for their enthusiasm.
As Queensland’s NRL teams continue to struggle, it might be time to draw a line through the Cowboys for 2019 after a 2-5 start to the season.