South Sydney are into the 2021 NRL grand final after disposing of Manly 36-16.
Junk time tries as the Rabbitohs partied got Manly closer than the scoreline indicates. Here are your talking points from a big night for the cardinal and myrtle.
Is the Queensland traffic to blame for Manly’s poor night?
Let’s get this one out of the way quick.
No, it wasn’t.
Ashley Klein should have stopped play for Sean Keppie
Manly prop Sean Keppie hit his head badly trying to tackle Souths prop Mark Nicholls and was clearly giving signs of concussion – he fell to the ground stunned, stumbled to his feet then staggered around, even almost falling into a play the ball moments later. It was pretty unnerving stuff. He was in real strife.
But the game went on for a couple more plays – why? The initial contact happened right in front of referee Ashley Klein, who couldn’t have missed what happened. Where was the Manly trainer? Why didn’t he get the game stopped? Everyone could see Keppie was in dire trouble. He failed his HIA in about 20 seconds after he eventually came from the field.
Was everyone gun shy in light of what happened to Penrith and the media blow-up this week?
Is this all too hard for one referee?
All reasonable questions, I reckon.
A rout wasn’t really a surprise
The first five minutes of this one played out at a good finals intensity, as the teams felt each other out with strong runs and solid hits. Early direction and kicking announced Manly wanted to target rookie Bunnies fullback Blake Taaffe, and Souths would be targeting Manly winger Jason Saab.
Then Morgan Harper made an error, and the Bunnies were away. They were rested, more disciplined and focused on making a grand final after failing at this stage for the last three years. They dominated possession and took their chances.
Manly were eager, but their defensive shape went to water as they scrambled across the middle and made poor choices when Souths took it wide, in particular to their left.
The Sea Eagles tried to commit the same defence they were able to employ last week against the Roosters, but Souths were too fast to move, too strong up the middle and offloaded at a much higher rate.
Errors are magnified a thousandfold in finals
Complain all you want that Tom Trbojevic ran a different line, but if Moses Suli doesn’t run into Adam Reynolds, Manly are in for a 19th minute try and scores are 6-6.
Tom Trbojevic then drops the ball over the line in the 25th minute and Souths make it 18-0 three minutes later, also helped from an error by Haumole Olakau’atu.
A loose pass in the 37th minute by Daly Cherry-Evans is taken to the other end, a minute later Jaxson Paulo is over in the corner, it’s 22-0 and the game is almost cooked.
Manly made nine errors in the first 40 and ended up with 17 for the game, which led to just 42 per cent possession and handed Souths a grand final berth on a platter.
Manly only got 19 sets in the first half, and they only completed 11 of them. That’s horrid.
Things only got worse when play resumed and Manly came out full of energy, only for momentum killer errors by Olakau’atu and a forced pass by Tom Trbojevic to Morgan Harper turning the ball over. That led to a Campbell Graham try, a 26-6 scoreline and the game was done.
There were still warning signs for the Rabbitohs
While they seemed to have the game in hand after ten minutes or so, Manly were still making inroads against the run of play with some swift attack down the left and right.
When the Sea Eagles moved the ball quickly to the outside, they had Bunnies defenders pushing up early and opening gaps, or pushing in and creating a chance to overlap. You can guarantee whoever wins tomorrow’s game between Melbourne and Penrith would have been playing close attention.
If the Sea Eagles didn’t spend the rest of the game making so many errors and bad choices, who knows how things could have gone.
So what’s next?
Manly switch to resort mode, turning their attention to Mad Monday and preseason training in six weeks or so. Their finals campaign may have been two pastings sandwiching a win of their own, but there’s still some good young talent for Des Hasler to work with in that squad.
Tonight is a disappointing loss, but there must be some pride for Manly fans in reaching this point after their diabolical 0-4 start.
South Sydney move to their first grand final since their 2014 premiership, after missing out at the preliminary finals stage three years running.
They’ll face either a busted-up Penrith, who they beat 16-10 in Week 1, or a fully fit and flying Melbourne, who they have beaten a grand total of five times in 35 goes since the Storm entered the NRL in 1998…
Who would Souths prefer, do you think?
What did you make of the Rabbitohs’ win, Roarers? Did they look like premiership material?