On paper it looked like the tie of the rounds as eighth placed South Sydney Rabbitohs took on a sixth placed Newcastle Knights side at the Bankwest Stadium. The bookies could barely split the two sides with the odds, the higher placed knights the slight favourites.
Both coaches made several changes from last week’s sides as coaches Bennett and O’Brien looked for the win to keep them in the chase for a top four finish and a week off in the elimination games of the play-offs.
The bunnies had Corey Allen and Jaxson Paulo in for Graham and Mitchell while the Knights brought in Connor Watson, Mitchell Barnett and Sione Mata’utia for Jones, Daniel Saifiti and Hoy.
An end to end opening ten minutes was ended with a Knights opener as Bradman Best flicked a pass out to his winger Enari Tuala to complete a passing move through half a dozen pairs of hands. Kalyn Ponga converted from wide left.
Newcastle added a second three minutes later when Kurt Mann took a short pass to brush off three tacklers and make the line from ten metres out. Ponga pushed his kick across the front of the posts, Newcastle up by 10-0.
The third unanswered Newcastle try came on twenty-eight minutes when Alex Johnston waltzed through the defence to score from twenty-five metres out. Ponga pushed his kick wide of the left upright, the Knights with a 14-0 lead.
Eight minutes after the restart and the Knights resumed try scoring service. A Bradman Best pinpoint grubber was chased, caught, and grounded by Ponga wide left. Ponga again pushed his kick attempt wide of the far upright.
Ponga was finally accurate with the boot when he kicked a fifty-third minute penalty goal to extend the lead to four tries at 20-0.
Sixty-six minutes in the Rabbitohs finally broke their duck as Mark Nicholls took the ball at first receiver and crashed over from five metres out. Adam Reynolds added a quickly taken conversion.
Within a minute the Rabbitohs were in again when Damian Cook went through a broken and retreating defence from fifteen metres out with a scoot from acting half-back for second four pointer. Reynolds was again accurate with the boot for 12-20. Surely it was too late for a sensational fightback?
With nine minutes left the Rabbitohs looked like they were in again as Tom Burgess went over under the sticks. Referee Atkins checked with the bunker and the replays clearly showed a knock-on in the act of scoring.
But on seventy-three Cook won the race to ground a Jackson Paulo grubber from the touchline. Reynolds added the conversion and the margin was down to just two points with seven minutes remaining, the Knights nerves were now jangling.
It was a fraught last seven minutes but the Knights managed to cling on to the victory and took the important two points to move to fourth in the table. The Rabbitohs of the last twenty minutes were absent for the first sixty and they left it too late to snatch a famous fightback win.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Johnston (T), Paulo, Roberts, Gagai, Allan, Walker, Reynolds (3G), Tatola, Cook (2T), Burgess, Su’A, Lowe, Murray. Subs: Nicholls (T), Sele, Sironen, Mago.
Newcastle Knights: Ponga (T, 2G), Tuala, Moga, Best (T), Hunt, Mann (T), Pearce, Klemmer, McCullough, Saifiti, Fitzgibbon, Guerra, Ese’ese,. Subs: Watson, Barnett, Saulo, Mata’utia.
Referee: Grant Atkins.
Ground: Bankwest Stadium, Sydney.