South Sydney may have played their way into the NRL Finals Series for 2007. Tonight they overcame struggling attack cohesion and frustration to grind out a win over NRL favourites Manly through sheer weight of possession.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs looked dead and buried after only 15 minutes of game time; Manly carving them up and racing along at a point a minute – seemingly putting an early nail into South Sydneys NRL finals hopes.
In the back end of the first half, Souths had at least 6 consecutive sets attacking Manly’s line – but were still unable to pierce the rock solid Eagles defence. Stuck for ideas; Souths went into the sheds trailing 18-6 and didn’t really look like troubling the NRL heavy weights.
Both sides came out with safety first approaches in the second half. Even Souths, behind on the scoreboard tucked the ball under their arms and played one out Rugby League. As the arm wrestle grew, the grinding style of match began to suit the dogfighting Bunnies. They seemed more content to build pressure and through wave after wave – virtually frustrated Manly into submission.
Manly’s discipline went out the window, Anthony Watmough in particular giving away a tonne of penalties and spraying referee Sean Hampstead on several occasions. Watmough really was lucky not to be pinged for dissent or give away 10m on a penalty piggy back.
Just when the Bunnies looked void of ideas in attack, they would simply jag another set of 6. Precision bombs, grubbers sliding nicely in the conditions and varied final tackle kickers in Ben Rogers, Joe Williams and John Sutton – had the Manly pressure chasers guessing who was the target.
The clincher coming 10 minutes from fulltime, Ben Rogers kicking on tackle 2 for Souths in behind Chris Hicks and Jamie Lyon for a flying Talanoa to score. When the Rabbitohs finally took the risk, it was a calculated one and it paid off big time. Joe Williams kicking perfectly for the night to send his team home by 6 points.
Apart from ill-discipline in patches, it’s hard to fault Manly tonight – they simply did not have the ball. Possession close to 68% for Souths which is unheard of these days, Manly spending an eternity tackling and considering the work rate their energy levels were still impressive.
Standouts for Souths were certainly forwards Roy Asotasi and Michael Greenfield – new boy Greenfield in particular working hard all night and eating the metres. The injection of Luke Issac off the bench proved a big winner for Jason Taylor and the Rabbioths – the fresh rake looking full of energy and cutting through the Manly line (probably Souths’ only threat).
The South Sydney Rabbitohs are now sitting perfectly to get into the NRL Finals for 2007 and mount their first NRL finals campaign in many, many years. The win by the Rabbits sets up a mammoth clash with the Wests Tigers this Sunday at Leichhardt Oval. Manly won’t hurt too much from tonights speed bump, they will get Orford back fresh next week and learn from their frustrations tonight.