SOUTH Sydney produced a vastly improved defensive performance to deal the Warriors’ NRL finals chances a blow with a 18-16 victory at ANZ Stadium.
Both teams crossed the line three times in an entertaining game featuring some spectacular tries, although the fumbling Warriors were left to rue several missed chances after butchering at least three potential four-pointers.
It leaves their finals hopes in jeopardy after squandering an opportunity to break into the top eight with their first loss in five games.
Souths, meanwhile, ended a two-match losing slide with the victory, although it may be a case of too little too late with the Rabbitohs likely needing to win all five remaining games to stand any chance of sneaking in to the finals.
After conceding 74 points in their last two games, Souths showed far greater commitment in defence, especially after missing a record 92 tackles in last week’s loss to Newcastle.
Souths broke a 12-12 halftime deadlock when exciting young half-back Chris Sandow executed two big plays with his boot.
His successful 40-20 kick put Souths on the attack, before a perfectly executed grubber was touched down by David Kidwell for the forward’s first top grade try in over a year.
A second try to impressive Warriors fullback Lance Hohaia cut the deficit to two, but his unsuccessful conversion proved the difference.
The visitors had a potential game-sealing try to Merritt scrubbed out because video referee Graeme West ruled the ball had deflected forward off Wing.
Evarn Tuimavave dropped the ball near the Rabbitohs line with 10 minutes to go, after previous handling bloopers by centre Sonny Fai and Jerome Ropati also cost the Warriors tries.
Early in the game, there was a potential 12-point turnaround in the sixth minute, when Fai butchered a try after he spilt the loose ball 30 metres out from the Souths line after hooker Ian Henderson charged down a kick from Sandow.
The Rabbitohs caught the visitors napping, scoring straight from the scrum, when fullback Nathan Merritt scampered 30 metres after the ball bounced favourably into his hands following a kick from lock John Sutton.
The Warriors hit back to level the score despite losing winger Aidan Kirk to injury in the 12th minute.
It was Kirk’s replacement Ropati who converted a turnover deep in their own half after Souths threw a wayward pass close to the Warriors line in the 18th minute.
Souths regained the lead three minutes later after Warriors lock Michael Lock fumbled the ball forward around 30 metres out from his line, with centre Ben Lowe charging over from a perfect pass from Wing.
Hooker Issac Luke’s second conversion gave Souths a 12-6 advantage, but the Warriors erased the deficit four minutes out from the break through Hohaia’s first converted try.
After losing 12 straight against the Warriors before this year, the Rabbitohs have now beaten them twice this season.
South Sydney coach Jason Taylor described it as his team’s best defensive display of the season and revealed how Kidwell had pleaded with him earlier in the week to get a chance in first grade. The New Zealand international was stripped of the Rabbitohs’ co-captaincy back in May after failing a breath test and hadn’t played in first grade since round 18.The Kiwi forward had spent a number of weeks either playing for North Sydney or was named as 18th man for the Rabbitohs.
Taylor described Kidwell’s attitude to missing out on top flight selection and playing lower grades as “superb”.
“I didn’t want to keep him out of the team for too much longer because you start to lose that match fitness as far as first grade goes,” Taylor said.
“We put the pressure on him a little bit over the past few weeks putting him as 18th man and playing a few premier league games.
“It’s a great story. During the week, when he didn’t play last week, I was sitting in my office early in the week and he came up the stairs and he’d been doing an extra training session over and above what the other guys were doing and he walked in with sweat dripping off him.
“He said ‘what’s happening with the team this week, I’m ready to go, give me a shot at it’. It was a great example of what it takes and the desire he has got, and it’s great to have people like that at your club.”
Taylor said there had been no discussion about giving the co-captaincy back to Kidwell, who was just delighted to be back in first grade.
“I’ve been busting my balls to get back in there and get an opportunity and you’ve just got to take it,” Kidwell said.
“It’s pretty tough but you have to do what you can do. You can do it two ways, you can just go round kicking stones or you can put pressure on the guys that are on the team.”
Warriors coach Ivan Cleary credited Souths for their gutsy defence in the final half, but felt his team’s defeat was basically self-inflicted.
“I think our first half was littered with errors, we really beat ourselves,” said Cleary, who revealed Kirk was in doubt for next week’s match against Brisbane with a hamstring injury.
Warriors’ captain and prop Steve Price was disappointed by his team’s performance and said it was nothing like their form of the past seven weeks and rejected the suggestion the team suffered a let down after last week’s win over Melbourne.
“We trained really well through the week, everyone was ready for the game but no excuses. We just didn’t take it out on the field,” Price said.