Indigenous superstars Dane Gagai and Alex Johnston have led the South Sydney Rabbitohs to a massive 38-20 win over the Parramatta Eels during Indigenous Round.
After last week’s 56-12 loss to the Penrith Panthers, the Rabbitohs were quick out of the gates in an effort to get their season back on track, with this win taking them to 4th on the ladder, just behind the Eels on point difference.
One man that copped a fair degree of criticism over the week was the elusive number 9 in Damien Cook. With zero runs in a 40+ point loss, Cook was looking to re-establish himself as the premier hooker in the New South Wales origin stocks.
He certainly did himself no harm when, just one minute into the game, Cook scurried out of dummy half and streaked past a flat-footed Clint Gutherson to open the scoring early.
A re-shuffle was on the cards this week, with Jai Arrow starting at prop, Mark Nicholls at lock, Cameron Murray in the number 12 jersey, and Thomas Burgess relegated to the interchange.
The move by the master coach Wayne Bennet paid dividends immediately, with the rejuvenated forward pack applying blowtorch heat to the Parramatta defence.
The opening exchanges would see Parramatta with around 30% possession over the first 15 to 20 minutes.
The pressure was untenable for the Eels and Alex Johnston was able to add the scoring in the eighth minute.
Just when all seemed to be going wrong for the Western Sydney side, captain Clint Gutherson pounced on a bouncing ball from fill-in five-eighth Jakob Arthur, bringing the score to within one converted try after 15 minutes played.
Unfortunately, the turn in fortune would not last, with revelatory performer Papali’i sin-binned five minutes later for holding on too long after a Rabbitohs break.
The Eels would pay for their ill-discipline shortly after, when Alex Johnston received the ball on the edge, unmarked due to the disparity in numbers. 5 minutes later and Dane Gagai got his first.
Despite a seemingly resilient Parramatta, the game was getting away from them heading into the break, four scores to one but not beyond reach.
In the sheds, coach Brad Arthur would have been disappointed by the indifferent performance and effort from a Top Four side, facing another competition heavyweight.
Eels fans would have been desperately frustrated by a team slipping from their perch around the top of the table.
Whatever BA delivered at half-time, it was not enough to right the ship – the South Sydney side opening the scoring in the second half, with Dane Gagai’s second try in the 44th minute.
The match threatened to get ugly at that point, with Parramatta desperately holding on.
A stroke of fortune five minutes later would see Papali’i cross for his customary try in unusual fashion, finding room from ten metres out on an innocuous run.
The try would breathe short-lived energy into Parramatta.
The Rabbitohs would not fold and scored the next two tries to snuff out any hint of a comeback.
A late, consolation try to Jakob Arthur would have been welcome for the youngster, three games of first-grade experience in the bag.
Despite his commendable effort over those three weeks, the 18-year-old still has plenty of learning, growing, and developing to do.
He will be a good player and perhaps the Eels have their own father-son combination to rival the Clearys but the club will look forward to the return of Dylan Brown next week at the conclusion of his suspension.
Wayne Bennett and the Bunnies will be pleased to bounce back after such a heavy loss to the Panthers.
This 18-point victory convincingly returns them to contender status, though all teams have improvement in them if they are to catch the Penrith Panthers.
After some slow starts and poor results, Gagai was pleased that the side was able to bounce back.
“It was nice to bounce back after the last couple of weeks, we’ve got off to some bad starts, and against good teams, you’ll get punished for it,” Gagai said.
“Tonight was about giving back to our fans. We’ve let them down the last few weeks.”
Although the Souths left edge is potent, Eels coach Brad Arthur knows the defence there must improve regardless of changes he makes.
“That’s their strong edge obviously, but we have got to do some work there,” Arthur said.
“It was like touch footy, it was too quick at times and they were just getting there way too easy. We have got to make sure we are doing better with our tackles and slow it down so we can get our line set.”
South Sydney Rabbitohs 38 (Cook, Johnston 3, Gagai 3, T. Trbojevic) def Parramatta Eels 20 (Gutherson, Sivo, Papali’i, Arthur)
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – Adam Reynolds (SOU)
2 Points – Damien Cook (SOU)
1 Point – Dane Gagai (SOU)