In what had already amounted to a blockbuster penultimate round, the battle between North Queensland Cowboys and South Sydney Rabbitohs promised to be another example of “finals footy come early”, with both teams looking to sure up a place within the Top 4.
To add to the occasion, some late COVID drama would see key hooker Damien Cook scrubbed from the Rabbitohs lineup, while breakout star Reuben Cotter was benched for the Cowboys.
In somewhat surprising circumstances, it was the less favoured Cowboys who scored the first try through Murray Taulagi off a Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow run-and-pass near the left edge.
The Bunnies would strike back with a bullocking Keaon Koloamatangi, running a hard line off Lachlan Ilias pass close to the line.
Alex Johnston would add to their score shortly after, with Latrell Mitchell continuing his run of quality form since his return from injury with the assist.
Plenty of errors for both teams would mar the latter end of the first half, with neither side able to capitalise on gift opportunities.
Including the early penalty to the Rabbitohs, the score remained 14-6 heading into the half. While the Cowboys remained in the fight, inspirational lock Cameron Murray continued to punish them through the middle in both defence and as a link in offence.
The second half began with the same sort of semi-final intensity fans enjoyed in the first half.
While the attack of both sides continued to suffer from poor errors, the game continued to swing back-and-forth, just asking somebody (perhaps a Latrell or Taumalolo) to open the game up.
In just two minutes, Cowboys went 100 metres and looked close to scoring before the Rabbitohs went the length themselves and earned a drop-out.
The short drop-out was then collected by Alex Johnston before Kyle Feldt intercepted his pass and the Cowboys went down the field once more before knocking it on.
That gives you a sense of the game. With 18 minutes left, the two teams shared 22 errors.
The alleged semi-final intensity seemed to peter out as the game progressed.
As noted by commentator Greg Alexander, the Rabbitohs were doing “just enough” to stay in front of the Cowboys. Andrew Voss was calling the game “dour”.
It was at that moment that North Queensland punished the Rabbitohs for their complacency.
Chad Townsend, forced to run around the halfway mark, spread the ball wide to Feldt who burned down the sideline.
Flanked on all sides by rushing Rabbitohs, the winger deftly kicked the ball through for himself.
A touch of the soccer skills and Feldt was flying to bring the game back to a one-score situation. Game on, as they say.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, a head-high tackle from Coen Hess and a bit of a shove in a try-scoring situation from Feldt saw the two players sent to the bin, making the completion of the comeback unlikely.
In due time, with a minute left in the game, the returning Tom Burgess crashed over under the sticks to put the game beyond doubt.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 20 (Koloamatangi, Johnston, Burgess) def North Queensland Cowboys 10 ( Taulagi, Feldt)
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – Cameron Murray (SOU)
2 Points – Scott Drinkwater (NQL)
1 Point – Latrell Mitchell (SOU)