The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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Going into round five punters would have been excused for thinking this round five clash would be a walk in the park for the Rabbitohs, with the Warriors struggling for first-half points all year and chalking up their only win of the season so far against a disappointing Cowboys outfit last year. It looked like form and fortune were on the visitors’ side early in the second half, as two opportunistic tries put them up 12-0 after 16 minutes.
First blood went to Rabbitohs winger Nathan Merritt, the prolific scorer closing in further on Benny Wearing’s record of 144 tries for the club with his eighth for the year. With the Warriors in possession they went to the right through Kevin Locke chiming into the backline, the fullback drawing in defenders and trying to find Konrad Hurrell on the outside. Merritt stuck out a speculative arm and was able to reel the ball in, turning and evading the Warriors’ desperate cover defence to touch down in the corner. Adam Reynolds was good from the sideline, putting the visitors up by 6 early.
The Warriors had opportunities on the Rabbitohs line but were unable to convert, most notably when Andrew Everingham knocked on in going for an intercept of his own 15m out from his own line. A penalty against Ben Te’o for a high shot on Kevin Locke again put the Warriors on the attack, but it all came unstuck when Thomas Leuluai’s cross-field kick was batted back and Inglis pounced. The ball sat up favourably for the destructive fullback, who stretched out and was able to easily evade the Warriors defence to score a 90 metre try.
Both teams had chances over the next 15 minutes of play, the Warriors with a try disallowed to rookie Ngani Laumape, the youngster unable to collect the ball cleanly off the cross-field kick, while Souths went close when the ball was batted dead just in front of the chasing Nathan Merritt. The crowd didn’t have to wait too long for points though and they came first to the home favourites, Ben Matulino running a great line to split a yawning gap in the Rabbitohs defence and smashing over the top of Greg Inglis to plant the ball for a try.
The Rabbitohs were able to hit straight back, a ruling in the ruck that Ben Matulino had lost the ball proving crucial. Replays showed Warriors fans could feel hard done by, with John Sutton looking to have stripped the ball, and their woes deepened just minutes later when it led to a try to Bryson Goodwin. After spreading to the right the Rabbitohs ran a second-man play to Inglis out the back, and he was able to evade a shooting Bill Tupou enough to get a ball away to Bryson Goodwin on his outside. The Warriors defence hung back and it proved to be a crucial mistake, Goodwin taking the ball to the line and diving between defenders to plant the ball in the corner. With the end result tight it was arguably Adam Reynolds’ kick that won the game for the Rabbitohs, the sharp shooter nailing the conversion from the sideline to put his side back up by 12.
After some earlier bad luck Ngani Laumape gave Warriors fans reasons to cheer and notched his first try in the top grade, the stocky centre creating something from nothing when he collected a pass around his ankles and showed great strength sheer perseverance to force his way over for a try. Johnson’s conversion pushed to the left of the posts, the deficit down to 8.
It seemed Laumape’s try had demoralised the visitors and opened the floodgates, as the Warriors piled on another two tries within 10 minutes to take the lead for the first time in the match. First Konrad Hurrell smashed through the Rabbitohs defence from close range on the end of a backline movement, the video referee deeming that any interference by Simon Mannering wasn’t sufficient to chalk off the try under the new obstruction rules. Hurrell was in the thick of the action again off the next set, putting the defence in two minds when he attacked the line from inside his own half. Drawing in Rabbitohs’ winger in Merritt he found Bill Tupou on his outside with a deft no-look pass, and Tupou in turn could draw Greg Inglis and link with Pita Godinet for the try. The diminutive utility had the pace to evade chasers and put the Warriors up by two, then four with Johnson’s conversion.
The joy was short-lived for the home fans however, when George Burgess produced another of the strong, determined runs that highlighted his match. The big Pom, steadily emerging from the shadow of his high-profile brother, was brought down short of the line, but was able to stretch out an arm and plant the ball on the line for what would be the match-winning try. Both teams attacked desperately over the last 15 minutes, Souths to extend their lead to a more comfortable margin and the Warriors yearning after a second win in a row, but the scoreboard attendant wasn’t troubled further, Souths 24-22 winners.