Wow. What a thriller in Townsville!
This was meant to be a walk in the park for the Rabbitohs coming up against an out of form Cowboys side but Thurston and his men refused to go away. The Cowboys were brave in defeat and very nearly pulled off an unlikely win but it was not to be as South Sydney marched on in a Saturday night thriller. Here are the five key take-outs from the Bunnies one-point victory.
1 Changes almost pay dividends
Plenty called for Cowboys coach Paul Green to make changes to the side that was defeated by the Tigers last weekend but when Team List Tuesday rolled around, low and behold the Cowboys had named an unchanged side.
Green was simply playing mind games, springing late selection changes just before kickoff. Lachlan Coote was out, making way for Te Maire Martin to start. Martin shifted to five-eighth allowing Michael Morgan to play his first game of the year at fullback. That move very nearly paid dividends with the Cowboys springing to life off the back of an energetic Morgan. He produced 5 tackle breaks, 2 line break assists, 2 try assists and a field goal in what was very nearly a man of the match performance. The win may not have come but there were signs tonight that the Cowboys have taken steps in the right direction.
2 Injuries to key Bunnies stars
The Bunnies will leave Townsville with the two points but it may have come at a cost. They finished the game with only 15 on the bench courtesy of injuries to Alex Johnston and Sam Burgess. Johnston succumbed to a hamstring injury late in the first half before Burgess was ruled out with a glute strain.
Johnston will spend time on the sideline but Rabbitohs fans needn't worry - they've got the perfect replacement in Greg Inglis. Playing in the fullback role for the first time this season, Inglis was in everything. The Rabbitohs captain produced a line break and ran for 187 metres, terrorising the Cowboy's defence every time he ran the ball. Burgess is a more worrying proposition and the Bunnies will be sweating that he is right to go against the Warriors next week.
3 Cowboys brave in defeat
For a team who have won three of their past ten games, the Cowboys were gallant against a Rabbitohs side in great form. With 20 minutes remaining, Matt Scott went down with what looked to be a serious knee injury. That left the Cowboys with no substitutions for the rest of the match. Usually, that would cripple any side's chance of winning the match and yet the Cowboys refused to give in. They kept coming at the Bunnies, nabbing a try and field goal in the final ten minutes to take an unlikely lead.
Ultimately, it wasn't to be as the Bunnies snatched the game with the last kick of the game, but the Cowboys can hold their heads high. Based on this performance no one can question their effort and there's enough to show they haven't given up on Season 2018 just yet.
4 Cook firms for Origin
As we edge closer to the June 6th opener, all eyes are firmly focused on State of Origin. Both the Queensland and NSW hooking jerseys are up for grabs and Blues hopeful Damien Cook did his chances no harm in this one.
The Rabbitohs' best the past few weeks, Cook is firmly locked in a battle with Cameron McInnes for the NSW number nine jersey. Cook got the better of his rival last week and further staked his Origin claim in this one. The Rabbitohs hooker laid on a try for George Burgess after just three minutes and then grabbed one himself shortly after halftime. It was another dominant performance with 2 line break assists and 5 tackle busts.
Based on that form alone, Cook is making it very hard for selectors to pick anyone else.
5 Brave call to decide it late
In a season where referees have cracked down on try line infringements, it's no surprise that this game was decided by a penalty.
With seconds left on the clock and the Rabbitohs trailing by one point, the ball was shifted to Adam Reynolds. He looked to take a field goal and send the game to golden point. A charging Jake Granville raced off his line to pressure Reynolds but was called offside. That was enough to get the Rabbitohs over the line as they kicked a penalty goal after the siren to win it 20-19.
It was refreshing to see the match referees willing to make such a big call to decide the game. In seasons gone by, referees have been criticised for putting the whistle in the pocket when games got tight but not this evening.
The offside call was ultimately correct but no less heartbreaking for the Cowboys who were brave in defeat.
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