The South Sydney Rabbitohs survived a Bulldogs onslaught in round 25 to record a 21-14 Special Olympics Cup victory, in a match that would be a preview to the 2014 Grand Final.
The Bulldogs made their intentions clear from the opening minutes with an aggressive start that bore all the hallmarks of a traditional ‘softening-up period’ – Michael Ennis leading the way by getting under the skin of the Rabbitohs forwards with some characteristic niggle.
Just eight minutes in, Ennis’ niggling bore fruit as he wrestled with Issac Luke as the Rabbitohs attacked the Bulldogs line. Luke struggled to get up and landed a boot in Ennis’s face. Luke was place on report for the incident, but the repercussions didn’t stop there.
From the ensuing set, Mitch Brown managed to open the scoring out wide, with Trent Hodkinson adding the extras from near the touch-line.
The Bulldogs continued to apply pressure while was Ennis repeatedly warned by referees for indiscretions in the play the ball. With the Rabbitohs looking unlikely to score thanks to the Dogs controlling the ruck, Souths finally managed to manufacture points from close range when Luke Keary turned a ball back inside to Sam Burgess who crossed the stripe. Adam Reynolds converted to square it up at six apiece.
A South Sydney mistake gifted the Bulldogs possession inside the Rabbitohs half, and it was Ennis who would capitalise when the hooker charged over the stripe despite gallant defensive efforts to keep the ball from touching down. Hodkinson converted to make it 12-6 to round out the first half.
On the resumption, Canterbury looked to pick up where they left off by taking Alex Johnston over the touch-line. But it was the Rabbitohs who would level the scores thanks to a jink, step and pass off the ground from Luke Keary to Sam Burgess, who crashed over for his second in front of the sticks. Reynolds added the extras to tie the game up again, this time at 12 apiece with 3 minutes in the second half gone.
A penalty to the Bulldogs within kicking distance allowed Hodkinson to kick his team two points ahead, making it 14-12 as Sam Burgess went up the tunnel owing to injury.
The niggle then continued through Ennis, and Adam Reynolds found himself on report for a dangerous tackle as a result with just over 20 minutes in the match remaining – the referee this time threatening Ennis with time in the bin if the indiscretions continued.
With the match winding down, the Rabbitohs threw everything they had at the Bulldogs in search of points and they eventually came through an unmarked Lote Tuqiri, who took a long pass from Adam Reynolds to score in the far corner to take the lead for the first time in the match. Reynolds made no mistake from the touch-line to make it 18-14.
A penalty to Souths for an offside 33 metres out with four minutes left, provided an opportunity for Reynolds to boot the red and greens a further two points ahead. Reynolds made no mistake to make the difference a converted try with three minutes remaining.
A long-range late field-goal from Adam Reynolds put the result beyond doubt – the Rabbitohs taking the match by 21-14.
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