The South Sydney Rabbitohs were declared 2014 NRL Premiers, after defeating the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs by 30-6, claiming a long-awaited record 21st Premiership in the process.
After waiting 43 years to qualify for a decider, the Rabbitohs repaid the loyalty of their fans with victory by putting on a controlled performance to down the Belmore club in front of a ground-record 83,833 spectators.
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Rabbitohs lock, Sam Burgess, etched his name into rugby league and South Sydney folklore when the big Englishman became the first Rabbitoh to take out the Clive Churchill Medal for being man of the match – playing through the entire 80 minutes with multiple fractures in his cheek-bone and eye-socket.
The one on one battle between Burgess and fellow-countryman, James Graham, was always going to be one for the ages, but few could have predicted just how early in proceedings the matchup would come to a head – James Graham’s to be precise.
With Burgess taking the opening hit-up of the game, the lock-forward collided with the head of Graham – Burgess’ eye closing almost instantaneously to match a depression in the side of his face courtesy of the blow.
Fellow Rabbitohs leaders, John Sutton and Greg Inglis, praised Burgess for his courage to play on post-match, citing that the big forward had helped to inspire victory.
As though the opening tackle drama wasn’t enough, Lote Tuqiri seemed to score a try against the run of play inside the first ten minutes, but the four-pointer was disallowed owing to a high tackle from Adam Reynolds earlier in the piece.
Tony Williams then made his third mistake of the match inside the first 20 minutes, gifting the Rabbitohs possession. With a penalty helping the side up-field, the red and greens opened their Grand Final points account for the first time in 43 years when Alex Johnston slid over in the far corner. Adam Reynolds’ touch-line conversion attempt was waved away, leaving the score at 4-0 with 16 minutes in the opening stanza remaining.
Greg Inglis made a massive break that saw him streak 90 metres, evading almost the whole of the Dogs’ defence, bringing the capacity crowd to its feet. From the ensuing tackle, a penalty to the Rabbitohs right in front of the sticks for hands on the ball allowed Adam Reynolds to kick his side to a converted try lead.
The red and green’s dominated possession in the first half and seemed to have the ascendency. But despite the weight of possession and a couple of opportunities, the Bulldogs’ defence held strong until half-time, the score reading 6-0 at the break.
The second half started poorly for the Dogs when Josh Reynolds knocked the ball backwards off the kick-off – putting the blue and whites under pressure. But while the Dogs recovered, by the end of their set, a charge-down saw the Rabbits with the ball on Canterbury’s 20 metre line. Two repeat sets to the Rabbitohs on the Belmore club’s line put them under immense pressure, but Canterbury would survive the early Rabbitohs onslaught.
Canterbury hit-back 10 minutes into the second half when Josh Reynolds put in a grubber kick to the in-goal that was picked up by Tony Williams, planting it over the stripe. Trent Hodkinson converted from close range to level it up at six apiece.
But the Rabbitohs would hit back in a very big way, when George Burgess steamed onto a pass at close range before powering his way through the Dogs defence to score directly under the posts. Adam Reynolds converted from right in front to make it 12-6 in the Rabbitohs’ favour.
A penalty to Souths on the Bulldogs’ 40 metre line gave Reynolds another opportunity to post points, but the halfback’s radar was off. But Reynolds would get another opportunity less than a minute later from 44 metres out on a slight angle – the Souths Junior making no mistake to make it 14-6.
With twelve minutes on the clock remaining, Rabbitohs prop Dave Tyrrell was stretchered from the field after a head clash with James Graham – the injury halting proceedings for five minutes.
With the clock reading just over six minutes remaining, a Greg Inglis kick into the in-goal found Kirisome Auva’a, who planted the ball inside the dead-ball line to all but seal the Grand Final. Reynolds added the extras from the side-line to make it 20-6.
Reynolds bagged a four-pointer of his own inside the final two minutes after a kick hit the upright. Reynolds converted to make it 30-6, before Inglis tadded his own long-range try in the dying minutes to round out the match and the Premiership amid scenes of euphoria from Rabbitohs Members and supporters everywhere.