The South Sydney Rabbitohs have come within a bounce of the ball in pulling off an unbelievable comeback against the Penrith Panthers in front of 14,080 Members and supporters at Pepper Stadium tonight (Friday).
Sam Burgess scored two late tries to get the Rabbitohs back in the contest, but a wicked bounce for winger Aaron Gray with the siren sounding in the background thwarted the Rabbitohs’ final efforts to steal the two competition points away from home.
Head Coach Michael Maguire shifted his backline around at the kick off with Alex Johnston moving to fullback, Cody Walker into the halves, Ed Murphy into the centres and Aaron Gray to the wing.
The Rabbitohs had the home side under pressure early, making plenty of metres up the middle, and in the 11th minute of play the Panthers finally cracked. Luke Keary shifted the play back to the left across the face of the posts, and a short ball turned underneath by Cody Walker saw Kyle Turner beat one defender on his way to a try. Walker converted to give the Rabbitohs an early six-nil lead.
The Panthers would strike back five minutes later when the Panthers’ backline strung passes together to get outside the Rabbitohs’ defensive line, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak touching down in the right corner. Nathan Cleary converted from the touchline to level the scores midway through the first half.
The Rabbitohs were the next to score through a penalty goal to Cody Walker. Repeated penalties helped piggy-back the Rabbitohs up the field, and an offside penalty against Trent Merrin delivered the Rabbitohs the two points.
The Panthers led for the first time in the 31st minute when Bryce Cartwright got an offload away close to the line to put Josh Mansour over in the left corner. Cleary missed the conversion, meaning the Panthers would lead by two points late in the first half.
The Rabbitohs went close to re-establishing the lead two minutes short of half time when Cody Walker chased through a John Sutton grubber kick into the in-goal. Watene-Zelezniak appeared to bump Walker off the ball while changing his line, but The Bunker saw it differently and no try, nor penalty, was awarded to South Sydney, taking the scoreline of 10-8 to the Panthers into the break.
The Rabbitohs wrested back the lead early in the second half when captain Greg Inglis showed why he is regarded as one of the best centres in the world. The play came back to the left side of the attack in the 45th minute, with Inglis getting early ball. He bamboozled Waqa Blake before putting on a big left foot step past the grasping Cartwright, running the ball around under the posts for the try. Walker converted to give the Rabbitohs a four-point lead.
The Rabbitohs maintained the pressure on the Panthers with powerful running from the forwards and plenty of ball movement once in the hands of the backs. Then it was the Panthers’ turn to mount pressure on the men in red and green.
Penrith eventually cracked the Rabbitohs’ defensive line following four consecutive sets on the Rabbitohs goal line, with Leilani Latu crashing over between the posts in the 58th minute. Cleary converted from in front to give the home side a two-point advantage heading into the final quarter.
Just three minutes later Nathan Cleary would slice through the Rabbitohs again, touching down to the right of the posts. He converted his own try, giving Penrith a 22-14 lead with 18 minutes left on the clock.
The video referee denied the Panthers a third second half try when Josh Mansour held Aaron Gray out of the play when trying to diffuse a bomb, giving the Rabbitohs a reprieve from the pressure being mounted by the Panthers.
The pressure would eventually produce points for the mountain men, with Chris Grevsmuhl crossing in the 70th minute after another offload from Cartwright. Cleary converted to give the Panthers a 14-point lead with eight minutes left on the clock.
The Rabbitohs were nto done with yet, with debutant Tautalatasi Tasi going close to scoring in the 73rd minute, and one minute later it would be Sam Burgess who would charge onto a grubber kick in-goal to score. Walker converted reducing the deficit to eight points with six minutes remaining.
The Rabbitohs threw caution to the wind in the dying minutes and it paid dividends when Cody Walker broke the line in the 79th minute, putting Sam Burgess away under the posts for his second try of the match. Walker converted taking the scoreline to 28-26 with one minute on the clock.
The Rabbitohs powered their way up field and on the final play, Cody Walker saw space out wide for winger Aaron Gray. He kicked over the top of the defence to the right wing and it was only the bounce of the ball that beat Gray to the ball as the Steeden bounced over the touchline, and with the Rabbitohs chance of pulling off a remarkable comeback victory.
Some ill-discipline late in the game hurt the Rabbitohs, but it was a much-improved effort from the men in red and green tonight. Sam Burgess was enormous, scoring two tries, running for 217 metres and making 34 tackles plus four off loads.
But alas it would be the Panthers who would take home the two competition points.
The Rabbitohs now have a nine-day turnaround into a home match against the North Queensland Cowboys at Barlow Park in Cairns.
Penrith Panthers 28 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Josh Mansour, Leilani Latu, Nathan Cleary, Chris Grevsmuhl tries; Nathan Cleary 4 goals)
South Sydney Rabbitohs 26 (Sam Burgess 2, Kyle Turner, Greg Inglis tries; Cody Walker 5 goals)