Three times the South Sydney Rabbitohs have gone head-to-head with the New Zealand Warriors in Perth – three times we have come out on top, but one outing in particular saw some astonishing scenes that left a lasting effect on everyone involved.
We ventured west in fourth position on the 2014 ladder ahead of our Round 13 fixture. It had been a solid but mixed opening half of the season. Meanwhile, our opponents, the New Zealand Warriors, were floundering at the bottom four and desperate for a win.
The desperation showed at the start of this content as the Warriors ran in two tries in the opening seven minutes to take an early 10-0 lead. We were shell-shocked to say the least; what on earth was going on?
Despite being contenders for the Premiership, we sure weren’t showing it. This was the kind of match that could easily make or break a season, and the cracks were showing fast.
Second rower John Sutton nearly crashed over, but failed to ground the ball in what highlighted a frustrating period of football. A side that was so clinical over the last few seasons just couldn’t get their bundle together against a side that rarely managed to pull together a consistent 80 minutes.
In the 20th minute, one of the most bizarre moments of the season occurred.
Attacking the Warriors line at pace, the ball shifted to the left and landed in the arms of hulking forward Sam Burgess, who was destined to crash over the line and finally put on some pride back in the Cardinal and Myrtle.
But destiny seemed to have other ideas, as Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson, who also happened to be half the size of Burgess, absolutely floored the big Englishman in a textbook tackle that was worthy for a nomination for hit of the year. Everything that was to be expected in this clashed seemed to be the opposite of what was happening on the field.
Soon after however, order would soon be restored as right centre Dylan Walker crashed over the line, linking up with Sutton on the left-hand side of the field and getting the Rabbitohs on the board. It had taken us more than a quarter of the match to do so, but the margin had shortened to four after Adam Reynolds converted.
The next big hit of the match involved another Burgess, but this time it would be Sam’s younger brother George, who would have to be taken off the field after a head clash with Warriors brute Sebastine Ikahihifo. While he would return to the field later on in the match, this was just the beginning of an 80-minute war of attrition.
Ikahihifo would be a prominent figure in the clash, managing to clip halfback Reynolds over the head just a short time later, landing himself on report. Reynolds would dust himself off and go close to setting up an equalising try just before half-time, but it wasn’t meant to be.
A classic pinpoint kick from Reynolds landed beautifully in the arms of winger and Perth local Bryson Goodwin, would looked destined to cross over the line. But again, luck would prove to be against the Rabbitohs as Goodwin’s right hand went into touch before he could plant the ball down with the other.
The biggest moment of this match came just before halftime. Every Souths supporter collectively held their breath as Greg Inglis, the most destructive player in the world, and one of our most important clubmen, went down in a big collision with Warriors colossal winger Manu Vatuvei.
It was a moment where time briefly stopped. With ‘GI’ hobbling off the field with trainers either side of him, every Rabbitohs supporter thought it was the end.
Trailing 10-6 at the interval, the Rabbitohs' growing injury toll continued to mount as Goodwin suffered a horrific elbow dislocation within the first few minutes of the second half. Off the back of a backline reshuffle, the Warriors edged further ahead thanks to captain Simon Mannering barging over.
Our opponents were up by more than a converted try, 14-6, with half an hour to play, and we had two of our most influential backs off of the field. Things were not looking pretty, and plenty of fans were resigned to the fact that this trip to Perth might end up doing more damage than good for our season.
Someone forgot to tell that to the players in the sheds though, as Walker bagged his second try of the night, slicing through the guts of the Warriors’ flimsy defensive line and bringing some life back into the side. At 14-12, the fightback was on.
Just a few sets later, second rower Kyle Turner, who was filling in the centres due to the injury toll, crashed over on the right-hand side. It was the first time in the match we had a lead, and after Reynolds converted for 18-14, the avalanche continued.
Although fan favourite Jason Clark became the third player to exit the match, leaving the side with a one man bench, the true character and fighting spirit that South Sydney is aligned with began to shine.
And that fighting spirit would prove to be the difference, with the Rabbitohs running rampant, scoring three tries in seven minutes, with Joel Reddy superbly taking a Reynolds bomb, and Dave Tyrrell doubling his career tally by bagging two four-pointers.
The Warriors’ Konrad Hurrell would channel the brutality of the match to bulldoze over defenders to score in the last minute, but the damage had already been done.
We emerged from the ashes to pull off a 34-18 victory and, although at face value it was just another two points on the board, the courageous win proved that this was a tough, resilient side that would not give up without a fight.
It was a side that would go on to take out the Premiership later that year, and it was a side that truly epitomised what South Sydney is all about.