A hamstring injury to Sam Burgess took the gloss off South Sydney's impressive 51-10 victory over the Wests Tigers on Thursday night at ANZ Stadium.
The Rabbitohs' slick back-line had a chance to make a statement to the other seven teams heading into the September finals - and they didn't disappoint.
The victory got Anthony Seibold's men out of the doldrums by snapping a three-match losing streak and briefly put them into second spot on the NRL ladder behind Melbourne.
Burgess left the field in the 55th minute after grabbing at his hamstring after completing a tackle om Benji Marshall.
He left the field moments later, but Seibold said there was no concern over the availability of his star forward.
Match: Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers
Round 25 -
Venue: ANZ Stadium
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"Sam is fine. He could have gone back on towards the back end of the game but I just thought it was important to give him a spell – same with Greg. I brought Greg off early and then [Damien] Cooky with five or so minutes to go," Seibold said.
"It's just a matter of giving those guys a rest and I didn't think they needed to go back on because of the scoreline."
Burgess appeared to rub his right hamstring during the Tigers match but Seibold seemed mystified that everyone thought that was his lock's injury.
"He's a warrior. Everyone can see that. I love coaching him because everyone can see what he does," Siebold said.
"Certainly I haven't had that report [hamstring] from the doctors. He's a bit battered and bruised these last few weeks ... But there hasn't been any [hamstring] concern reported to me so far."
Outside of Sam Burgess leaving the field, the match was one to savour for Rabbitohs' fans. Their backline did enough to suggest their title dreams are alive once again.
The speed that Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker are able to get the ball to their back five, who are full of pace, brought big smiles to the fans and coaching staff.
Wingers Campbell Graham and Robert Jennings benefited with a try each, while fullback Alex Johnston went under the posts late after being held up earlier by opposite No.1 Moses Mbye.
Graham almost grabbed a second when he chased a Walker kick but he grounded it on the dead-ball line. Even both the Rabbitohs halves scored. Reynolds ended up with a personal input of 21 points from a try, eight goals and a field goal.
But everything seems to be working swimmingly. Souths made 110 runs more than the Tigers, more than double the post-contactmetres and completed at 79per cent. They also most 47 tackle-breaks to 12 and nine line breaks to none.
Things were going so well Seibold gave skipper Greg Inglis an early shower with 11 minutes left.
If the Roosters beat the Eels on Saturday night, Souths merely shift back to third position with no danger of dropping out of the top-four. But their hefty 41-point win sounds an ominous warning to their Bondi Junction rivals who they are destined to meet in week one of the finals.
For the Wests Tigers it was a season which started with such promise – five of their opening six matches – and ended in a similar fashion, winning five of seven before Thursday night's meeting with Souths.
But it ended up being too little too late. Before their round 17 bye, the Tigers had only won two in eight games. That did the most damage to their NRL finals plans.
The lead changed four times in the opening 40 with five tries in total before the Rabbitohs settled on a 22-10 half-time lead.
It was South Sydney that delivered the 'coach killer' for Wests Tigers Ivan Cleary just 10 seconds before the siren. Rabbitohs five-eighth Walker scored beside the posts after a Greg Inglis burst in the previous play. It put a comfortable six-point lead for Souths out to a worrying 12 points.
Benji Marshall kicks set-up both Tigers tries in the first half, to Chris Lawrence (3rd minute) and David Nofoaluma (22nd).
Jennings kept up his perfect score – 18 tries from as many games – by scoring in the 16th minute down that Rabbitohs lethal left edge. It was a warm welcome back after four weeks out with a hamstring injury.
Souths' other try was Angus Crichton receiving a lovely pass from his No.9 Damien Cook in the 30th minute.
In the second half, it was all Souths with five unanswered tries – the last four in nine minutes - to well and truly avenge the 22-6 loss to Rabbitohs in round 19.
News & Notes: The Rabbitohs have won seven of their past nine games at ANZ Stadium ... Rabbitohs fullback Alex Johnston has scored 45 tries from 49 games at ANZ Stadium ... Tigers forward Sauaso Sue left for the head bin and stitches in the 45th minute after a head clash with teammate Jacob Liddle ... That's it for the Tigers – they finish 2018 in 9th spot after finishing 14th last year ... Crowd: 12,037