The South Sydney Rabbitohs have defeated minor premiers, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 36-31, in extra time of the Jersey Flegg Elimination Semi Final at Leichhardt Oval.
The game was filled with back-and-forth excitement with the match determined in the last play of the game.
It was the Sharks however who opened the scoring very early in the piece through Jonah Ngaronoa, after an early penalty marched them up-field and into South Sydney territory. A brilliant sideline conversion from Jonaiah Lualua gave them the perfect start, leading 6-0 after three minutes of play.
That didn’t dampen the spirits of the Rabbitohs, as Blake Taaffe quickly replied through a try of his own only five minutes later. It took tremendous strength and balance to slice over in the left edge, after spotting half a gap and backing his ability to get through. He was successful in converting his own try, levelling the scores at six-apiece.
That surge from Taaffe managed to build momentum for the Rabbitohs, and a domination of possession in that period saw South Sydney go back-to-back through winger, Muong Dut. Taaffe made no mistake from out wide giving the Rabbitohs the lead at 12-6.
A Rabbitohs mistake in the set after points gave the Sharks an opportunity to hit back. It took a crafty ball back on the inside to front-rower, Thomas Hazleton, to crack the South Sydney defence, adjacent to the posts. The successful conversion levelled the scores once again, half-way through the first stanza.
The Sharks could sense success by going through the middle and a similar try to Hazleton’s was scored moments later by Jackson Stewart, to give them the lead at 16-6. Lualua converted the try once again adding another two points to the team’s tally.
Their lead didn’t last long however as a brilliant chip kick over the top, from Lachlan Ilias, put Jame Tautaiolefua over just before the break. Sharp-shooter, Blake Taaffe, made no mistake with the attempt at goal, taking the score to 18-18 at half time.
A solid start to the second half by the Rabbitohs put them on the front foot b
The Rabbitohs started the second half with a great set but a brilliant catch and run by the Sharks fullback, Jonaiah Lualua, put the boys from the Shire in great attacking field position. To compound that play, a penalty for holding the player down in the ruck saw the boys from the Shire with the first attacking chance of the half.
Thankfully for the Rabbitohs, inspiring left-edge defence led by Muong Dut, bundled the Sharks into touch, handing the ball back to South Sydney.
Some hard-nosed running from the Rabbitohs saw them poke their nose through the line on multiple occasions, eventually getting them up-field for a chance at taking the lead.
Cronulla showed why they were minor premiers, displaying grit in their red-zone defence and eventually cracking the Rabbitohs line through five-eighth, Jayden Millard. Over-eager defence by South Sydney resulted in a try to Millard, after stepping back off the left foot and into a gap. Lualua kicked another goal giving the Sharks another six-point lead.
South Sydney instantly replied in the set after, when a charge-down saw the ball bounce straight into Bradley Zampech’s arms, who had an uncontested run to the try line. The scores were locked at 24-24 after Taffee converted.
The turning point of the match however, came a few sets later after a torpedo from Lachlan Ilias made it impossible for the Cronulla back-three to catch. In fact, the kick was hit so cleanly that it bounced into touch for a 40-20.
Off that set a brilliant cut-out pass by Taaffe put Muong Dut in space, and an even better ball back on the inside put Marc Zaurrini over in the corner. Despite another great attempt at conversion, Taaffe’s strike hit the post leaving the score at 28-24.
Both teams went set-for-set for a 10 minute period but a shift from the Sharks saw a lack of South Sydney numbers with Vito Tevaga crossing in the corner. A crucial sideline conversion from Lualua gave the Sharks a 30-28 lead with under five minutes remaining.
The Rabbitohs threw everything at them for that five-minute period and it went down to the last play of the game after a Lachlan Ilias kick over the top almost found Muong Dut of his second. The referee was playing advantage however, after it was deemed that Ilias was hit late.
Taaffe was clutch when converting the penalty goal, taking the score to 30-all and both teams into extra time.
Both teams had great chances during the first five minute period, but it was Cronulla who took the conservative option by taking a successful shot at field goal, from halfback, Angus Ernst.
South Sydney chanced their arm in the second period of extra time after finding themselves in a spot to take the shot at field goal, but electing to shift the ball wider instead. The decision paid off when a brilliant offload from Matt French found Bradley Zampech for his double in the last play of the game.
With the score at 34-31 to the Rabbitohs, the goal had little importance, but Taaffe still slotted it taking the final score to 36-31 and his personal points tally to 16.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 36 (Tries; 2 Bradley Zampech, Blake Taaffe, Muong Dut, James Tautaiolefua, Marc Zaurrini, Goals; 6 Blake Taaffe) def Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 31 (Tries; Jonah Ngaronoa, Thomas Hazleton, Jackson Stewart, Jayden Millard, Vito Tevaga, Goals; 5 Jonaiah Lualua, Field Goals; Angus Ernst)