The Raiders are waiting in Canberra to face South Sydney after the Rabbitohs finally put the lid on a never-say-die Manly with a 34-26 win at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.
After a heart-stopping 80 minutes, Manly started to falter near the end through fatigue and errors. A shot-clock penalty against captain Daly Cherry-Evans for not restarting play quick enough meant an Adam Reynolds penalty was the last points of the game.
Much of the post-match discussion will centre on the sin-binning of Jake Trbojevic in the second half for what was deemed a professional foul on Dane Gagai when the Manly lock appeared to grab the Souths centre as he tried to come across in cover defence.
Cherry-Evans was fuming at the decision and the Rabbitohs ran in two crucial tries while Trbojevic was off to turn a six-point deficit into a 32-26 lead.
This is Souths' second consecutive trip to the preliminary finals, after Anthony Seibold’s team lost to the Roosters in 2018. That match was at Allianz Stadium but next weekend Wayne Bennett’s men must travel to GIO Stadium in the national capital.
For Manly, it was an opportunity missed as the Sea Eagles seemed to have the momentum. They have come from 15th last season to the second week of the finals under Des Hasler’s tutelage.
The night had its ups and downs. Cherry-Evans was placed on report for a crusher tackle on Damien Cook. Then Souths five-eighth Cody Walker (face slap), and Sea Eagles pair centre Brad Parker (trip) and Trbojevic (push) were all sin-binned as the disciplinary issues straddled both teams.
Match: Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles
Finals Week 2 -
Venue: Accor Stadium, Sydney
As far as the actual football went, the crowd of 32,127 certainly got their money’s worth. It was an action-packed game producing 10 tries – five apiece – with the Rabbitohs taking an 18-16 lead into the break.
All night it was end-to-end play, which kept both sets of supporters nervous. As the lead changed hands five times throughout the match, scores were locked up twice. It was 20-20 after a Reynolds penalty for Parker’s trip of James Roberts, and then 26-26 after John Sutton scored with Trbojevic in the bin.
The Rabbitohs' start offered a little promise. On the back of 64% possession, Souths raced to 10-0 off tries to Alex Johnston and Walker. Reynolds couldn’t find his range and missed two goals before he converted Walker’s try to pass 1400 career points.
But then Manly responded with two tries, both against a brittle Souths right edge. Centre-turned five-eighth Dylan Walker had the final pass in both, sending Parker over first then Corey Waddell six minutes later. It was the former Penrith junior’s first try for 2019.
Suddenly it was a two-point ball game in the Rabbitohs' favour 12-10, and tensions were rising.
They tumbled into a brawl when Manly back-rower Jack Gosiewski pushed Adam Doueihi’s face into the turf under the posts, which led Walker to use “an open hand to the face”, according to referee Gerard Sutton.
Johnston scores first for South Sydney
Walker was sent to the sin bin as Rabbitohs captain Sam Burgess protested.
“It’s striking Sam,” Sutton said.
Down to 12 men and Manly were revving the engines. First Parker was held up over the line with some desperate defence but then on the other side of the field Moses Suli was running amok.
He pushed off defenders and then passed to his winger Reuben Garrick, sprinted ahead before passing to Cherry-Evans to end a 40-metre movement. Manly were in the lead for the first time 16-12.
Murray goes superman
But it lasted only four minutes with Souths' energetic lock Cameron Murray swan-diving near the right upright in the 39th minute to wrestle back the lead (18-16).
The second half, Suli went on a 20-metre rampage early, fending off opposing centre Dane Gagai to score in the 45th minute. Manly had the lead back again 20-18.
Jack Gosiewski scored Manly’s fifth try and that seemed to edge the Sea Eagles closer to the preliminary final (26-20). Although he wasn’t scoring points, teammate Jorge Taufua put two massive hits on Rabbitohs second-rower Ethan Lowe, which lifted the Manly team even more.
Walker sent to sin bin for striking
South Sydney were not done though. They used Manly being down a man to their advantage and scored two tries – to Sutton and Murray – with Trbojevic in the bin to push the score to 32-26.
The Reynolds penalty from in front started up the band for ‘Glory, Glory to South Sydney’ to start playing across the stadium.
Bennett now has the edge on Hasler in three finals matches – winning in 2010 with the Dragons over Manly, 2013 with the Knights over the Bulldogs, and now in 2019.
Walker try continues Rabbitohs fast start