The South Sydney Rabbitohs have held off a resurgent New Zealand Warriors comeback in the final stages of their magic round clash on Saturday afternoon, securing a crucial win in the process. Here are some of the key takeaways from the game.
Junior Tatola steps up
With the announcement during the week that captain Cameron Murray would miss the next month of action, the Rabbitohs needed a massive performance from the forward pack to replace arguably the Clubs’ most important player. Stepping up in place of Murray was Junior Tatola, who put on an inspiring display, playing the majority of the game in the middle and becoming a leader in the pack.
Murray’s impact on both sides of the field is almost impossible to replace, however, Tatola did his part to make sure Souths would still have their enforcer in the middle. Tatola finished the game with some incredible statistics, running for 200 metres, 93 post-contact metres, with 6 tackle breaks from 19 hit-ups.
Tatola asserted his dominance on both ends, rounding out his night with 42 tackles, becoming a crucial factor in the Rabbitohs defence. In 64 minutes of game-time, including playing the first 50 without a spell on the bench, Tatola stepped up when the Rabbitohs needed him the most and showcased his versatility not only as a footballer, but as a leader.
While Tatola starred for South Sydney, the rest of the forward pack deserves some credit for rallying after losing back-rower Jacob Host in the first set of the game. All but one of the Rabbitohs forwards clocked over 100 run-metres and the starting front-row all tallied up over 40 tackles.
It was a solid game for the Rabbitohs forwards, setting the foundation for their halves to attack and taming the imposing Warriors pack in defence.
Rabbitohs Spine dominate first-half
Cody Walker’s first game as captain for the Rabbitohs in 2022 was a successful one, not only for him but for his fellow spine players, putting on an attacking master class in the opening 40 minutes.
Walker’s leadership in the spine was on full display, having a hand in the opening five tries and directly setting up three first-half tries. His linkup plays with Blake Taaffe and Lachlan Ilias gave the Warriors defence plenty of issues in the opening minutes.
Walker waves wand and finds Johnston
Taaffe had another impressive game at fullback playing a crucial role in the first-half barrage of attack, whilst getting the Rabbitohs out of their own end in the backend of the game. Taaffe finished the game with 114 run metres, 59 kick return metres, two line breaks, a line-break assist and a try assist.
Damien Cook, who currently tops the NRL for tackles made, added another 43 to his tally with just one miss. Along with his crucial four-pointer, Cook caught the Warriors defence off guard with a line break and line-break assist.
Cook can't be caught
While the spine showed what they were capable of in the first half, they will be disappointed with allowing the Warriors back into the game after amounting such a commanding lead. The combinations are a work in progress, and communication and game management will be something that the group continue to work on over the coming weeks. Regardless of the disappointing second half, the Rabbitohs spine showed when they are on song and playing on the front foot the points will flow.
Backs continue to impress
Campbell Graham celebrated his 100th NRL game in the usual fashion, tallying up 113 run metres, 49 post-contact metres and leading in defence with 20 made tackles. Graham’s impact defensively was his biggest asset on a memorable night for the imposing centre.
With the Rabbitohs all-time try scoring record in striking distance, Alex Johnston added another four-pointer, leaving him just four tries away from breaking Nathan Merritt’s record. Along with his try, Johnston led the way from the back, running for 153 metres with three line breaks, seven tackle breaks and a try assist. AJ’s impact alongside Taaffe was a major contributing factor to the Rabbitohs domination in the first-half, giving them much needed breathing room in the second half.
Taane Milne and Jaxson Paulo created plenty of spark in attack for the Rabbitohs on the edge and secured some crucial field position with the ball in hand. Paulo and Milne combined for 276 run metres, with Milne securing an impressive double in the first half.
Milne opens the scoring for the Rabbitohs
An important two points
It's impossible to ignore the fact that the Rabbitohs left Magic weekend as victors by just 2 points after opening the match with 5 unanswered tries and building such a dominant lead. The fact that the Warriors were alive and fighting in the dying stages of the game will no doubt overshadow the dominance that the Rabbitohs displayed earlier in the afternoon in the eyes of many fans. The Rabbitohs themselves though, including coach Demetriou and captain Walker pointed out that securing the vital two points is what matters as the 2022 season continues to build, and with an important run of matches and a buy over the next 5 rounds, the two points will count and the means will be forgotten come the pointy end of the season.