South Sydney was unable to match it with a determined Canterbury Bulldogs side, falling 36-32 at Accor Stadium.
It was always going to be a tough task with nine players missing due to injury, Origin commitments and suspension, but the Rabbitohs started the contest strongly.
A strong tackle on the last forced a repeat set in the opening minutes, and stand-in captain Tom Burgess made them pay from the ensuing set with a charging run seeing him score under the posts inside five minutes.
An error soon after the kick-off saw the Bulldogs take advantage off the scrum through Blake Wilson to level scores up.
Souths were handicapped from the very next set with Taane Milne sent to the sin bin for a shoulder charge after a lengthy delay from the Bunker.
Wilson's second try of the night on the back of a charge down gave the Bulldogs a 12-6 lead through 14 minutes as they made use of the extra man.
Some sloppy defence allowed the Bulldogs to march down the field and make it back-to-back tries through Reed Mahoney, pushing the lead to 18-6.
The onslaught ended after a dropped ball, and it was South Sydney's turn to hit back, with quick hands from Richie Kennar giving Tyrone Munro enough space to put some footwork on and make it two tries in as many NRL games.
A questionable obstruction call gave the Bulldogs good field position, and they capitalised in the corner with a Jacob Kiraz try.
A clever kick from Lachlan Ilias intended for Munro almost had the desired effect, only for the winger to prove too quick as Canterbury held a 24-12 lead at the break.
Canterbury was on the attack to start the second half, and looked certain to score 10 minutes in if not for the swift work of Milne to knock a pass down and kill the play.
The relentless possession and field position proved too much for Souths to handle, as they cracked in the 56th minute with Ethan Quai-Ward's try making the task tough for the home side to come back from.
Just as the game looked to be slipping away, Blake Taaffe used his pace to perfection, racing the best part of 40m to get the Rabbitohs back in contention.
A clear double movement from the Bulldogs saw them bailed out with Souths ruled to be offside, allowing them to take an easy shot at goal for a 30-16 lead.
It was Taaffe again in the thick of things to keep the game alive, breaking through a tackle after an unders ball from Ilias to cut the margin to 30-22 with less than 13 minutes to play.
Any hopes of a comeback were all-but erased soon after however, with Wilson’s third of the night making the task an impossible one.
Munro's second of the night continued his hot try-scoring form to make it 36-26 with three minutes to play.
Tallis Duncan then provided a highlight moment from the kick-off, breaking the line, linking with Peter Mamouzelos and then getting the ball back to race the length of the field to cut the margin to four with a little over two minutes left.
Unfortunately they couldn’t go on with it, with Canterbury denying one last charge at the line.
Stand-in captain Tom Burgess opened the scoring in the fifth minute with a crash play close to the line.
Canterbury hit back on the back of a Souths error as Blake Wilson crossed in the corner.
Wilson's second while Souths had 12 on the field saw Canterbury take a 12-6 lead after 14 minutes.
Reed Mahoney added to the Rabbitohs’ pain as the Bulldogs made it back-to-back tries.
The gap is reduced from young winger Tyrone Munro after he touched down in the corner.
Canterbury extended the lead back out to 12 with Jacob Kiraz scoring out wide.
Another Bulldogs try from Ethan Quai-Ward extended the margin to 16 with 23 minutes left to play.
Blake Taaffe kept Souths in the game with some individual brilliance to get them back to within two converted tries approaching the final 20 minutes.
Taaffe scored his second of the evening soon after to cut the margin back to eight points with 13 minutes remaining.
Wilson's third of the night for the Bulldogs sealed the win inside the last 10 minutes.
Munro scored his second of the night in the dying stages off a Milne grubber.
Tallis Duncan produced a miracle play from the kick-off to cut the deficit to four.
Play of the Game
With time winding down and quick points needed, Tallis Duncan produced some heroics from the kick-off to race the length of the field and give Souths a fighting hope inside the final three minutes.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs will have a well-earned bye in round 20, followed up by a blockbuster clash on the Sunshine Coast against fellow top-four contenders the Brisbane Broncos on July 21.