Both the Rabbitohs NSW Cup and Jersey Flegg Cup sides mounted remarkable comebacks against the Western Suburbs Magpies and Wests Tigers respectively to complete a clean sweep in Round 11.
Meanwhile, a young forward celebrated a return to Rugby League on his 21st birthday following a brave battle with cancer.
NSW Cup Round 11: South Sydney Rabbitohs 26 def Western Suburbs Magpies 22
A 20-point turnaround in the second half - including a hat-trick to winger Izaac Tu’itupou Thompson- saw the Rabbitohs claim a remarkable victory against the Western Suburbs Magpies at Accor Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Staring down the barrel of a seventh loss for season 2023, the Red and Green had a mountain to climb in the second 40 when trailing 22-2, with just a penalty goal to their name – before a barnstorming Ethan O’Neill crashed over to put his side on the board.
Fullback Blake Taaffe supplied Tu’itupou Thompson with the next four-pointer just five minutes later, before the Rabbitohs swung the pill left for fellow winger Tom Carr to cross with the difference narrowed down to a single converted try.
Tu’itupou Thompson was at it again to make it four tries in fifteen minutes as the Rabbitohs continued their rampage, and while a few chances went begging heading in the shadows of full-time, the towering winger bagged his hat-trick with an acrobatic effort to seal the famous victory in the 77th minute.
Head Coach and Head of Elite Pathways and Development Joe O'Callaghan said that despite the hefty deficit at the break, there was still plenty of belief in his side heading into the second half.
"I thought the scoreboard didn't quite reflect the match at half-time," he said.
"When I spoke to the boys in the sheds I knew we weren't far off. Possession and our completion rate were poor and we gave Wests some good field position.
"A couple of their tries were through determination - it sounds simple but we weren't getting picked and pulled apart, we were defensively sound for large chunks of the first half.
"To the boys' credit, a 20-point deficit isn't an easy one to come back from and they showed this season really means something to them to claw their way back two weeks in a row."
While Tu'itupou Thompson starred with his hat-trick of tries - including the match-winner - it was two middle forwards and the no.7 who O'Callaghan credited with the second-half turnaround.
"I thought Brock Gray and Tallis Duncan were positive off the bench when they came on," he explained.
"They didn’t get much of a chance to do that in the first half but started the second half well. We scored our first three in the first 20 minutes then ground out it score the rest.
"Tallis played the whole second half in the middle, while Brock had two separate stints. Everyone sees the tries that we scored but I thought those two locked down the middle and set the platform.
"Dean Hawkins showed his class again and kept a calm head throughout the period and was involved in all the tries in some way or form.
"Izaac certainly deserves a special mention, there aren't many players that could score that type of try in that situation. Wests were scrambling but he wanted it more and it was a massive play."
Jersey Flegg Cup Round 11: South Sydney Rabbitohs 24 def Wests Tigers 20
In a similar fashion, the Jersey Flegg Cup Rabbitohs fought back from a deficit to storm home and claim a valuable two points at Mascot Oval on Mother’s Day, and now sit in fifth position on the ladder as the competition nears its halfway mark.
The sides traded four-pointers throughout the first half with Samuel Jinks and Thomas Fletcher touching down for a 10-all scoreline, before the visitors struck first in the second stanza to take a six-point lead with half an hour remaining.
Not to be deterred, the Red and Green swung momentum with an almighty ten-minute period that saw three tries scored, courtesy of interchange back Dane Towns, five-eighth Jye Gray and winger Tyrone Munro.
While the Tigers crossed in the dying stages, the result was already in the bag for the Rabbitohs, who will now face the sixth-placed Parramatta Eels when they return to Mascot Oval at 3:00pm on Sunday afternoon.
For O'Callaghan, the performance is one that will no doubt help to propel the side throughout the rest of the season after building on some important lessons from previous results.
"It was a good arm wrestle and really physical for a Flegg game," he explained
"Credit to the Tigers as well, both teams turned up willing and there’ll be some sore bodies this week. They got into each other and 10-all in the first half showed where both teams were at.
"The Tigers scored off two kicks which was disappointing because we were defending well, but after a poor start completing just one of our first five sets, we found a rhythm there.
"It was a see-sawing second half that went all the way down to the wire, but the most pleasing aspect was that they learned from that draw against Penrith a few weeks ago.
"They found themselves in a scenario and leading by eight points and showed more discipline and calmness to close the match out."
In one of the feel-good stories of 2023, young forward Taine Woodford made his return to Rugby League following a cancer diagnosis in October last year, which saw him battle through chemotherapy after a 12cm tumor was found between his lungs and heart.
Showing the South Sydney spirit throughout the last seven months, Taine celebrated his 21st birthday in style, coming from the interchange bench at Mascot Oval in the Red and Green.
"He has worked really hard and I can't praise him enough," O'Callaghan said.
"Taine had limited minutes but played well and brought physicality just before halftime. He got stuck in defence, and we’re excited to see him back on the field.
"He's never whinged once, he's been so positive throughout the whole time and worked his backside off. We’re not talking about coming back from an ACL, it’s a really serious situation.
"We’ve supported him through the whole period. He's well ahead of time since he got cleared for contact when he was in remission and building back up he spent a few weeks in A-Grade and we wanted to give him time.
"We thought he was ready and we asked him how he was feeling and he was ready to go and showed he was ready to go. It was really pleasing to see a big smile on his face after what he's been through, and all the boys were stoked for him too.
"If I had 200 Taine Woodfords in our Pathways programs, I'd be a very happy man."
Both sides will replicate their schedule from last weekend, with the NSW Cup side set to play prior to the NRL match at Allianz Stadium to celebrate Indigenous Round, while the Jersey Flegg Cup team returns to Mascot Oval, with both sides facing the Parramatta Eels for two crucial matches.
"It’s a meaningful week for the whole Club, and we’ve had an Indigenous Jersey for NSW Cup made up as well," said O'Callaghan.
"We’ve spoken about getting the season going and while we've looked beaten in the last few weeks, we’ve found a way to win. We’ve got to keep the momentum going with a few injury clouds but I couldn’t think of a better chance to go for three straight wins.
"There's no better place to do it on Friday night at Allianz for the curtain raiser. It’ll be a great opportunity for us to get some momentum and celebrate Indigenous Round as well.
"It’s a big game for Flegg on Sunday as well - it's 5th vs 6th and they’re fighting to maintain their spot in the top five.
"With Redfern shut at the moment due to council maintenance, we trialed moving games to local venues and we thought the crowd at Mascot last week was really good.
"It helped the boys in the last ten minutes to get the victory and we're hoping to see similar support this weekend."