South Sydney have revived their minor premiership hopes and left Manly licking their wounds after a bruising NRL top-of-the-table clash at the SCG.
Inspired by a storming performance from Sam Burgess, Souths closed to within two points of the competition lead with an emphatic 23-4 victory on a Friday night to forget for the Sea Eagles.
Manly lost backline enforcer Steve Matai inside five minutes, the New Zealand Test centre suffering an apparent dislocated left shoulder in a suspect tackle from Souths pair Issac Luke and George Burgess.
Luke and Burgess are likely to come under match review panel scrutiny for a chicken wing tackle that left the Eagles with just a three-man bench for the bulk of the game.
Returning from an ankle injury, winger Jorge Taufua limped through the second half in another worry for Manly a month out from the finals.
Souths lost back-rower Kyle Turner to concussion in the first half but, with Burgess nigh unstoppable, still rode roughshod over the Eagles in an ominous display that should have super coach Wayne Bennett eating humble pie.
It was Bennett who claimed after Souths put his Newcastle side to the sword on Sunday that the Rabbitohs couldn’t win a premiership with their predictable power game.
On that basis, Manly won’t either after simply having no answers to the Rabbitohs’ strength and power.
Despite being in serious doubt for the match with a shoulder injury, Sam Burgess terrorised the title favourites with 21 hit-ups for 220 metres and sealed victory when he charged over under the posts eight minutes from fulltime.
The powerhouse prop also effected 29 tackles and delivered three offloads, including one sublime one-arm short ball that also led to a scintillating try to fullback Greg Inglis.
Souths’ stirring win was a timely psychological booster after losing to the Eagles in last year’s semi-finals and also in their first meeting this season.
Manly enjoyed all the early running and led 4-0 through a sixth-minute try to winger Peta Hiku.
But they were lucky to be still in the contest at halftime as Souths stole the momentum and threatened to put the match beyond reach.
Turner steamed onto a flat pass from Adam Reynolds for the Rabbitohs’ opening try in the 13th minute, which Reynolds converted for a 6-4 lead.
Then, just as Manly seemed certain to regain the lead, Lote Tuqiri dispossessed Eagles back-rower Jamie Buhrer on his own line and raced 70 metres downfield.
The veteran winger couldn’t quite get there but, on the next play, the Rabbitohs spread the ball left to centre Kirisome Auva’a, who touched down out wide.
Reynolds’ successful conversion made it 12-4 and only a brilliant try-saving tackle from fullback Brett Stewart on his runaway opposite Inglis saved Manly from heading to the break further behind.
The writing was on the wall for Manly when Inglis put young winger Alex Johnston over for his 15th try in only his 11th NRL game with 15 minutes remaining.
Burgess looked to have the final say, but Reynolds did instead with a 79th-minute field goal to put the icing on the cake.