It started with a war of words but in the end South Sydney had the final say after outlasting Brisbane 22-20 in Friday night’s NRL grudge match at Suncorp Stadium.
The Rabbitohs moved back into the top four after snapping a three-match losing streak while also landing a blow to the Broncos’ finals hopes in a round 23 clash that lived up to the hype.
The stage was set for a blockbuster after an extraordinary lead-up in which Rabbitohs assistant Jason Demetriou and Broncos coach Anthony Seibold traded barbs.
Yet somehow the clash still exceeded expectations.
The Rabbitohs appeared on the ropes when first ex-Bronco James Roberts was sin binned in the 14th minute for elbowing Corey Oates in the head.
The visitors were again on the back foot in the 49th minute when another ex-Bronco Jaydn Su’A was put on report and sin-binned for a high shot on centre Alex Glenn, starting a melee.
Yet the Rabbitohs weren’t to be denied, landing what looked like a killer blow, scoring 14 points in a five-minute second half burst.
After a 60th minute penalty that snatched a 10-8 lead, Damien Cook turned the match on its head.
The Rabbitohs hooker set up a 61st minute Cody Walker try before scoring himself three minutes later to blow the scoreline out to 22-8.
Yet the Broncos wouldn’t say die.
David Fifita crashed over in the 67th minute for his second try before Kotoni Staggs scored 10 minutes later after a bust by Matt Gillett, who was playing his first game since round 15 because of a back injury.
And they looked like pulling off a stunning win when they regained possession in the dying moments after a Joe Ofahengaue strip, only for Cook to pull off a match-saving tackle on a try bound Oates.
The Broncos have provisionally dropped to eighth with two regular season rounds left.
“Both sides showed a lot of character tonight. Damien Cook was the difference,” Seibold said.
But I am proud of how our guys are progressing. We couldn’t have hung in a quality game like that earlier this year.”
It was South Sydney’s first win at Suncorp Stadium since round one 2015 and they did it without their injured skipper Sam Burgess (quad).
And it also marked South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett’s fifth win in 16 games against his previous club – and his fourth straight over Seibold.
Demetriou also had the last laugh after Seibold dismissed his criticism that the Brisbane mentor couldn’t deliver in NRL finals, accusing the Rabbitohs deputy of being filthy for missing out on a head coaching gig.
“There was great theatre about the weekend. But what pleased me most was our effort, how we turned up, something we haven’t been doing the last few weeks,” Bennett said.
Panthers’ season in freefall
The Penrith Panthers finals hunt is in freefall after losing 24-10 to the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville.
Penrith has now lost two games on the trot and is stranded outside the top eight on 22 points, meaning it will likely need to beat the Sydney Roosters next weekend to keep their post-season hopes alive.
North Queensland’s finals hopes might be long gone but the win provides some consolation following a torrid week highlighted by retirement-bound prop Matt Scott being hospitalised for a mild stroke.
The Cowboys made the ideal start when centre Tom Opacic set up winger Kyle Feldt with a flick pass in the eighth minute.
The contest then resembled an arm wrestle until an acrobatic finish by winger Brian To’o got Penrith on the board eight minutes before the break at 1300SMILES Stadium.
North Queensland responded soon after when rookie wing Murray Taulagi scored his maiden NRL try thanks to some impressive lead up work from veteran fullback and wing turned centre Jordan Kahu.
The former Kiwis international steamed on to a kick, broke a tackle and then offloaded for the 20-year-old to notch a memorable four-pointer a minute before the interval.
North Queensland extended their 12-4 halftime buffer when Feldt caught the Panthers defence napping from a 20m restart and although Isaah Yeo completed a chip and chase to bridge the gap a bullocking run from Jason Taumalolo ensured a five-game losing streak would be snapped with nine minutes remaining.
North Queensland next host the resurgent Bulldogs on Thursday in the last match to be played at 1300 Smiles Stadium while Penrith face an ominous task against the reigning premiers next Saturday.