The opening three minutes of the top of the ladder clash between the Roosters and Rabbitohs saw; Roosters prop Sio Siua Taukeiaho spill the first pass of the game, Rabbitohs fullback Alex Johnston leave the field with a hamstring injury and Adam Reynolds kick a penalty goal to put the Bunnies up 2-0.
With both teams jockeying for positions in the top four and the minor premiership within reach, it was set to be a frenetic game. The long history of animosity between these two clubs only added to the passion of the players and fans.
The first of this year's NRL finals are just four weeks away and the Roosters and Rabbitohs will be there battling away for a chance to add another premiership to their impressive totals. The two foundation clubs have collected 34 titles between them during the 110-year history of first grade rugby league in Australia (Rabbitohs 21, Roosters 13). Fans of both clubs are eager to see successful seasons topped off with the ultimate prize.
It was slightly disappointing then, that 26,331 fans showed up for this crucial clash. Scattered across the vast arena, they watched on as South Sydney tried an interesting ploy early. Rather than take the Roosters on up the middle, they appeared to be avoiding it, with John Sutton and Angus Crichton doing most damage out wide. Sam Burgess would make the occasional incursion, but for the most part the ball was being spread.
Souths hooker Damien Cook has been praised all season for his brilliant running game, but what is overlooked is his ability to fire 15 metre torpedo passes left or right with a snap of his wrists from dummy half. The speed and width of his passing game is key to the moves coach Anthony Seibold has his backline performing.
The Roosters had obviously been studying the tapes and were able to handle the deeply set attacking raids of the Rabbitohs. Coach Trent Robinson was happy with the effort from his team.
"A lot goes into the different parts of defence... I thought the boys put it together well tonight. There was some good stuff there in defence. They have obviously been attacking well this year," Robinson said after the game.
Towards the back end of the first half, the Rabbitohs changed their point of attack. Tom Burgess put his hand up and took on the middle of the ruck with a couple of solid hit-ups. The Rabbitohs were able to feed off the momentum created, almost scoring the first time. After the second of Tom's ruck bending hit-ups, Cook made one of is darting runs and hit Sam Burgess on the chest with a perfect pass. Boyd Cordner's shoulder bent Burgess in half and the ball squirted forward.
It was the story of the night for Sam Burgess. He would go on to make five errors in a performance that left him shaking his head after the game.
"Wasn't our best, personally with the ball, I couldn't hold the thing... just one of them nights, tough nights, pretty disappointing, but that's football, have to get better, practice harder and come back better next week," Burgess said.
After the break the Burgess brothers continued to rumble up the middle and the Rabbitohs started looking better for it. Nine minutes into the second half and the scores were level.
With half an hour remaining the Rabbitohs were awarded a penalty on halfway for an incorrect play the ball. It looked like being a turning point in the game with the Rabbitohs on the attack deep inside the Roosters 20 metre zone, but they still couldn't crack the defence. From the next set of six the Roosters crossed in the corner thanks to Joseph Manu, taking the score to 16-10 following the sideline conversion by Latrell Mitchell.
The Roosters were at their scrambling best in defence and leading the way was star recruit Cooper Cronk. His mastery of the Roosters game plan was overshadowed by his relentless efforts to throw himself at any Rabbitohs player daring to make even a half break.
In the dying minutes of the game, with the Roosters holding a slender 18-14 lead, George and Tom Burgess both made probing runs into the middle of a tiring Roosters defence. A pass was thrown to Sam, he dropped it. The Rabbitohs just weren't good enough on the night.
Souths do have one very large card up their sleeve for the upcoming finals with inspirational leader Greg Inglis expected to return from a thumb injury in the next few weeks. When Johnston left the field with his hamstring issue Dane Gagai moved to fullback, a position he may have to fill for at least another week.
"We're hopeful that Greg is back next week, he had his visit to the surgeon yesterday, there is potential he will miss another week, we're certainly not going to risk him, we've got ourselves in a really strong position and if the surgeon thinks he needs another week, then that is what we'll do," coach Anthony Seibold said.
"I though Gaigs did a good job tonight, we don't have too many other options to be fair. That's why I was so proud of him, he hasn't done any reps all season at fullback... while you've got young guys like Gaigs doing what he did tonight you give yourself a chance."
There are three rounds remaining for the Rabbitohs to prepare for the finals. Seibold will need his patched up backline in order and the Burgess brothers at their absolute best if they are to collect premiership No. 22 on the last Sunday in September.