The Rabbitohs took on the Tigers at Bankwest Stadium in a game that would have tested the patience of the most loyal of fans. On a slippery surface both teams seemed more intent on losing, as handling errors and poor decisions marred what was an intense and important clash.
The last time the Tigers met the Rabbitohs in Round 11 of this season, they were thumped 32-16 at ANZ Stadium. It was the last game the Rabbitohs won ahead of their three-game losing streak against the Eels, Knights and Panthers. They have started to lose touch with the Storm who have cleared out to a four-point lead at the top of the ladder. The Tigers, sitting just outside the eight, were desperate to stay in the hunt for a finals berth.
Both teams needed the competition points and three players in particular should have been out to impress Brad Fittler and his Blues selectors. With halfback Nathan Cleary all but ruled out of the State of Origin decider, a position in the halves has opened up. Souths pair Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker, as well as Tigers halfback Luke Brooks all had an opportunity to throw their hats into the selection ring.
Reynolds was one of the names mentioned before State of Origin I when the form of incumbents Cleary and James Maloney had been called into question. In a manner which has cruelled his ambitions previously, Reynolds suffered a leg injury at the wrong time. Still he and his opposite number Brooks needed to remind selectors that Mitchell Pearce wasn't the only No. 7 in line for Cleary's job.
Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walkers had a point to prove after being dumped from the Blues squad for State of Origin II. A strong performance from Walker against the Tigers might have seen selectors consider moving Maloney to halfback in order to give him another shot in the No. 6 jersey. It was a slim chance, but it was certainly something to inspire Walker to play at his best.
The opening 20 minutes were tight with both goal line defences thoroughly tested and the Rabbitohs looking the better side with sweeping ball movement through the backs. The scores were locked at two after a Reynolds' grubber kick resulted in a goal line drop-out that the Tigers failed to take in the allotted time. The short kicking game of Reynolds was causing the Tigers problems.
In the 28th minute Brooks put a grubber kick of his own straight into the legs of Reynolds who was able to scoop up the ball before being tackled by the Tigers half. Brooks compounded the error by lying all over Reynolds to concede a penalty. It proved costly as the Rabbitohs worked their way down field for Corey Allan to cross for the first try of the match.
The tenacious Tigers half was not going to give up on the grubber kick though and with halftime approaching he put one through for his team's first try to Corey Thompson. The scores were locked at eight as the teams left the field for the break.
In the sixth minute of the second half, Brooks was put into the clear ten metres out from the Rabbitohs line, he looked to have support as the defence converged, but backed himself and was crunched short of scoring. He then threw a poor pass in the ensuing play. It was all adding up and Fittler, on the sideline for Channel 9, would have been putting his pen through Brooks' Origin aspirations for another year.
Walker looked to be back to his running best, causing the Tigers defence plenty of concerns as he swept from one side of the field to the other to join the attacking raids. But, sixteen minutes into the second half, Fittler was able to put a line through his name again as he dropped a Tigers' drop-out cold.
Reynolds had his moments and his kicking game was once again a highlight. He was caught out a couple of times taking poor options and really didn't have the show stopper of a performance that would have caught Fittler's attention.
With twelve minutes to go and the Souths defence in disarray the ball found its way to Brooks who scooted down the sideline before putting a kick over the touch-in-goal line for a seven tackle set to the Rabbitohs. They worked their way downfield and grubber kicked the ball dead for a seven tackle set to the Tigers. It was a game neither team wanted to win, until Reynolds stepped up after yet another Tigers' handling error and slotted a field goal to take the scores to 9-8.
With four minutes to go the Rabbitohs should have been able to wrap up the points, but a piece of individual brilliance from Tigers reserve Michael Chee Kam awoke those remaining from a crowd of 9,807. Receiving the ball 40 metres out he stepped his way through the flimsy Rabbitohs defence, accelerated away from the cover and left replacement fullback Corey Allan on his haunches as he stepped past to score ten metres wide of the goal posts. The conversion took the Tigers to a 14-9 victory.
Reynolds and Walker were on the losing team and apart from setting up their first try, Brooks played little meaningful part in the Tigers' win. It was a night of missed opportunities, for the Rabbitohs and the three halves. In the end, Fittler and the Blues selectors would have been more concerned about the leg injury which had star hooker Damien Cook limping.