After last week’s staggering loss to the Bulldogs, Souths really had something to prove when they squared off against Manly at Brookvale Oval on Thursday night – and they almost didn’t prove it. For the second week in a row, Michael Maguire draped a towel over the dressing-room cam for his half-time address to the Rabbitohs. What he said we’ll never know, but it must have been severe enough for the team to maintain their defence against a pummelling effort from Manly in the second half. Only a week ago, it felt as if Fortress Brookdale had utterly crumbled, but in the back forty minutes against the Bunnies, the Sea Eagles proved that they’ve still got what it takes to maintain their pride and dignity at home.
Of course, the main difference between this week and last week was the return of the Burgess brothers, especially Slammin’ Sam. There have been so many near-misses in Rugby League lately that it was almost miraculous to see him taking the field again, and while he may have – understandably – been feeling his way a little gingerly, he still put in a full eighty minutes, racking up 30 tackles and 119 metres in the process. Ever since he powered through the 2014 Grand Final with a busted cheekbone, Burgess has been peculiarly compelling when playing through pain, and Thursday’s match was a prime example of his courage under fire.
Backing up Burgess was a particularly strong night for Cameron McInnes, who scored two tries in a row, taking him to the 35 000th point in South Sydney’s storied history. With Cody Walker bringing in the third try for the Bunnies in fifteen minutes, it felt as if Souths might be on the verge of reversing last week’s result as categorically as the Broncos had reversed the 2015 Grand Final the Friday before. It was a testament to Manly’s defence and resolve, then, that these were the only points that South Sydney managed to score for the entire duration of the game.
Critical to that change in momentum was Dylan Walker’s neat try at the 28th minute, one of his most assertive moments at five-eighth since starting with the Sea Eagles. While Walker put in arguably the best performance for the Bunnies at five-eighth, it was a bit of a surprise to see how well Walker and Apisai Koroisau took the reins for Manly, proving themselves an almost brilliant halves combo over the course of the evening. Sure, Walker was dominant for Souths, but given Luke Keary’s sluggishness – he really needs Adam Reynolds – it was almost like the best Souths pair were playing for the Sea Eagles. In particular, Koroisau’s try in the fiftieth minute was a thing of beauty and a testament to his remarkable speed. Combined with a pitch-perfect conversion from Jamie Lyon, it was the only notch added to the tally in the second half. Nevertheless Koroisau would have brought Manly in front only a couple of minutes later had he not found the ball wrenched out of his grasp at the very last minute by a brief Souths resurgence.
As a result, it was Lyon, Koroisau and Walker who tended to be the most visible Sea Eagles, with Brent Stewart once again failing to bring in a try at his home ground. For other fullbacks, that wouldn’t be a big deal, but for someone with such a prestigious track record as Stewart it signals something of a dry spell. Just as Souths had the potential to reach their 35 000th point on Thursday night, so Stewart had the possibility to reach Steve Menzies’ record for the number of tries scored by a Sea Eagle at Brookvale. That he didn’t was partly down to the way the Rabbitohs targeted him, bringing back memories of last year’s spite match between these two fortress-minded teams.
Nevertheless, there is still an issue with Souths’ consistency. While they managed to get possession for long periods in the second half and mounted a good front against such a massive Manly swell, it still felt as if things might have gone very differently had they not had such an intense opening fifteen minutes. Clearly, Madge is still concerned, and he probably has reason to be, since the Roosters are going to be desperate to give their all for their second local barny with the Bunnies next Friday night. For the Sea Eagles, it’s going to be even more dramatic when they square off against the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday, since both teams have reached the exact point in their season at which they need to consolidate. Who wins is anybody’s guess – I’m inclining towards the Sea Eagles – but it’s going to be exciting whichever way it goes.