Teams two and three opened the 2023 finals series in The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup, and it was the second-placed South Sydney Rabbitohs who overcame the Warriors 26-12 at North Sydney Oval.
The win sets up a mouth-watering Major Semi-final clash with the North Sydney Bears next Saturday at Leichhardt Oval.
South Sydney, with hooker Peter Mamouzelos causing havoc from dummy-half, overcame the early loss of damaging prop Daniel Suluka-Fifita in the opening play of the game to prevail in the second half after both teams were level at 6-6 at the main break. Despite the loss of Suluka-Fifita, the more experienced South Sydney team was able to take control of the second half after a fairly even opening half.
The Warriors got off to a dream start in their first set of the game when prop forward Zyon Maiu'u burst through the heart of Souths’ defence from halfway, going on a 30-metre run before drawing the fullback and finding lock forward Tanner Stowers-Smith to score behind the posts. With Eiden Ackland’s easy conversion attempt, the Warriors held a 6-0 lead after just two minutes.
South Sydney hit back when a quick play-the-ball by Mamouzelos allowed five-eighth Dion Teaupa to take advantage and dive over from dummy-half. Hawkins’ conversion from out wide levelled the scores at 6-6 after 17 minutes.
Both sides had plenty of good attacking opportunities as the half progressed, but a combination of last-ditch defensive efforts and poor options with the ball saw both the teams go into the main break at 6-6.
But South Sydney exploded out of the blocks early in the second half, scoring back-to-back tries to take a commanding 18-6 lead after 53 minutes. Interchange forward Brock Gray proved unstoppable close to the line by steaming onto a short pass from Hawkins to score next to the posts, before a shift right enabled Shannon Gardiner to stretch the Warriors’ defence and offload to Matt French to score next to the posts.
South Sydney put the lead beyond two converted tries when Jed Cartwright was denied a try but awarded a penalty, with Hawkins making no mistake with the conversion attempt to extend the scoreline to 20-6 after 63 minutes.
The Warriors finally put a halt to the Rabbitohs’ scoring spree when some repeat sets inside the 20 paid dividends. James Gavet stormed his way over to score from close range, and with Ackland’s conversion from in front of the posts the Warriors were back in the game at 20-12 with 12 minutes remaining.
South Sydney put the game to bed in the final three minutes with a try started and finished by fullback Jacob Gagai. On halfway he put centre Taane Milne into a yawning gap with a reverse pass, before taking the pass back to streak away and score, with Hawkins converting once more to give the Rabbitohs a well-deserved 26-12 victory.
Match: Rabbitohs v Warriors
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: North Sydney Oval, Sydney
- South Sydney came into the game looking for their sixth win in succession while the Warriors were in equally good form having won four of their last five games played.
- The Warriors came into the clash low on experience as a result of several key players being elevated to the NRL this weekend.
- Rabbitohs prop forward Daniel Suluka-Fifita was forced from the field in the opening play of the game with a leg injury.
It took 77 minutes for South Sydney to put the result beyond doubt, but they did so with the try of the game when quick hands to the right enabled Gagai to put Milne into a gap from halfway before the centre returned the favour, finding the Rabbitohs' fullback to score in the corner.
Both sides will now feature in week two of the finals. The Rabbitohs will play Minor Premiers the North Sydney Bears in the Major Semi-final at Leichhardt Oval next Saturday, while the Warriors will play the winner of today’s Elimination Final between the Canberra Raiders and Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles - also next Saturday at Leichhardt Oval.