South Sydney has a week to rest up before The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup Grand Final after winning a brutal but thrilling Major Semi-final 30-24 over the North Sydney Bears at Leichhardt Oval today.
The Rabbitohs handed the Minor Premiers their third defeat on the trot to qualify themselves for the 24 September decider at CommBank Stadium.
The Bears had lost to the Panthers and then the Warriors in Rounds 25 and 26 to end the regular club season before earning a week off for finishing on top of the NSW Cup ladder.
The Rabbitohs Grand Final opponents will be decided between the Bears and the Warriors in next Saturday’s (16 September) Preliminary Final back at Leichhardt Oval.
The Warriors were in scintillating form with a 49-6 win over Canberra in today’s Minor Semi-final to end the Raiders season.
Major Semi-final: (2nd) South Sydney Rabbitohs 30 def (1st) North Sydney Bears 24
Early tries to both sides set the tone for a close match.
First Bears winger Allan Fitzgibbon finished off a 30-metre shift in the right corner, then Rabbitohs five-eighth Dion Teaupa supported his prop Shaq Mitchell to gratefully accept the offload and score.
But then the Rabbitohs started to bound away with another three unanswered tries – centre Izaac Thompson scored off a Teaupa cut-out pass, and winger Tyrone Munro grabbed a double in the right corner. The second was off a superb flick pass from Leonard Skelton.
Newly-crowned The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup Player of the Year Dean Hawkins had a perfect conversion record (4-4) and the Rabbitohs were out to a comfortable 24-4 half-time lead.
The Bears needed to be the first to score after the break and they were, with Fitzgibbon getting his double and then second rower Reuben Porter crashing over after a Jesse Marschke bust upfield.
That narrowed the gap to 10 points (24-14).
The Bears were on a roll when Fitzgibbon scored his hat-trick (24-18).
The teams traded tries – Rabbitohs winger Tom Carr, then Bears prop Regan Hughes crossing – to set up a grandstand finish with the difference being a converted try.
South Sydney employed good game management in holding possession to snuff out the Bears fightback.
“We came here prepared for a pretty hard game of footy and that’s what we got,” said Rabbitohs coach Joe O’Callaghan.
“We spoke about the momentum swinging, because these guys aren’t the Minor Premiers for nothing, and it did – big time.
“I’m so proud the boys stuck at it – I couldn’t be any happier for them. We get an opportunity now to lick our wounds and get ready for the GF.”
RESULT: South Sydney 30 (Tyrone Munro 2, Dion Teauoa, Izaac Thompson, Tom Carr tries; Dean Hawkins 5 goals) def North Sydney 24 (Allan Fitzgibbon 3, Reuben Porter, Regan Hughes tries) Ben Stevanovic 2 goals)
Minor Semi-final: (3rd) Warriors 49 def (4th) Raiders 6
Five tries in the first half set up the win for the Warriors and another four in the second finished the Raiders off for season 2023.
Canberra had come back from 10 points down against Blacktown Workers in last week’s Elimination final, but there was no resurrection today.
The Raiders did press the Warriors line early, but it was the New Zealand team which opened proceedings on the scoreboard.
Two tries in four minutes to back-rowers Jacob Laban and Kalani Going had the Warriors up 10-0 with the match barely 10 minutes old.
A neat pick-up from Warriors five-eighth Ben Farr off a low pass from Paul Roache led to the Warriors third try.
The Raiders had peeled one back in the 21st minute off a sublime pass by five-eighth Ethan Strange as he threaded the needle for his centre Brad Morkos. Chevy Stewart converted from the sidelines (16-6).
But then interchange forward Maia Sands scored twice – halfback Ronald Volkman having a hand in both – for a healthy 26-6 halftime lead.
The Warriors right edge were at it again in the second half with the ball travelling through three sets of hands before fullback Setu Tu scored.
Then Isaiah Vagana hit a Roache pass at speed in the 62nd and Tom Ale pounced on a Volkman cross-field kick, all within three minutes. The scoreboard had shot out to 42-6.
But the Warriors were in a mood and the Raiders players were fatiguing.
The ninth try for the Auckland-based club for Eiden Ackland, with his first touch after coming off the bench in the 68th minute (48-6).
Volkman had been controlling most of the Warriors attack, plus kicking six conversions, but he tried his hand at a field goal with eight minutes left and struck that sweetly too.
Warriors coach Slade Griffin said the hefty scoreline confirmed what his team knew they could do.
“The other most impressive thing for us was keeping the Raiders to six points. But we really got back to our style of footy and it helped having a few guys come back in,” he said.
“But that’s been one of the best things about our side this year. We’ve had guys come for an opportunity as part-time players but earned fulltime train-trial contracts and have gone onto debut (NRL).
“We want to win football games sure, but to see the impact this team has had on people’s lives is just as important.”
RESULT: Warriors 49 (Maia Sands 2, Jacob Laban, Kalani Going, Ben Farr, Setu Tu, Isaiah Vagana, Tom Ale, Eiden Ackland tries, Ronald Volkman 5, Farr goals; Volkman field goal) def Raiders 6 (Brad Morkos try; Chevy Stewart goal)