A Tyrone Munro try with five minutes on the clock sealed a 21st premiership for South Sydney in The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup over a courageous North Sydney 22-18 in today’s Grand Final at CommBank Stadium.
The last time the Rabbitohs had some joy in NSWRL’s premier men’s competition was in 1983 when they defeated Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 12-6.
It was another close one 40 years on as the lead changed six times in the match with the scoreboard locked 12-12 at half-time.
With seven minutes left to play, just two points separated the sides (18-16) setting up a frantic final period.
“We knew it would be like that didn’t we? It was a very tough game of football between two very good football teams,” Rabbitohs coach Joe O’Callaghan said.
“We were coming second last on the ladder in Round Nine or 10, but we kept finding ways to win – they did it again today.
“I’m proud of how they stuck together because our season could have gone the other way very quickly. They just stayed at it for so long and that’s what has made me so proud.”
Player of the Match was NRL star Blake Taaffe whose acceleration and final pass to Munro put the winger over in the north-east corner to rapturous applause of the 10,000-plus crowd.
South Sydney captain and NSWRL’s Player of the Year in the NSW Cup, Dean Hawkins, sent the cut-out pass to Taaffe on the fly. Hawkins converted from the sideline to make sure of the victory.
“It’s what this group has done all year - just hang in, hang in, and we got the try in the last five minutes to seal it,” Hawkins told nswrl.com.au.
“Honestly, we’ve worked our arses off for each other and we’re such a tight group. We never give up and that showed today.”
The Bears’ sprung a few late changes after bringing in former NRL Broncos hooker Jake Turpin, who had played limited time in the Preliminary Final because of a head clash.
Winger Allan Fitzgibbon, who has scored four tries in two finals games so far, was another late change by coach Jason Taylor.
Fitzgibbon made way for Alfred Smalley, who made his NRL debut last year with Manly Warringah, and it paid early dividends.
With little room for Kieran Hayman and Elie El-Zalkhem to work on the short side, Smalley tippy-toed the last metres down the left edge to score in the fifth minute.
Each team scored two tries in the opening 40 minutes. The Bears second try came when five-eighth Jesse Marschke danced through four defenders from 25 metres out.
Souths prop Shaq Mitchell used his strength to twist himself and two defenders over the line close to the uprights to open his side’s scoresheet.
The Rabbitohs second try came when second rower Ethan O’Neill followed a Taaffe grubber in the 32nd minute.
Souths poked their noses in front in the second half after five-eighth Dion Teaupa linked with centre Izaac Thompson, who juggled the ball but still got the pass away to Tom Carr for a 16-12 lead.
It was a moment for the Rabbitohs winger, who spent the previous two seasons in North Sydney colours.
Bears back-rower Reuben Porter had his moment with 12 minutes left on the clock when he received the ball five metres out and simply stepped back inside to crash over.
The Bears clung to a two-point lead desperate to win their first NSW Cup since 1993.
But that hope evaporated when Hawkins’ cut-out pass found Taaffe, who sent Munro over in the 75th minute to snatch the lead back (22-18).