Despite a bright start, Wests Tigers have gone down 51-10 to the South Sydney Rabbitohs in their Round 25 season finale tonight at ANZ Stadium.
Two early kicks from Benji Marshall to give Chris Lawrence and David Nofoaluma tries had Ivan Cleary's side on the front foot early and with plenty of confidence to secure their 13th win of the season, before a weight of possession and field position saw the premiership hopeful Rabbitohs storm back in the game.
Crossing right on the stroke of half-time to lead 22-10 at the break, Anthony Siebold's side would ensure that their run of defeats heading in to the 2018 Telstra Premiership finals series ended at three, with the home side emerging with a commanding win in the end to secure a top four finish for the year.
Ivan Cleary's side will end the year with a 12-12 record — their best since a 2011 season that saw them fall just short of the Grand Final — with plenty of reasons to be confident about their progress in 2019.
After an early try-saver from Moses Mbye, Wests Tigers stunned the Rabbitohs crowd at ANZ Stadium with an try after just four minutes as Lawrence outpaced Cody Walker to a ball in the in-goal.
A second kick from Marshall to Nofoaluma would have Wests Tigers on the front foot once again, but it didn't take long for South Sydney's clinical attack to click in to gear with Johnston and Robert Jennings combining on the left edge to send the winger over in his first game back from injury. Adam Reynolds slotted the sideline conversion to level the match, before a penalty gave the hosts their first lead.
Angus Crichton's charging run just before half-time was further proof of the Rabbitohs' dominance through the middle, before Walker's mazy run right as the siren sounded saw the cardinal and myrtle head in to the sheds with a 12-point lead — built from over 1000 run metres in the opening 40 minutes of play.
It didn't get any better for Wests Tigers in the second half with Sauaso Sue helped off with a cut to the head in his final game for the club, before Campbell Graham touched down to extend the hosts' lead to 26-10.
With errors and ill-discipline from Cleary's men forcing them in to more defence on their line, Adam Reynolds, Johnston and Thomas Burgess all crossed within the space of six minutes for the Rabbitohs to blow the scoreline open to 44-10 as the Rabbitohs made it 36 unanswered points to their name.
John Sutton's try five minutes from time would see South Sydney register 50 points and give Wests Tigers their biggest defeat of the year, with Jason Clark converting the try to close out a disappointing night.
South Sydney 51 (Jennings, Crichton, Walker, Graham, Reynolds, Johnston, T.Burgess, Sutton tries; Reynolds 7/8 goals; Reynolds field goal) def. Wests Tigers 10 (Lawrence, Nofoaluma tries; Marsters 1/2 goals) at ANZ Stadium