South Sydney have clinched the Beyond Blue Cup for 2020 after a thrilling 26-24 win over Wests Tigers tonight at Bankwest Stadium.
With their season still alive after last week's comeback win over the Sea Eagles, Michael Maguire's side found themselves in a similar deficit early on as Souths roared out of the blocks to lead comfortably in the first half.
As they did last week, Wests Tigers wouldn't go away without a fight and hit back quickly to cut the Rabbitohs' lead to eight on the stroke of half-time, before a stirring second comeback saw them cut the margin to just two with 10 minutes to go.
However, having battled away against the odds the entire night, Wests Tigers were unable to find the final points required to complete the comeback — falling by two.
Having bagged a hat-trick when the two sides met earlier in the year, Dane Gagai marked his return from injury with the first try of the night — capitalising on a move to the right that exposed Wests Tigers' rookie centre-wing combination.
With limited chances in Souths' half, the visitors had to make their moments count but came up with an error in their only tackle inside the visitors 20m.
It would be one-way traffic for the majority of the first half as the visitors quickly accrued a 20-point advantage as Corey Allan and Campbell Graham crossed in consecutive sets to put Maguire's men in an incredibly challenging position.
In desperate need of points, Wests Tigers finally came up with their first try of the night six minutes before the break as Harry Grant and Luke Garner combined from close range to put the hosts on the board. And that six was soon doubled, as Benji Marshall's cut-out found Tommy Talau to cut the Rabbitohs' half-time lead to eight — giving the home fans plenty of voice as the two teams went to the sheds.
With seasons on the line, it didn't take long for the game to reach fever pitch as Alex Twal, Luke Brooks and Gagai all found their way to the sin-bin in quick succession — the latter two after a scuffle broke out between the two sides.
Undermanned, Wests Tigers would eventually concede to Campbell Graham with 20 minutes still to play, but would hold their nerve defensively to walk away with just the six points against them from the personnel disadvantage.
Having only just returned to the field, Brooks' rollercoaster night would take a turn for the better when he reeled in his side's third try — capping off some individual brilliance from Marshall and David Nofoaluma — before AJ Kepaoa's maiden NRL try and Adam Doueihi's sideline conversion turned the game on its head.
Now trailing by just two, Wests Tigers were given a reprieve when Alex Johnston knocked on with the try-line at his mercy but they couldn't make it tell with the visitors holding on to clinch a thrilling 26-24 win in the end.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 26 (Graham 2, Gagai, Allan tries; Reynolds 5/5 goals) def. Wests Tigers 24 (Garner, Talau, Brooks, Kepaoa; Doueihi 4/4 goals) at Bankwest Stadium
Match: Wests Tigers v Rabbitohs
Round 18 -
Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Sydney