Somewhere, despite “wishing the boys all the well”, Sam Burgess must have been quietly nodding his head. The Rabbitohs had been bruised, they’re now broken. You can talk about circling the wagons, deploying a siege mentality, and backs against the wall, but that’s exactly what it is: talk.
On a night which was supposed to end a torrent of headlines about their club legend and assistant coach walking out on the club, the other assistant challenged whether he still wants to be here, their biggest weapon sitting out through suspension for a needless elbow, and “Rod Who’s” loose lips, here’s another one: South Sydney’s season is over.
How did it come to this? How did the team which led the competition after 11 rounds, with three byes still up its sleeve, only make it to September 1? That will be for the club and coach Jason Demetriou to sift through in the coming weeks.
South Sydney’s 26-12 loss to bitter rivals the Roosters, who have won their past five games, gives Trent Robinson’s side hope of a finals miracle. The Roosters haven’t been in the top eight since round 10 and will make the play-offs if either the Cowboys lose to the Panthers on Saturday night, or the Raiders are beaten by the Sharks on Sunday.
But on Friday night at Accor Stadium, in front of an underwhelming crowd of 36,263, the story is undoubtedly how the Rabbitohs ran out of chances. In 26 rounds, Souths spent one week out of the top eight. This makes it two, and it’s the one that really counts.
Things didn’t go right on the night it mattered.
Suspended Latrell Mitchell’s replacement, Blake Taaffe, went off concussed after 18 minutes and didn’t return. It meant the NRL’s best try-scoring winger, Alex Johnston, had to play fullback, with Isaiah Tass on the wing and Michael Chee Kam in the centres. Chee Kam looked like he’d never met Cody Walker, judging by the way he lagged behind and pulled his hands out of the way when chances on the usually robotic left loomed, notwithstanding the one try he did score.
That try gave life to the Rabbitohs at 16-12 down, with all the momentum and more than 20 minutes left, but you reap what you sow. South Sydney’s season has been spiralling for weeks, and this was the final exclamation mark.