South Sydney Rabbitohs survived a late fightback from Wests Tigers to move above their opponents in the NRL table and into the top eight.
They were dominant for most of the game and Dane Gagai’s first-ever NRL hat-trick set them on course for a fourth win in five matches.
Having underwhelmed for so long, Wests made a late charge but fell short as they suffered defeat for the second week in a row.
Meanwhile, Gold Coast Titans turned around a nightmare start to record their first home win in more than a year, beating New Zealand Warriors 16-12.
Souths find their stride
The match was brought to life in the sixth minute when the Rabbitohs’ Campbell Graham, picking up a loose ball on ground, was accidently kicked in the head by Josh Reynolds as he missed the ball with his boot. The referee only gave a penalty but it sparked clashes between the sides, and Latrell Mitchell was very fortunate to get away with a swinging arm to Reynolds’ head in retaliation.
Soon after South Sydney were in front as another penalty, when Josh Alolai stripped the ball from Tom Burgess, allowed Adam Reynolds to kick the first two points.
Wayne Bennett’s side were the better throughout the first half although they head to wait until past the half-hour to score their first try. The closest they came before that was when their former player Adam Doueihi stopped Reynolds from scoring, the scrum-half brilliantly rounding Luke Brooks but seeing his legs dragged into touch by his old team-mate.
Things finally clicked in attack for the Rabbitohs in the final 10 minutes of the half. A Luke Garner tip tackle gave them good attacking position and, after Mitchell was desperately halted by scrambling defence, the ball was moved right and Cody Walker slipped Gagai into the corner.
Six minutes later the same man was in again. David Nofoaluma compounded his team’s poor first half with an incorrect play-the-ball, and Mitchell made the most of it with a superb cut-out pass under pressure to give winger Gagai his second.
Gagai secures hat-trick
Wests needed some desperate defending just to keep themselves in the game in the opening minutes of the second half. Walker’s sensational run down the middle saw him skip away from two defenders, but two more made it to the line in time to challenge him and prevent the grounding.
They didn’t hold out for long though, with Reynolds then given too much time to pick out another perfect cut-out pass. James Roberts was this time the beneficiary as he accelerated down the right wing and evaded two flying tackles to put his side further ahead.
The Tigers were hanging on just to keep the score down but they were exposed down their left side once more when Reynolds again found Gagai for his treble. At 18-0 down, they looked without a hope.
An unlikely fightback was sparked by prop Josh Alolai, who burst his way through two defenders to score. Moses Mbye added the conversion, something Reynolds had been unable to do for South Sydney in any of his four attempts, and suddenly there were only two scores on it.
They then scored a fine second try as Oliver Clark kept the ball alive with an offload, Brooks picked out Mbye with a cut-out pass and the centre drew in the defender before slipping it to Reece Hoffman for a try on the 19-year-old’s NRL debut.
Mbye’s missed conversion was a setback, keeping it at two scores, and they knew it wouldn’t be their night when the video referee denied them another try. Michael Chee-Kam slid in to score in the corner, but the ball had got there from the hand of Nofoaluma in the air and the award of a knock-on finished their hopes.
Titans break home duck
In the earlier kick-off, Gold Coast recovered from a 12-0 deficit after just eight minutes to record a dramatic late win, only their third of the season and their first at home since April 2019.
New Zealand Warriors dominated the opening stages, with captain Roger Tuivesa-Sheck speeding over for his first try of the season and the 50th of his career after just three minutes. That was soon added to by Ken Maumolo after a perfectly-timed Peta Hiku pass, with Chanel Harris-Tavita converting both tries from out wide.
The Titans didn’t drop their heads though, and after some good pressure they got on the board with Anthony Don cutting inside a defender and planting the ball on the line. Ashley Taylor converted to make it 12-6, and it remained that way to the break after Jack Hetherington was controversially denied a first NRL try by the video referee.
Gold Coast narrowed the difference to just a couple of points eight minutes into the second half, with Taylor’s grubber being brilliantly knocked back by Tyrone Peachey for Sam Stone to score.
The Warriors held out gamely for much of the second half but were finally beaten five minutes from time. Jamal Fogerty aimed a grubber kick and opposite scrum-half Blake Green tried to push it behind the in-goal without success, allowing Beau Fermor to touch down the winning try for Justin Holbrook’s side.