When South Sydney appeared to be on pace for a rare win over the Melbourne Storm, it was coach Craig Bellamy’s side which endured with fewer errors in a 22-16 win at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.
The Rabbitohs – who had won their last five matches coming into this game – led 14-10 at the break, in a margin which flattered the Storm as South Sydney dominated in team possession and with what they were able to do with the ball in the initial 40 minutes of play.
However, as the rain fell heavily around ANZ Stadium, the Rabbitohs’ odds of victory slipped and slid away.
“A lot of effort from us, but also a lot of errors. We just cannot do that,” said South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett afterwards.
“At the end of the day, we put ourselves under more pressure than we did Melbourne. And you just cannot do that against them,” added Bennett.
Tries from Tino Faasuamaleaui and Cameron Munster after halftime paced the Storm to a win that strengthened its grip on second place on the NRL ladder, but they also cleaned up their overall game to limit their errors as well.
But as the Storm went on to beat South Sydney for the 28th time in 33 overall meetings and nine wins in the teams’ last ten head-to-head games, captain Cam Smith credited his teammates in another intangible area that has been an integral element of the Storm’s culture over the years: perseverance.
“This was a typical Storm-Rabbitohs game – but I was just really pleased with our fightback that we showed in the second half,” said Smith.
“A lot of credit goes to the other guys in our spine, such as [Ryan] Papenhuysen, Jahrome Hughes and Cameron Munster. I felt that they really stood up, they did a great job of grinding away.
“I knew if we really hung in there and kept fighting, that the points would come,” added Smith.
“We didn’t get off to a great start, they were all over us early, we were just a more steady team,” said Bellamy.
“We were quite patient in the end,” the Storm coach added.
However, that patience was waiting at the end of a long road.
The most significant physical and mental first-half Melbourne errors led to both scoring plays for South Sydney, with Adam Reynolds’ opening penalty goal coming as the result of an uncharacteristic Smith high tackle, and Campbell Graham’s opening try for the Rabbitohs coming courtesy of Isaac Lumelume not acting quickly enough to escort the ball over the end line.
Then, as South Sydney were in the midst of compiling huge advantages in possession and metres gained, the remainder of the opening 40 minutes was left to an almighty battle for momentum.
Melbourne’s speed of mind and speed afoot got them back into the game before halftime, when Papenhuysen punched his run over the try line with 12 minutes remaining before the break after Kenny Bromwich quickly fed Josh Addo-Carr to run deeply into open space before dishing off to Papenhuysen.
Just when Melbourne appeared to have gained a momentum shift before halftime, the Rabbitohs negated that when Cody Walker busted through on a line break as South Sydney’s lead was extended to 14-6 following Reynolds’ conversion.
Papenhuysen’s playmaking and Olam’s speedy finishing run would ensure that the Storm would get that key momentum swing back, on the last play before the teams hit the sheds, although Smith would miss the conversion to keep the scores at 14-10 in favour of South Sydney.
The Storm were fortunate to be trailing by just the four points, as the players themselves knew it could have been a lot worse.
“We just needed some patience with the football. In the first half, we had very little of the football, and it’s very hard to implement of execute any sort of game plan when you’re stuck in your own end like we were,” said Smith.
Errors would continue for both sides as the second half started. However, the Rabbitohs’ miscues would have a greater impact upon the match’s result.
Christian Welch went on report for a high tackle that would lead to another Reynolds penalty goal, but the Rabbitohs would also commit their own share of physical errors. The butterfingers of Corey Allen and Jaxon Paulo would combine to hand the ball back to Melbourne on one play deep in Storm territory to leave a try begging that could have extended the game beyond Melbourne’s reach.
The Storm capitalised on the Rabbitohs’ errors, when Smith picked out the powerful plowing run of Faasuamaleaui with 20 minutes to go – and with Smith’s conversion, the match was level.
Five minutes later, the Storm’s momentum swing was complete, with Munster finishing off a three-man down-the-middle move involving Smith and Papenhuysen to give them the lead for the first time of the evening, at 22-16 with Smith’s conversion.
When two knock-on infractions in the game’s last few minutes from Walker and Graham were committed deep into attack, that would eventually ensure a Storm win.
At the end of the night, it was a case of errors, who made fewer of them and when they were being made – while Melbourne made their early that led to the Rabbitohs’ lead at that point, South Sydney became its own worst enemies with critical errors when the game was on the line.
“We let them back into the match. Just silly errors by us that allowed them to have good field position, and that’s why they’ve been a top-four side all year,” said Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook afterwards.
“We practice these scenarios in training, and it just goes to show that if you prepare for it, it likely comes up in games,” said Papenhuysen.