Adam Reynolds with one foot and Greg Inglis on one leg combined to all but secure South Sydney a top-two finish with a 28-20 win over Canterbury in a sumptuous NRL finals entree.
In a result which will virtually put paid to the Bulldogs’ top-four hopes, the Rabbitohs finished the stronger in an absorbing duel – the two sides alternating tryscorers in a second half in which Souths never managed to get more than 10 points in front.
It was down to just a converted try when Mitch Brown scored his second of the night nine minutes from fulltime, but the Bulldogs’ inability to hold onto the ball during the opening half-hour proved costly.
It was only fitting then that their last crack at the Bunnies’ line ended with Michael Ennis innocuously knocking-on from dummy-half with five minutes to go.
The Rabbitohs will have some concerns over the health of Inglis, however, the Queensland and Australian Test star limping noticeably throughout the second half after copping yet another knock on the right knee.
It is the same knee which caused him to miss four games after Origin III – of which the Bunnies lost three matches – but he was good enough on one leg to set up second-half tries for Isaac Luke and Bryson Goodwin.
If Inglis dominated the second stanza, it was Reynolds who controlled the first – on the same ground and against the same opposition that a hamstring injury in last year’s preliminary final ended the Bunnies’ premiership hopes.
A year on and the Rabbitohs appear a more formidable prospect, with Reynolds again a key – a crucial 40-20 in the lead-up to Dylan Farrell’s opening try backed up by a deft grubber to set up Dylan Walker for a 12-0 lead.
The Bulldogs scored either side of the break as an epic arm wrestle ensued, the Rabbitohs with the final say when Reynolds made it a perfect six from six with the boot with a penalty on fulltime.
In more bad news for the Bulldogs, both Frank Pritchard and Josh Reynolds were both put on report for shoulder charges, while Tim Browne could be in strife for a leg pull on clearly incapacitated Inglis.
Souths coach Michael Maguire admitted the health of Inglis remained a concern, but he refused to buy into the leg-pull drama that also cost his prop Jeff Lima a one-week ban.
“I’m not going to make a comment about those,” he said of the incident.
“I need to give him (Inglis) a bit of a rap … Greggy’s battled with that knee all week.
“We’ve got to really be aware of how we’re training him.
“He hasn’t trained a lot this week so to get out and do the things he did tonight is a real credit to all the players.
“They want to be out there.”
Asked if he would consider giving Inglis a week off in the lead-up to the finals, Maguire said:
“We’ll assess it after tonight and go through the week and if there’s that chance we’ll have a look at it.
“I know Greg wants to play.”
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler said his side paid the price for its first-half struggles.
“There’s no doubt about the effort there but I think we’ve probably got about five bullets in our foot at the moment,” Hasler said.
“We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot.”