Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs fought bravely in the grand final but Souths proved too strong, running out 30-6 winners in front of a record crowd of 83,833.
Michael Ennis was ruled out of the grand final with Moses Mbye replacing the injured skipper at hooker. Reni Maitua dropped off the extended bench with the rest of the team as per program.
Souths were the form team of the competition and went into the decider red-hot favourites with the Bulldogs doing an incredible job to make it this far having finished seventh on the premiership table. Shots of Ennis rallying the troops in a dressing room huddle were displayed on the big screen before the team ran out to a sea of blue and white. Game on!
The very first tackle of the match set the tone for a gruelling game of attrition. A big hit from James Graham and Aiden Tolman left Sam Burgess with a suspected fractured cheek bone. He fearlessly played on though, to eventually collect the Clive Churchill Medal for best player on the field.
Bulldogs stood toe to toe with the Rabbitohs for much of the match but three tries from Souths in the last 10 minutes blew the scoreboard out. It wasn’t to be for the Bulldogs with Souths breaking a 43 year premiership drought.
Two mistakes in their first two sets of six put the Bulldogs on the backfoot from the outset but they stood firm in defence. Another mistake not long after looked to have gifted Souths the first try of the match in the 6th minute but after it was sent upstairs to the video referee it showed a high shot from Adam Reynolds forced Sam Perrett to drop the ball. The score remained 0-0.
A penalty in the 18th minute gave the Bulldogs their first attacking opportunity but a T-Rex mistake released the pressure. Souths were given a penalty of their own in the subsequent set and made their field possession count, with Alex Johnston scoring in the 20th minute after sharp dummy half work from Luke Keary. Reynolds failed to add the extras to leave it 4-0.
Greg Inglis made his first real mark on the game in the 25th minute, breaking clear only to be hauled down by Josh Reynolds. A tackle later, Souths were awarded a penalty and took the two making the score 6-0.
A Josh Reynolds 40/20 in the 28th minute gave the Bulldogs the chance to hit back and a strong run and offload from T-Rex looked to have put Josh Morris over but he fumbled the ball over the line.
It was a tense final 10 minutes but neither team could find a way through with the score remaining 6-0 at the break.
Mbye racked up 27 tackles in the first forty minutes while Tolman made 19 tackles along with nine hitups for 71m.
A lucky break early in the first half went Souths’ way, benefiting from a charge down call. They set up camp inside the Bulldog’s 20m for numerous sets but the Bulldogs didn’t budge, eventually forcing an error.
A dropped ball in the 49th minute from Souths only 10m out from their own line gave Bulldogs the chance to post their first points and they took it with both hands! A clever kick in behind the Souths’s defence by Josh Reynolds was collected by T-Rex who dived over to score. Trent Hodkinson was back on kicking duties and converted to level it up at 6-6.
George Burgess soon restored the Rabbitoh’s lead crashing through the Bulldog’s defence to score under the posts. Reynolds converted for a 12-6 lead in the 57th minute.
All of the momentum was now with Souths. They took a shot at penalty goal in the 61st minute after a Graham shoulder charge but Reynolds was unsuccessful from 40m out. In the next set of six the Rabbitohs were awarded another penalty and again elected to take the shot at goal – this time from 43m out. Reynolds nailed it for a 14-6 lead.
A heavy hit from Graham with 13 minutes left on the clock saw Dave Tyrrell lose the ball before being stretchered from the field, resulting in a Bulldog’s scrum feed. They forced two repeat sets thereafter but came up empty-handed. With just nine minutes left the Bulldog’s still found themselves eight behind.
Souths all but sealed the victory in the 73rd minute with Kirisome Auva’a collecting an Inglis kick to score in the corner. Reynolds converted from the sideline for a 20-6 lead.
The bounce of the ball again went Rabbitoh’s way in the 77th minute with Perrett stuck behind the post chasing an awkward kick for Reynolds to swoop on the loose ball to score. He added the two himself for a 26-6 score line.
In the dying stages of the match, Inglis added another four-pointer to extend the lead to 30-6. Sam Burgess was given the conversion but just missed to the left.
Congratulations to South Sydney.
Still proud to be a Bulldog! What a season!
SOUTHS 30 (Johnston, George Burgess, Auva’a, Reynolds, Inglis Tries; Reynolds 5 Goals) def. BULLDOGS 6 (Williams Tries; Hodkinson 1 Goals)
At: ANZ Stadium