In spite of sending his good wishes towards his former teammates, one can’t help but think Sam Burgess might have felt a sense of quiet acknowledgment regarding his former team’s downfall. The Rabbitohs have transitioned from a position of having been bruised to now being entirely shattered. You can debate about developing a defensive mindset, creating a siege mentality, or deriving inspiration from being backed into a corner — the truth of the matter is that all this is merely discourse.
The intended end to a series of controversial headlines surrounding the departure of their club legend and assistant coach didn’t pan out as expected. The Rabbitohs had to contend with yet another scandal — questioning their other assistant coach’s commitment, their most valuable player sitting on the bench due to a suspension for an unnecessary elbow manoeuvre, and inflammatory comments from “Rod Who”. Ultimately, it all leads to the unfortunate conclusion that the Rabbitohs‘ season has come to a halt, way ahead of schedule.
How did a squad that was leading the competition after 11 rounds, with three byes still remaining, only last till September 1? This puzzling downfall is something that the club and coach Jason Demetriou will be dissecting over the next few weeks.
The loss of the Rabbitohs, 26-12, at Accor Stadium to their fierce opponents, the Roosters, who have emerged victorious in their last five matches, provides a beacon of hope for the Trent Robinson-led squad for a finals miracle. The Roosters, who haven’t made it in the top eight since round 10, will secure a play-off spot if either the Cowboys lose to the Panthers on Saturday night or the Raiders are bested by the Sharks on Sunday.
However, the main narrative of the Friday night game at Accor Stadium, was how the Rabbitohs exhausted all their opportunities. In a season spanning 26 rounds, the Rabbitohs were outside the top eight for merely a week. This brings their tally to two, with the second unfortunately being the one that truly matters.
Things simply didn’t come together when it was necessary.
Latrell Mitchell‘s alternate, Blake Taaffe, was taken off the field 18 minutes in due to concussion and didn’t make a come back. The best try-scoring winger of the NRL, Alex Johnston, was shifted to fullback, with Isaiah Tass on the wing and Michael Chee Kam in the centres. Chee Kam seemed to have barely met Cody Walker, apparent from his lagging behind and evading chances when opportunities arose on their usually clockwork left, except for the single try he scored.
With a scoreline reading 16-12 in favour of the opposition, that try breathed life into the Rabbitohs, giving them the momentum with more than 20 minutes to spare. Yet, one cannot escape the outcomes of one’s actions. The Rabbitoh’s season has been on a downhill trajectory for weeks and the match put the final full stop on their tale.
With minor friction between Billy Smith and Campbell Graham, who has been struggling with a sternum problem for over half the season, and the exceptional performance by Sam Walker on his return in his second NRL match after being dropped and suffering from an ACL sprain, amplified their consolation in the second half. Finally, the Rabbitohs showed some spirit after Walker’s try, alas it was just too late.
Sometimes a stark reminder surfaces of what truly matters. It doesn’t always boil down to securing a finals spot against your arch-rivals in the last round, especially when your assistant coach has just departed. At the end of the day, it’s just life.
The Rabbitohs‘ fans stood silently for a minute in remembrance of their premiership winner, Kyle Turner, who tragically passed away last month. Turner, lovingly known as Big Dog was remembered for his exceptionally large heart. His legacy was celebrated with a round of applause for 60 seconds at the 15-minute mark, in recognition of the number he wore during their triumphant 2014 season.
Despite their sentimental tribute, the Rabbitohs were unable to secure a lead before half-time. A late try from Junior Pauga in the first half gave the Roosters a four-point lead, which built upon earlier scores by Rabbitohs‘ captain, Cameron Murray and Corey Allan‘s opener. The Roosters capitalised on their lead in the second half, leaving the Rabbitohs bereft of any credible strategies.
Big Sam might have sent his good wishes, but his intuition was correct: all is not well at The Burrow.
In Friday’s clash, the Sydney Roosters scored 26 points (Corey Allan, Junior Pauga, James Tedesco, Billy Smith, Sam Walker; Joseph Suaalii scoring 3 goals) against South Sydney Rabbitohs‘ 12 points (Cameron Murray, Michael Chee Kam; Lachlan Ilias sinking 2 goals) at the Accor Stadium. Adam Gee officiated the match, which drew a relatively subdued crowd of 36,263 spectators.