South Sydney 38 Canberra 16
South Sydney marches on. For the first time in 25 years and 37 halfbacks, the Rabbitohs have won a finals match.
In doing so they have booked a meeting with Des Hasler's Bulldogs at the same venue, for the right to play in a grand final and, long-suffering fans will hope, a chance to bag that elusive 21st premiership.
NRL - Rabbitohs v Raiders
South Sydney have thumped Canberra 38-16 at ANZ Stadium to book a game with Canterbury next weekend and a possible place in the grand final. Photo: Colleen Petch
Rookie coach Michael Maguire, who will be pitted against two-time premiership winner Hasler, was asked if Canterbury held any fears for his side.
"I wouldn't say fear," he replied. "We're just aware of what they can throw at us. They are a class team, they're minor premiers and they obviously knocked off the premiers from last year so we need to make sure we're really sharp on our game next week."
To get to this point they have defied recent and distant history. Last week they were Rabbits in the headlights, pummelled by a Melbourne side that provided a clinic in how to win finals footy. Maguire's men obviously took the lesson on board. Their reward is a clash with Canterbury, less a game of football and more a rugby league event.
If Souths can draw a crowd of 80,000 when they aren't even involved in the competition, surely they can attract a similar-sized crowd now they are a chance of winning it. Greg Inglis v Ben Barba. James Graham v Sam Burgess. Maguire v Hasler. There isn't an easier sell.
"It's really rewarding to give back to our fans after so many tough years," co-captain Michael Crocker said.
It was a historic night. There was the rarest of beasts, a penalty try, awarded to Inglis. An obligatory video refereeing controversy. And Adam Reynolds, who celebrated the opening try well before grounding the ball, became the second player in Souths' history, behind only Eric Simms, to notch 200 points in a season when he slotted a conversion early in the second half. It was one of many special moments for the halfback, the first since Craig Coleman to play in a winning play-offs side.
When he wasn't scoring them himself he was setting them up with pinpoint passes and kicks. Perhaps only Issac Luke and Sam Burgess shaded him as the best on ground.
"[Daly] Cherry-Evans had a great season last year, and I looked up to him last year, being off the field," Reynolds said.
"I always knew we were capable of going this far. Hopefully we can go one further."
Reminded he wasn't even alive in 1987, the last time Souths had won a finals match, Reynolds replied: "Nah, I was born in '90. It's been a while."
The last time Luke started in a match he was wearing a North Sydney Bears jersey. But in one of five changes to the team named in the program – Nathan Merritt and Jason Clark were late scratchings after failing fitness tests on Thursday night – the injection of Luke straight into proceedings was the most significant. Merritt is a strong chance of returning for what will be a historic occasion. One that the Rabbitohs were at pains to play down.
"We're not worried about those sorts of things," Crocker said. "You guys talk about it all the time. We're a new group, we're a different group and we're all about making our own history and culture at the club."
As is their way, Souths suffered from concentration lapses when well ahead, which will prove costly against the Bulldogs. It was an issue touched upon by Raiders skipper David Shillington when he was quizzed about their prospects for next week.
"They just probably knocked off for patches and we played well," he said. "So if they are going to compete next week it needs to be an 80-minute performance from them because they've got the Bulldogs and they are going really good. I'm sure they will do well."
SOUTH SYDNEY 38 (A Everingham 2 S Burgess D Farrell G Inglis A Reynolds tries A Reynolds 7 goals) bt CANBERRA 16 (S Earl B Ferguson S Williams tries J Dugan 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Tony Archer, Matt Cecchin. Crowd: 35,874.