South Sydney rabbitohs vs Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium SydneyPhotography Brendan Espositosmh,22 September,2012

Easy pickings … Ben Barba takes a high ball. Photo: Brendan Esposito

OH, the cruelty of it. For 23 years South Sydney had waited for this opportunity, on such a grand stage. It took little more than 23 minutes for the dream to come unstuck. For sure, the Rabbitohs continued to keep their noses in front beyond that moment, holding an 8-4 advantage until the onslaught of Canterbury-Bankstown scoring before half-time made quick work of their lead.

But when their diminutive general, Adam Reynolds, went down in a crumpled heap midway through the first half thousands of South Sydney heads dipped in unison.

They had turned up in their greatest numbers in modern history wanting to believe they might just see the cardinal and myrtle reach a first grand final since the Vietnam War. Much of that ambition, however quixotically, rested with Reynolds, and justifiably so after a debut season in which he was one of the revelations of the competition.

Dumbfounded ... Russell Crowe last night.

Dumbfounded ... Russell Crowe last night. Photo: Mark Kolbe

What happened to their halfback last night was a dramatic, unfair deviation from the fairytale script, as owner Russell Crowe would have realised immediately from his balcony viewing point. The sight of the 22-year-old being helped from ANZ Stadium by two trainers was bad news however you looked at it. He had just injured a hamstring in the most innocuous of circumstances, with not another soul in proximity to him as he chased down a delightfully weighted grubber kick to the Bulldogs' in-goal.

Reynolds's teammates duly forced a drop-out but any back-slapping at that achievement was put on hold by the discomfort on the No.7's face. The fashion in which he left the field, seemingly unable to walk, suggested that even if they had have gone on to upset Des Hasler's electrifying side, Reynolds would have been watching from the sidelines next Sunday.

It was not the end the Alexandria Rovers junior deserved after a landmark season in which he burst from anonymity to become Souths' best halfback in a generation.

Souths coach Michael Maguire admitted the loss of Reynolds was a game-changer.

''It changed our structures we were going to throw at them,'' said Maguire, confirming Reynolds had torn his hamstring. ''But I'm really proud at what they've created here at the club and the direction that we are heading. Tonight it was just unfortunate losing our half … but we still showed a lot of fight. Right to the end Greg [Inglis] trying to stop that try, that is what this club is about now.''

Only moments before pulling up suddenly, Reynolds had given Souths a four-point lead with a penalty kick that continued his season-long trend of razor sharpness with the boot. The dribbling kick that preceded the injury was presented with just the kind of cultured touch, defying the lack of NRL experience, with which he has steered Maguire's team around for most of this campaign.

There was every expectation, that having wrestled back the ascendancy from a Bulldogs side that had begun in a mad sprint, they might just pull it off. It was clear, however, that with Reynolds off the field Souths were nigh on rudderless. He and John Sutton, their five-eighth, had played every game this season in the halves, and combined well, but without one piece of that puzzle there was understandable disjointedness. And there was no Plan B.

Reynolds returned to the bench in the second half but was never going to come back. As the minutes ticked down his face was broadcast on the big screens at either end of the ground. Clearly, he was not a happy camper but this is a tough, young player who knows heartbreak, having missed all of last season with a major knee injury. Like then, he will be back, and much sooner.

Souths, their wait prolonged, at least know that with Reynolds they can make it back here.