Adam Reynolds, Wayne Bennett and Dane Gagai didn’t have the fairytale ending they were looking for, 14-12 in the decider.
However, Reynolds and Gagai were instrumental as South Sydney fell just short, with an inspiring effort in the middle from Cameron Murray summarizing the team’s resilient performance.
With that, Murray announced himself as the clear long-term skipper to replace Reynolds.
Here are all the player ratings for the Rabbitohs.
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1. BLAKE TAFFLE – 7
Taaffe once again seized the opportunity with poise and class. He rarely backed down when taking the Cleary bombs, although he had a few issues, but overall he was safe under the high ball. Taaffe also made some cutting runs and used his pace to sneak through and win crucial yards.
2. ALEX JOHNSTON – 7
Not many chances in the first half for Johnston on the deadly left edge of South Sydney. However, he came up with a massive defense attempt after Dane Gagai tackled Nathan Cleary to make a save. With the Bunnies short on the left, Gagai rushed out and forced Paul Momirovski into a foul. Johnston’s smooth finish saw him settle into the left corner to score the second try of the evening.
3. GAGAI DATA – 8
An early setback for Gagai who was forced out with a headbutt in the first half. However, he returned soon after and was crucial when he came up with a try-saving on Cleary, who backed up to support after a break from Stephen Crichton. Also some strong passes from Gagai, who had two tackle busts in the first half. He continued to be hard to put down in second, finishing the game with nine tackle busts.
4. CAMPBELL GRAHAM – 6.5
Graham is one of the best defensive centers in the game and showed it early on with bruises on one-on-one hits. However, the center came up with an unusually poor reading in the run-up to Penrith’s first attempt of the evening. Further was solid and made some strong runs.
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5. JAXSON PAULO – 6.5
Paulo rolled up his sleeves to deliver crucial yards from the South Sydney half. He also took advantage of some early shifts from the Rabbitohs halves, finishing the first half with two linebreaks. He did well to take a hard Cleary bomb, but had the ball knocked out by Viliame Kikau to see Penrith earn a repeat set. Paulo was later contacted by Matt Burton after taking a Cleary kick, but there was little he could do.
6. CODY WALKER – 8
Walker silenced his critics last week and was once again heavily involved in the opening half. The five-eighth picked his moments to take over the line and it led to South Sydney’s first points of the night as he split the Panthers defense to score a sensational individual try. Walker proved to be a handful to put down, with five tackle breaks in the first half alone. The five-eighth remained South Sydney’s most dangerous player into the second half, but got a poorly executed pass that was picked by Stephen Crichton for a try. It was a costly split-second mistake, but hard to be too strict for Walker, who was trying to get up at the big moment as so many wanted. He quickly made up for it as he took the ball to the line and created space to corner Johnston. Walker later had another deplorable moment when the Rabbitohs threatened to score and threw the ball out.
7. ADAM REYNOLDS – 8
Injury – what injury? Reynolds hardly seemed limited in the first half, as he constantly threatened his running game. The nimble halfback also impressed from the boot and ball in hand, setting up a try and linebreak in the first 40. An unfortunate miss of the boot was the difference, but with 623 pedaling metres, it was an incredible effort.
8. MARK NICHOLLS – 6.5
The Panthers put the pressure on the Rabbitohs early on and forced a second straight outage, only before Nicholls came up with a crucial one-on-one theft. Like partner of the other halves Tevita Tatola, it was all early in defense for Nicholls with 17 tackles from just as many minutes. Nicholls finished in 68 yards with Souths struggling to get much of the ball.
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9. DAMIEN COOK – 8
Showing a glimpse of his best in the first half, Cook took the line and delivered solid service. He continued to threaten the Panthers with his speed, but struggled for opportunities as Penrith dominated possession. A solid defensive performance as usual from Cook, who finished the game with 41 tackles.
10. TEVITA TATOLA – 7.5″
In a defensive rut, Tatola was unable to make the same impact with ball in hand and instead Nicholls was a tackling machine early on. However, came home strong in the second half to register another 107 yards with 34 tackles.
11. KEAON KOLOAMATANGI – 7
Played with great energy, running 55 yards in the first half with 17 tackles. Quick reflexes to take a crucial catch on a Cleary kick in the later stages of the second half. He finished with 76 meters in a solid display.
12. JAYDN SU’A – 7
Su’A has improved a lot since his return to the NRL and has once again put in a solid display with some strong carries on the edge. He finished with similar numbers to Koloamatangi, finishing with 85 yards and 29 tackles.
13. CAMERON MURRAY – 9
Murray was tireless in defense with a massive opening half, making 30 tackles and missing just one. He finished with 51 tackles. There weren’t many chances for his ball game, but the fast ball play was again crucial to give South Sydney a lead. A huge run that almost ended in a try-save for a tackle from Dylan Edwards. He is the perfect replacement for Reynolds as captain.
14. BENJI MARSHALL – 3
Marshall filled in the centers for Gagai during the opening half while he had his head injury assessment. There were few problems with the veteran taking the right options and doing what he had to do without overplaying his hand. Anders was then injected into the game with 10 minutes to go, but couldn’t think of much to save the day.
15. JACOB HOST – 5
Host was unable to make the same impact as Burgess off the bench, finishing with 36 yards and 16 tackles while missing four.
16. THOMAS BURGESS – 8
Another handy stint in the first half from the bench for Burgess, who managed to get 43 meters out of 20 minutes. He continued to work into the second half, delivering a vital impact through the middle to finish at 116 metres.
17. JAI ARROW – 5
Brought some much needed aggression and fire from the junction but was ruled out after a headbutt. He finished with 34 yards and 13 tackles in his short stint on the field.