Rabbitohs 24 Warriors 22
Victories are becoming rare and beautiful things for Matt Elliott but the Warriors coach says his team played better in today's loss to the Rabbitohs than in last weekend's win over the Cowboys, their only positive result of the season.
Like last week, also at Mt Smart, the Warriors began a comeback after falling behind by 12 points. This time, however, they relinquished the lead almost as soon as they took it thanks to George Burgess' try and Adam Reynolds' conversion with 12 minutes left.
In between there was plenty to be pleased about and the crowd of 13,500 were entertained by an eight-try exhibition which featured the best, but also the worst, of the Warriors.
So dominant in the first half in which they went out to an 18-6 lead, the Rabbitohs didn't see the ball in the third quarter.
First the impressive Ngani Laumape scored his first try for the Warriors, then Konrad Hurrell and Pita Godinet followed in quick succession. With Shaun Johnson converting three of the four in an improved goalkicking performance, it seemed the Warriors were on target for an extraordinary victory over a Rabbitohs team yet to lose this season.
"I felt like we played better than we did last week, but the improvements we were looking to make we didn't quite achieve,'' said Elliott. ``I'm really satisfied with the effort we put in [but] obviously I'm disappointed that we didn't get the result.''
The Warriors had only themselves to blame for the Rabbitohs' first two tries.
Two passes from Kevin Locke and Ben Matulino found two of the quickest Rabbitohs in Nathan Merritt and Greg Inglis and it was 12-0 thanks to two conversions from the freakishly accurate Adam Reynolds.
Remarkably, it was Merritt's eighth try in five games. For Inglis, who ran in from 80m, it was his 100th career try.
Matulino, who had been looking to offload under pressure, redeemed himself with a try when running on to Shaun Johnson's pass and over Inglis to score by the posts.
However, he was once more the villain when he coughed up the ball from the re-start, although Elliott felt it was illegally stripped.
In the second half, all change. Hurrell began doing his best work, which consists of running straight and hard. Elijah Taylor, playing at loose forward, featured more and more, and the rookie Laumape was everywhere on defence.
"As a team... it would have been nice to show a little bit more poise,'' Elliott added. ``But it didn't look like we gave up did we? And that was just as important for us.''
The Warriors had been boosted by the return of prop Russell Packer, back earlier than expected from a biceps injury, and winger Manu Vatuvei. Both made their presence felt, the latter more on defence than attack.
"Credit to the Warriors, they managed to frustrate us and hold on to the ball for a fair period of that second half,'' Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire said. "They have the ability to make some uncanny plays - small kicks and offloads.''
Elliott missed Jacob Lillyman, who has an ankle injury, but he could be available for next Saturday's away match against fellow strugglers Canberra. The news isn't as good for Taylor, who has rib damage.
He's still waiting to find out if he'll be in charge of St George Illawarra next year, but coach Steve Price continues to have the wood on Wayne Bennett's Newcastle as the Dragons held off the Knights with a breathless 19-16 win at WIN Jubilee Oval in Sydney yesterday.
Price was Bennett's assistant when the joint-venture won the 2010 grand final and was then handed the reins when the seven-time premiership winner moved north in 2011. But his tenure has not been a smooth one with the club openly courting Melbourne's Craig Bellamy and refusing to guarantee his future after opening the season with three successive losses, having missed out on the finals last year.
But in three meetings with his former boss Price is yet to taste defeat and he'll be able sleep a little easier as he side chalked up a second successive and deserved victory in front of a crowd of 14,226.
The Dragons led 9-0 at halftime but Bennett's side were much improved after the break. Despite the Knights throwing everything at the Dragons in the final stages, the defence held.
Rabbitohs 24 (Nathan Merritt, Greg Inglis, Bryson Goodwin, George Burgess tries; Adam Reynolds 3 goals)
Warriors 22 (Ben Matulino, Ngani Laumape, Konrad Hurrell, Pita Godinet tries; Shaun Johnson 3 goals)