For the first time since 2008, the Cronulla Sharks are in the playoffs.
The equation was simple: If you win, you're in. They did it the tough way last night, coming from behind against one of the premiership fancies.
When South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds slotted a 39-metre field goal to pinch the lead in the 66th minute, the hosts were staring at the prospect of losing their fifth match from their past six starts. Instead, they will be playing in September.
Tyson Frizell was not named in the team to play South Sydney. He will not remain in the Shire next year.
But the unheralded backrower was an unlikely hero, crashing over for the decisive try and raising hopes of a top-four finish.
For the past three weeks, Ben Ross has been playing with a broken hand. Finally, he succumbed to the injury to give Frizell another shot. He did not disappoint, making 16 hit ups for 148 metres, as well as 20 tackles.
The Bunnies have now lost their past two games and desperately need to regroup against Parramatta next Sunday.
The Rabbitohs welcomed back two of their five co-captains. Roy Asotasi returned from what was initially diagnosed as a season-ending injury after proving his fitness for the North Sydney Bears.
And Greg Inglis, fresh from a four-week suspension for that shoulder charge, was back for the Bunnies.
Reflecting on the round nine encounter between the teams, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan told the Sharks News match program: "I thought we did a pretty good job against Inglis in the first game".
On that occasion, the Queensland star scored three tries. But this time around, he was subdued by his own - and Flanagan's - standards.
This match also put the Rabbitohs' last one into context. Was their loss to Manly, their first in seven matches, an aberration?
The start of a march towards Glory, Glory? The answer is perhaps a bit of both. But given the quality of their past opponents, they will need to lift considerably in the run to the finals.
Andrew Fifita's first touch was a memorable one. Having just come off the bench, he went over after halfback Jeff Robson cleared his path by committing defenders on a clever dart.
It took Souths a long time to settle into their rhythm. There were uncharacteristic errors everywhere - Dave Taylor muffed the kick-off reception, Sam Burgess was forced to hoof the ball downfield when caught with the ball on the last tackle and there was more chance of seeing George Piggins in the stands than the Bunnies in good field position.
But they have too many good players to shut down completely. Desperately seeking inspiration, Sam Burgess stood up.
The English forward celebrated his recent re-signing with a powerful solo try after hafltime, brushing past Paul Gallen, John Morris and Andrew Fifita on his way to the tryline.
But it was the only time they breached a tough Cronulla defence.
It was an important night also for the man upstairs. After a raft of contentious video refereeing decisions, officials were forced into action.
This is the first match where NRL whistleblowers were ordered into the video referee's box to give their comrades a hand. On this occasion Jared Maxwell kept Russell Smith company in the box.
Mercifully, their shift ended without incident.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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