South Sydney’s departing halfback Adam Reynolds barely kicked a ball but it didn’t matter as his Rabbitohs brushed aside Manly 36-16 to break a run of three-straight NRL preliminary final losses.
Captain Reynolds was clearly hampered, with fullback Blake Taaffe assuming goal-kicking duties and five-eighth Cody Walker calling the shots in general play as Friday night’s Suncorp Stadium rout earned the Rabbitohs a grand final berth.
That pair, along with game-breaking hooker Damien Cook, ensured the No.7 will get a crack at a second premiership before leaving for Brisbane next season.
In just his seventh game, Taaffe was sublime in place of suspended Latrell Mitchell, and Walker scored two first-half tries to set up a date with either Penrith or Melbourne in next Sunday’s title decider.
The victory earned record-breaking Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett a shot at an eighth title in a 10th grand final appearance.
He’ll be the first to coach four different clubs in a grand final and potentially the first to win with three different clubs.
Not Manly’s night
Manly’s bus was stuck in traffic in a delay that pushed the game back 15 minutes and their night didn’t improve, Hasler’s men denied two tries in a first half that saw them with just 36 per cent of the ball.
Walker scored after his own grubber kick after a pin-ball on the line and then, after Reuben Garrick had a try disallowed because of an obstruction, the Rabbitohs crossed again through Alex Johnston.
Tom Trbojevic had put Garrick over for the first disallowed try and the Manly fullback then had one of his own turned away, spilling the ball with three desperate Rabbitohs clinging on as he fell over the line.
Souths hooker Cook’s bit of brilliance, grubbering on the run off his non-preferred left foot, set up Walker’s second try before Jaxson Paulo’s try made it 22-0 at halftime.
A Manly comeback was given life when winger Garrick scored first after the break, but that was snuffed out when Campbell Graham barged over.
Souths fans who made up the bulk of the 26,249-strong crowd in Brisbane, could relax when Paulo back-peddled almost 10 metres to the line after catching a Reynolds bomb to score in a fashion that even had Bennett smirking.
Late frustrations showed when Manly’s Josh Aloiai was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle.
Trbojevic did have some joy with a runaway try, his 28th this season, breaking Phil Blake’s club record before Garrick and Johnston both completed try doubles at the death.
Early in the match there were concerns for Sean Keppie when play wasn’t stopped for the concussed Manly forward as Souths peppered the line around him.