The Rabbitohs beat the Warriors 32-30 thanks to a masterclass from Cody Walker, while Shaun Johnson and the Warriors defense were again found wanting, despite an epic comeback.
Cody Walker scored his first game as captain in style with an assist for Taane Milne to cross into the corner and give Souths a 4-0 lead.
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Milne had two tries in 14 minutes after earning an assist from full-back Blake Taaffe to make it 8-0.
Walker had his second assist of the afternoon when he produced a brilliant cut pass for Alex Johnston to walk around untouched.
Damien Cook then completed a long range move from Souths with a barn run to the line taking several Warriors with him.
Marcelo Montoya finally got the Warriors on the board with the final play of the first half to score in the corner and make it 26-6 at the break.
The Souths picked up where they left off in the second half with Lachlan Ilias, who was denied an earlier try by doing just enough to score and make it 32-6.
The Warriors gave themselves dim hopes of a comeback with Adam Pompey finishing off a pinpoint kick from Reece Walsh to cut the deficit to 32-12.
Jazz Tevaga dived close to cut the lead to 32-18 and set up a nervous finish for Souths.
Daejarn Asi produced a brilliant solo try to make it an eight-point game with five minutes remaining.
Montoya scored his second to make it a two-point game with just over a minute on the clock as the Warriors headed home.
Johnson attempted a two-point field goal on the last play of the game, but a charge and an accidental offside was enough to send Souths home in a thriller.
Here are the main takeaways from the game.
WALKER SHINES WITH CAPTAIN
Many eyebrows were raised when Cody Walker was named Cameron Murray’s replacement captain, but he repaid Jason Demetriou’s faith in a stunning return to form.
Walker put his frustrated performances of late behind him with three assists and three assists in one of his best games of the season.
Michael Ennis has praised Walker for owning the kicking game and believes his passing game stems from that.
“What a first half that was from Cody Walker,” Ennis said.
“He was absolutely exceptional. He looked great today. I really appreciated Cody’s state of mind today.
“He was happy to kick around the corners and really stepped up and relieved Ilias.”
Benji Marshall thinks the added responsibility suited Walker, who flawlessly underestimated his hand and took the right option on most occasions.
“It was a great start from Cody Walker,” Marshall said.
“There was a lot of talk about Cody not being himself and not playing like him, but I thought the responsibility of being captain really calmed him down.
“I think he was very patient today and direct and took good options.
“His kicking game was outstanding. With Cameron Murray out, someone had to get up and Cody Walker did a great job.
“Cody Walker playing on the front foot is so dangerous.”
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JOHNSON DISAPPEARS AGAIN AS WARRIORS DEFENSE CAPITULATES
For the second week in a row, Shaun Johnson failed to impose his authority on the game and lead the Warriors, who were again dismal in defense against Souths, despite a fiery second-half comeback.
The Warriors are desperate to address their early games and sometimes paper-thin defense after Damien Cook, the shortest man on the pitch, took five Warriors with him in the first half.
Michael Ennis blasted the Warriors’ weak defense, especially in the first half.
“A shocking first half from the Warriors,” Ennis said.
“It seems like another one of those Warriors type performances.
“Cook’s essay summed it up. He went through five Warriors defensemen. He was more desperate and hungry and there’s more intensity to the Rabbitohs.
“They just had the Warriors on the rack.”
To their credit, the Warriors fought back in the second half, but it was too little too late and Corey Parker criticized Johnson for not taking control of his team.
“The Warriors defense was diabolical in the first half,” Parker said.
“We saw Johnson’s stats in the first half and he had a point, 11 yards and a missed tackle.
“But all these statistics are irrelevant. He needs his hands on the ball and he has to dictate to his team. He has to put the ball in his hands in the fifth game and kick them into the corners.
“He has to play to his strengths. He didn’t do that. His team needs him.
Johnson has 72 yards on the run but no try involvements and his kicking game was poor as he took the wrong options repeatedly.
His failure to score what could have been a winning try summed up his clumsy display.
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MILNE AND PAULO SHINE IN REVAMPED BACKLINE
The Rabbitohs have reaped the benefits of a backline shake-up with Taane Milne shining on the wing and Jaxson Paulo having his best game through the middle.
The Souths missed Dane Gagai’s influence this year, but after cutting and changing their center pairs, they seem to have hit the right combination.
Benji Marshall believes the changes from the baseline have relieved Cody Walker and allowed him to use the right options as Souths’ clumsy attack improved significantly, albeit against a poor Warriors defence.
“They changed their edges,” Marshall said.
“Campbell Graham looked exceptional on the left side. Jaxson Paulo had some really great moments on the right side.
“South Sydney would be very happy with the way they played. When they hold the footy they are such a dangerous team to stop.
Milne had 117 yards rushing, seven tackle saves, two line breaks and two tries, while Paulo had 130 yards rushing, two offloads and a line break assist in both players’ best games of the season.
The Rabbitohs will be without captain Cameron Murray for their massive Magic Round clash against the Warriors.
Murray will undergo minor shoulder surgery, with the club confirming the Origin star will miss up to a month of football.
Jai Arrow will be stranded in his absence, with Jacob Host taking a spot in the back row.
Meanwhile, the Warriors have made a series of changes after last week’s poor performance against an understaffed Sharks.
At one point, Cronulla’s team had just 11 players on the field after Will Kennedy was sent off and Jesse Ramien was sent to the trash.
Wade Egan was ruled out with an elbow injury, bringing on Jazz Tevaga in place of hooker, while Aaron Pene will slot in at the lock.
After being at the club for just four days, former Roosters rake Freddy Lussick will take a place on the bench to make his debut for the New Zealand club.
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