Johnston breaks Souths try record as Bunnies bounce back in style

Alex Johnston became South Sydney’s top try scorer, coming through three times as South Sydney went from 12-0 to beat the Wests Tigers 44-18.

It was a vital result for the Souths, who were handily beaten by Canberra last weekend and had barely clung to their place in the top eight.

Their main issue was mistakes and completion rate, but today they finished at 85% and got their rewards, running in eight tries and winning the second half 32-0.

It was the first time they had trailed at halftime and won this year, breaking a major hoodoo that dogged the Rabbitohs into 2022.

Johnston surpassed Nathan Merritt’s record of 146 with his hat-trick try, all three assisted by Campbell Graham, who late claimed Origin selection with a performance of 141m, 63m post-contract, four tackles.

The central unit of Tom Burgess, Saliva Havili and Hame Sele was also excellent, Burgess in particular dragging the Tigers line back time and time again with hard carries down the middle.

The Tigers can watch some brilliant moments with the ball in hand, but can’t get enough of seriously troubling the Souths. The way they fell in the second half will seriously trouble Michael Maguire, as will the way they were bullied in the middle.

Souths had all the ball to start the game but pushed too hard to score: Lachlan Ilias threw an upbeat pass which Asu Kepoa caught and returned 95m from the line.

When they received the ball, the Tigers showed off one of their favorite moves, with Jackson Hastings rushing behind the ruck and creating the extra man, in this case Brent Naden.

He was dragged down, but when the spot kick came a few plays later, Naden beat Ken Maumolo to make it 10-0. Luke Brooks, who returned to punting duty when Hastings suffered a foot injury, missed the conversion but was offered a chance to score from the penalty spot and did not turn it down.

To Souths’ credit, the interception didn’t deter them from tossing the ball around their baseline. They continued to gradually increase the pressure and eventually their company play happened, with Campbell Graham providing the catch-up pass that got Alex Johnston his first.

The opportunities followed. Ilias knocked the ball down with the pleading line and Luke Garner denied Jaxson Paulo from close range.

The crucial moment came via a challenge. After the Tigers withstood several sets down their line, they thought they had a relief penalty for a ruck violation, but the Rabbits questioned the decision and were rewarded with the ball.

The pressure was revealed this time through Saliva Havili, who bulldozed a tired defense to level the scores.

The parity lasted only a few moments. The Tigers had barely seen the ball in Souths’ half for 25 minutes, but bounced back to the other end of the field and got their spine – together for the first time since Round 7, the last time that ‘they faced South Sydney – to combine and put Maumolo in the corner again.

The Suds quickly came to an agreement. Jaxson Paulo produced two superb plays – first an interception, then a volley – to gain and hold position on the pitch, allowing another fluid movement from the backline to send Johnston down the left again.

That left edge struck once more. The Tigers again gave a six at the fourth tackle after some smart work from Damien Cook, prompting even more pressure.

Johnston came close to a hat trick, but from the ruck Campbell Graham was able to force himself to give Souths their first lead of the night.

Southerners suddenly have the wind in their sails. They went 100m in six tackles, then lined up in defense and forced Brooks to kick just beyond his own 20m line. He kicked on the full.

There were no surprises to guess where they went next: Walker to Graham to Johnston and down the line.

It was a path well trodden on this occasion, and it has been for years: the try that finished the hat-trick also made Johnston South Sydney’s all-time leading try scorer.

It was one-way traffic at this point. Ilias kicked and Luciano Leilua fumbled under his own crossbar, allowing Cody Walker to celebrate an emotional try of the native round.

He had another moment later: Ilias, again, played a part with a fall to his halfback partner, who ran the perfect line and knocked several tacklers out of his way en route to the line.

Ilias had the chance to deny Laurie again – his second save on the Tigers fullback – before Paulo landed another interception and this time carried him home, capping off a superb night for South Sydney.

Sports Grp2

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