South Sydney thumped North Queensland 31-18 in Townsville on Thursday night, raising questions about the Cowboys NRL minor premiership hopes.
North Queensland have been flying high in the top two for most of the year, but have now suffered back-to-back losses for the first time since round three in March.
The two teams went toe-to-toe in the first half in an entertaining display to commence round 23, with the Rabbitohs going into the break with their noses in front 13-12.
For the opening 20 minutes of the second half there was niggle, there was frustration and there was plenty of shoving as both teams heated up in the North Queensland humidity.
But as the game settled, the Bunnies sizzled. Tries from Jason Clark and Alex Johnston established a commanding lead for the Rabbitohs and when Dylan Walker streaked over under the posts in the 73rd minute, the match was gone for the Cowboys, despite a late consolation try from Michael Morgan.
It didn’t take long for Rabbitohs skipper Greg Inglis to stamp his mark on the match, selling a flick pass dummy to Justin O’Neill to storm over in the third minute. Adam Reynolds added the extras.
At the 15 minute mark it was South Sydney’s turn to weather the pressure, with the Cowboys marching upfield off the back of three straight penalties.
O’Neill made it count, crossing out wide with Johnathan Thurston locking up the scores with his conversion.
The Cowboys’ goal-line defence was questioned again in the 25th minute and Thomas Burgess found it wanting, bending the line and slamming the ball down to score.
In the shadows of halftime Reynolds slotted a field goal to open up a 13-6 lead, but the Cowboys weren’t done yet.
Sweeping right side ball movement saw O’Neill make a bust before kicking in for Lachlan Coote to score. Thurston converted to trim the margin to one point.
But South Sydney responded and proved far too good for an at times sloppy North Queensland.
Despite the two points, the Rabbitohs face a nervous wait after hooker Issac Luke was placed on report for a lifting tackle on Coote.
MORE TO COME