A concussion to Kyle Turner has soured South Sydney’s thrilling 20-16 win over a brave Penrith side at ANZ Stadium on Sunday evening.
Appearing in his first NRL match since breaking his neck in February, Turner was felled in an attempted tackle on Panthers prop Jeremy Latimore early in the second half.
Play was stopped for almost five minutes before the promising second-rower slowly got to his feet and walked from the field.
Turner, who was concussed four times in 2014, was later cleared of any further damage to his neck although failed to return to the field.
An upset looked to be on the cards when Penrith, who had seven first-choice starters on the sideline, shot to a 12-nil lead inside the half hour mark.
But the defending premiers moved quickly to level the score by halftime and then nudged ahead early in the second half before holding on for a well-earned victory.
Not long after Turner came from the field to a standing ovation from the crowd, halfback Adam Reynolds kicked the go-ahead penalty in the 48th minute.
Rabbitohs centre Dylan Walker looked to have sealed the win on a well-executed right-side sweep in the 67th minute, only for Lewis Brown to set up a grandstand finish with a long-range try in the 74th.
The Panthers had numerous opportunities to steal a win in the closing stages but the defending premiers held firm to consolidate their spot in the top four.
The loss all but ends Penrith’s finals hopes.
James Segeyaro took advantage of the Panthers’ bright start to the match by opening the scoring with a trademark burrow from dummy half in the 16th minute.
And an upset looked possible when Bryce Cartwright powered over from close range six minutes later.
But the Rabbitohs responded quickly and assertively, levelling the game in the space of just eight minutes.
First John Sutton crashed through on a Luke Keary no-look pass in the 26th, before Glenn Stewart picked off Lewis Brown in front of his sticks for Alex Johnston to cross four minutes later.
Penrith winger Robert Jennings came off in the first half with a hamstring injury and didn’t return.