Besieged Bunnies show some fight before Panthers flex their muscles – but Tago facing ban for dangerous hip drop


If South Sydney had put up this much fight earlier in the season, Jason Demetriou might still be their coach. 

The Rabbitohs responded strongly 48 hours after Demetriou was given his marching orders by pushing premiers Penrith for the majority of the match on Thursday night at Accor Stadium before falling away as injuries took their toll.

Interim coach Ben Hornby got off to a dream start with his side running in two tries to shoot out to a 12-0 lead before the Panthers gained the upper hand to lead by six at half-time and going on to record a 44-12 triumph.

Panthers centre Izack Tago is likely to cop a ban for an early hip drop tackle on Jye Gray which earned him 10 minutes in the bin but left the young Rabbitoh with a syndesmosis injury which he bravely carried on with until succumbing at half-time.

Souths halfback Dean Hawkins aggravated a thigh muscle strain from a kick-off and was also forced off with Hornby using Jack Wighton in the halves, captain Cameron Murray at centre and Damien Cook at fullback in his patched-up line-up. 

There was nothing malicious in Tago’s tackle but his body weight undoubtedly came down on Gray’s ankle.

Bunnies battered and bruised but brave

After Tago was banished for 10, the Bunnies drew first blood when Cook and Cody Walker shifted the Steeden halfway across the field in two passes to exploit the right centre’s absence for Izaac Thompson to touch down in the corner. 

Thompson appeared to lose the ball as he was hit by Sunia Turuva while diving over but on the day that Phil Gould was fined $20,000 “our game is stupid” for the decision to disallow a similar try to Api Koroisau last weekend, the Bunker surprisingly confirmed this four-pointer straight away. 

Nine’s commentators didn’t launch any tirades about the ruling although none of them have the conflict of interest of also being the general manager of an NRL club. 

Izack Tago was sent to the sin bin for this dangerous tackle on Jye Gray.

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Souths speared their attack to the same edge a few minutes later and after a Thompson bust, Walker hoofed the ball infield for Hawkins to sprint past a lazy Jarome Luai to have Hornby pumping his fists in the coaches box.

Penrith’s fortunes turned when Jai Arrow was sin-binned for a strip after referee Adam Gee had warned the Bunnies about repeated infringements although Murray was probably lucky he stayed on the field as he appeared to be the culprit.

Turuva crossed soon after following a dubious overhead pass from Brad Schneider and the halfback then jinked his own way over to even the ledger.

Penrith went 18-12 up at the break when Luke Garner sliced through a stretched defensive line and the Bunnies stayed in the arm wrestle up until the 58th minute when prop Lindsay Smith backed up to score off a spilt bomb. 

“The discipline here is terrible, fix it!” ????

The tables have turned as Jai Arrow has been sent to the sin bin.

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The wounded Bunnies were tiring and they were caught out from a quick 20-metre restart when Dylan Edwards sent Taylan May into vacant pastures to seal the game with an 18-point buffer heading into the final 15 minutes.

Souths forward Jacob Host became the third player given an unwanted 10-minute stint on the sidelines after late contact on Schneider following a kick and Garner registered a double after Turuva unleashed a no-look flick as he was bundled into touch.

Rubbing further injury into the insult of the scoreline, Arrow aggravated his shoulder injury just two weeks after making a comeback in a bid to play on without going under the surgeon’s scalpel.

Tago touched down in the closing stages to run up the final scoreline but Souths did not deserve to be on the receiving end of such a wide margin from the effort they put into this match despite the ongoing adversity following a significantly disrupted build-up.

Izack Tago. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Panthers not flying but unconcerned

When you are coming off three straight premierships, a relatively sluggish start to the season is not a problem.

Penrith are chugging along in third sport with a 6-2 record yet you couldn’t really say they have hit top gear at any stage in 2024.

Nathan Cleary was rested for Thursday’s stoush with Souths to ensure his hamstring did not flare up again after making his comeback last Saturday up north against the Cowboys.

Schneider again showed he is too good to be just a back-up halfback on Thursday while Isaah Yeo was all class in the dual role of playmaker and forward workhorse in Cleary’s absence.

With the Origin part of the season just around the corner, the premiers should have Cleary, Yeo, Liam Martin, Brian To’o and Edwards undergoing a heavy workload if the fullback finally gets his call-up from new Blues coach Michael Maguire.

The Panthers take advantage of some lacklustre defence from the Rabbitohs!

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He was his trademark incisive self against Souths, topping 200 running metres as he normally does in his sleep while setting up a couple of line breaks for teammates.

Luai does not deserve a recall at five-eighth based on current form – he seems very jittery at the moment. He’s always been an off-the-cuff player but he appears more unsettled than a top-line playmaker should be.

Despite injuries and the distractions caused by Luai, James Fisher-Harris and Turuva heading for the exit, the Panthers are in cruise control as they work their way through the hard slog of the regular season to be on course for a fourth straight title.

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