A battered and bruised South Sydney have pulled off the most dramatic of victories seeing off Canterbury 18-17 at ANZ Stadium in an absorbing Good Friday encounter.
Leading 17-16 thanks to a Trent Hodkinson field goal, the Bulldogs looked to have partially atoned for last year’s grand final defeat when referee Gerard Sutton infuriated Canterbury with a penalty against James Graham.
The English prop, in trying to charge down Adam Reynolds’ long-range field goal attempt, landed on the halfback’s standing leg.
After alerting the official that Reynolds looked badly hurt, Sutton placed Graham on report and awarded a penalty directly in front of the posts and stand-in kicker Bryson Goodwin made no mistake to seal the two points.
Reynolds did stay on the field until the final siren but looked in some discomfort in a game where Issac Luke and Glenn Stewart were both forced off with concussion.
The defeat was harsh on the Bulldogs and the club could be in trouble with the NRL after supporters showered the referees with bottles as they left the field.
But with Luke Keary outstanding after being moved to hooker, Greg Inglis switching to five-eighth and Alex Johnston to fullback, the Rabbitohs rallied well to grab late-minute win.
Canterbury came racing out of the blocks and opened the scoring in the fourth minute when Curtis Rona continued his stellar start to his Bulldogs career with his sixth try since joining from North Queensland at the start of the season.
The Rabbitohs, who were shocked by Parramatta last week, struggled to contain the Bulldogs’ attack in the opening exchanges and veteran winger Sam Perrett crossed again for Canterbury with less than 10 minutes played.
With Des Hasler’s wet trackers winning 11 of their past 12 games in the rain, the odds were well stacked against the premiers who trailed 10-0 two minutes before halftime.
However, the complexion of the game changed dramatically just before the restart when the Rabbitohs were awarded an eight-point try.
Luke scored the initial try when he dived through the tightest of gaps to touch the ball down on the line.
But it proved to be his last contribution after taking a blow to the head by the boot of Josh Morris and the knee of Sam Kasiano.
Referee Sutton put Morris on report and awarded a possible eight-point try that was secured by Reynolds’ kick in front of the posts.
Josh Morris bulldozed his way to the line after a Josh Reynolds kick bounced fortuitously into his arms to extend the hosts’ lead only for Dave Tyrell to go over for the Rabbitohs.
A Reynolds’ penalty levelled the scores before the late drama handed Michael Maguire’s side an unlikely win.