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A final score of 40-12 in South Sydney’s favour indicated an ugly Friday night out for the Warriors at BankWest Stadium – but it could have been oh-so-different if not for a couple of sliding doors moments that went in the Rabbitohs’ favour.

An outstanding contest was set up midway through the first half and the Warriors were on the cusp of grabbing the lead for the second time. But a Souths intercept, a Warriors sin-bin and a contentious non-call on a high tackle when late inclusion David Fusitu’a looked certain to score conspired saw the game unravel for the visitors, who trailed 22-6 at halftime.

The second half started poorly and a comeback was never on the cards. But positives came in the form of another strong forward-pack display, high involvement again from Kodi Nikorima and Wayde Egan’s most authoritative showing at hooker for the Warriors to date.

On the debit side, their lack of speed and poor defensive reads out wide were ruthlessly exposed by Rabbitohs spearheads Cody Walker, Latrell Mitchell and Adam Reynolds – with their rangy three-quarters cashing in big time.

The Warriors got off to a flyer, cashing in off their second early chance near the South Sydney line.

A breath-taking piece of vision and execution from Blake Green saw the returning David Fusitu’a zip over for the opening try, floating a beautiful pass over the top.

But the Rabbitohs hit back with worrying ease. In the hosts’ first foray into the Warriors’ 20-metre zone, Latrell Mitchell put Campbell Graham on the outside of Gerard Beale before he stepped inside and crashed through Peta Hiku’s tackle to score.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck almost replicated Hiku’s in-goal bungle from last week, but Braidon Burns wasn’t quite able to capitalise on a superb piece of atheleticism from Cameron Murray.

A Souths accidental offside at the end of the Warriors’ ensuing seven-tackle set allowed them to level up at 6-all with the simplest of penalty goals.

Magnificent last-tackle play from Kodi Nikorima and Tohu Harris should have produced a try, but Harris’ over-the-top pass was knocked down and the Rabbitohs cleaned up. The Warriors looked certain to score from the resultant dropout, only for Dane Gagai to glove Hiku’s pass and hare downfield.

Tuivasa-Sheck, Patrick Herbert and Nikorima made up an enormous amount of ground to run Gagai down but Nikorima was sin-binned for holding down in the tackle. Souths took immediate advantage of the outnumbered defensive line as Adam Reynolds poured through a hole to score.

Compounding the Warriors’ plight, Lachlan Burr failed his early HIA and Eliesa Katoa left the field with a leg problem.

The shorthanded visitors dug in but a clumsy late hit on Reynolds from Karl Lawton invited the Rabbitohs down to their end and the Warriors were again unable to put out a goal-line fire. An instinctive kick from Cody Walker laid a try for Burns on a platter and the margin doubled to 12 points.

But a Souths error was followed by two set restarts and a penalty in quick succession on their own line, resulting in Walker getting binned. Cody passed Kodi on his way off the field and the one-man advantage was reversed.

Fusitu’a narrowly and controversially missed scoring a second try, spilling the ball after being clipped high by Mitchell; referee Matt Cecchin declined to send it upstairs. That non-call would prove crucial – and the Warriors’ frustrations were amplified as ‘Fus’ ultimately failed an HIA from Mitchell’s illegal, unchecked tackle, reducing them to 15 men.

Then a hammer blow from a 12-man South Sydney in the final minute of the first half. A sizzling cut-out ball from Mitchell caught Fusitu’a miles too far infield as Alex Johnston raced away for his 87th NRL try – and a brutal 22-6 scoreline at the break.

A diabolical Beale error from Souths’ first kick of the second stanza went unpunished but the fifth try came in the 56th minute. Damien Cook’s speed from dummy-half caught the Warriors on their heels and Walker scorched through for a 100th-game try – his eighth against the club of 43 in his career – off a flat pass.

The Warriors were gifted a chance to respond in the 60th minute but Hiku coughed the pill up over the try-line. A seven-tackle set followed by a set restart result in a try to Cook after Lawton failed to finish off a goal-line stop.

34-6 and still almost half an hour to play.

The embattled Warriors’ second try went begging with 20 minutes to go after Lawton failed to latch onto Nikorima’s inch-perfect grubber.

Johnston bagged his second from a Reynolds kick with 10 minutes left, before late inclusion Agnatius Paasi broke the Warriors’ 70-minute try drought by barging over for a determined four-pointer from Nikorima’s flat ball from dummy-half.

The upshot is the Warriors are 2-4 after a relatively soft draw to start a shortened season. The finals seem a lot further away than they did earlier in the day given the form of the current top seven and the Rabbitohs’ improvement over the past two rounds.

Now the Warriors’ resolve and character – very impressive so far since returning to Australia – will get a strenuous test. News arrived mid-game that the other 15 clubs will be permitted to play at their home grounds from Round 8; the Warriors will remain in Gosford, while the decreasing likelihood of a trans-Tasman bubble opening up before the end of the season means they’ll almost certainly be away from home until at least late-September.

The Warriors face Melbourne at AAMI Park in Round 7 and from that point will be the only club with its usual routine adversely impacted by the pandemic. But after tonight’s spirited, luckless effort, more than ever it’s time for the fans to get behind the boys.

South Sydney Rabbitohs 40 (Alex Johnston 2, Campbell Graham, Adam Reynolds, Braidon Burns, Cody Walker, Damien Cook tries; Reynolds 6 goals) defeated Warriors 12 (David Fusitu’a, Agnatius Paasi tries; Kodi Nikorima 2 goals) at BankWest Stadium, Sydney

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