Rabbitohs run could end Cowboys season
It was a heartbreaking finale - and it could cost North Queensland their season.
The Cowboys were left to rue their inability to finish off Souths after Wayne Bennett's Rabbitohs conjured three late tries to steal a 30-18 victory in Townsville and leave North Queensland's finals hopes on life support.
Having stunned premiers the Roosters 15-12 last week, the Cowboys were on the verge of becoming the ultimate giant-killers after producing a superb fightback to lead the Rabbitohs 18-12 with nine minutes to play.
But with another big scalp beckoning, the Cowboys capitulated, with tries to Dane Gagai (72nd), Tevita Tatola (76th) and Cameron Murray (79th) helping Souths pull off a great escape for the second consecutive week.
It was a crushing loss for the Cowboys, who will finish the weekend floundering in 13th and must win six of their last seven games to have any hope of qualifying for the finals.
While Souths stormed home, North Queensland will rue a gut-wrenching mistake from debutant Murray Taulagi that cost them victory.
With the hosts leading 18-12 in the 63rd minute, Taulagi broke away and passed inside to Jake Granville, whose return pass was inexplicably dropped by the rookie winger just two metres from the tryline.
A Taulagi try would have almost certainly buried the Bunnies, but the let off opened the door for the big guns, who held their nerve to break the Cowboys' hearts in coach Paul Green's 150th game.
"We bombed that try ... we should have closed the game out," Green lamented.
"The game goes for 80 minutes, not 70. I am disappointed. We were in a winning position but we didn't go on with it."
Souths' rousing finish demonstrated the difference between a premiership contender and title pretender.
The Rabbitohs had the self-belief to hang tough. The Cowboys lacked the playmaking finesse under pressure to turn the screws on Souths.
It was a welcome return to Townsville for Souths back-rower and Cowboys reject Ethan Lowe, who exacted revenge by scoring two tries in the opening 22 minutes for a 12-6 lead.
But the Cowboys were always in the contest. They had little trouble amassing midfield metres via big men Jordan McLean and Jason Taumalolo, who was superb, charging for 239 metres.
The Cowboys' second-half was courageous. They completed their first 10 sets, triggering a momentum shift which saw Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater swoop on a Jake Clifford bomb for a 16-12 lead after 47 minutes.
Souths were on the ropes. But when Taulagi bombed the try of the season, it gave the Rabbitohs the stay of execution to deliver a bullet of their own.
"The big play was the Cowboys kid (Taulagi) dropping the ball ... I don't know if we come back from there if he scores," Bennett said.
"We're heading in the right direction. There's a lot to be done still. We've been a bit off lately but this will give us confidence."
SOUTH SYDNEY 30 (E Lowe 2 D Gagai C Murray T Tatola tries A Reynolds 5 goals) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 18 (S Drinkwater K Feldt T Opacic tries J Clifford 3 goals) at 1300 SMILES Stadium. Referee: Chris Sutton, Matt Noyen. Crowd: 16,638