A stunning second-half from South Sydney has heaped more pain on Parramatta with a 38-24 victory in the second NRL semi-final.
In a dramatic day for the club, the Eels led 18-8 at halftime before leaking 30 points to end their premiership hopes.
Earlier, the Eels had been rocked by the revelation former Test and Origin centre Michael Jennings had failed a drug test and would be provisionally suspended under the NRL’s anti-doping policy.
It forced rookie winger Haze Dunster into a baptism of fire after getting the call-up to debut at 7.30am on game day.
Dunster was thrown onto the wing as part of Brad Arthur’s patched together backline, with Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson also missing through injury.
And while the Eels were gutsy in defeat, their season came to an end in front of 14,510 fans at Bankwest Stadium.
“They bounced in, they were ready to go and obviously people were concerned about what happened but they knew they had a job to do, and it was to come and play footy,” Arthur said.
“I thought the effort was there but it was just some dumb moments.
“(Souths) scored three soft tries tonight. We didn’t make them earn those tries.”
The game was there for the taking at halftime when the Eels were up by 10 following a flurry of points within four minutes – all either set up or scored by star fullback Clint Gutherson.
However, Souths clawed back the lead with two converted tries after halftime in what Arthur described as a “capitulation”.
Eels halfback Mitch Moses had the chance to level the scores with a penalty in the 62nd minute but the ball hit the post and Rabbitohs winger Jaxson Paulo went streaking down the sideline.
Full of steam, Souths landed on the Eels line, with Gutherson bobbling a grubber-kick from Damien Cook just enough for Bayley Sironen to ground the ball.
“It was a big moment in the game. There were a few of those,” Souths coach Wayne Bennett said.
“We just grabbed the moment. And that’s what it’s about.”
Shortly afterwards Eels five-eighth Dylan Brown threw an intercept for Paulo to score his second of the night with 10 minutes to go.
The try put Souths in front 32-18 but the Eels were not ready to call it a night.
Winger George Jennings grabbed his second try of the night with five minutes to go – an emotional moment given the drama surrounding his stood-down older brother.
“He did a really good job,” Arthur said.
“He managed to brush aside some personal matters and get on with the job for his teammates.”
A late try to Cook put an end to a miserable day for the Eels, leaving Parramatta players strewn and emotional on the turf.
It is the second year in a row the Eels have bowed out of the finals in week two, and the third time in four seasons.
South Sydney are now through to their third straight preliminary final and will face Penrith at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.