The captaincy proved just the tonic for Rabbitohs talisman Cody Walker as he delivered a masterclass first-half display of Magic Round wizardry that proved the difference against a gallant Warriors.
Walker had three try assists inside 23 minutes to set up a thrilling 32-30 win, despite a remarkable Warriors second-half comeback ignited by superstar fullback Reece Walsh.
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The Rabbitohs led 26-6 at the break on the back of a powerhouse display by prop Tevita Tatola but took their foot off the pedal and Walsh, the Warriors best player by a long way, was the catalyst for four tries in 15 minutes in a scintillating display that would have thrilled Maroons coach Billy Slater.
The Rabbitohs were almost perfect in the first half. Cranky Cody had been banished and instead the South Sydney playmaker was playing with a smile on his face again.
Pre-game Walker said he wanted to improve his discipline and involvement after a disappointing and angry display against Brisbane the previous week.
He walked the talk. Walker magic, courtesy of a perfectly timed pass on the end of a set play, sent Taane Milne over in the right corner.
Milne had a double inside 15 minutes as the Warriors edge defence crumbled. When Walker pulled the trigger down the left side to deliver for Alex Johnston the carnage continued.
A sour note for the Rabbitohs was when back-rower Jacob Host re-injured a shoulder in the second minute in a devastating blow for the 25-year-old.
Cracking the code
When Walker gets in the groove with his instinctive genius to the fore there is no better player to watch in the NRL. The most pleasing thing about his display against the Warriors was the composure and leadership he displayed.
When the Warriors threatened late he came up with a big hit on Walsh that showed where his head was at.
Throughout the game he was exhorting his players to lift when required. Adam Reynolds had lit up Suncorp Stadium the night before in a reminder of what the Rabbitohs have lost but Walker’s response showed he still has the magic touch without his old mate by his side.
The Maroons have a big decision to make about their fullback. Kalyn Ponga is favoured to get the nod in the Origin opener but Walsh is giving Slater plenty to think about.
His display in the second half was electrifying and a sample of how the 19-year-old has the capacity to turn a game on his own. His 170m from 15 runs was impressive enough but his energy lifted the entire side.
The collapse of the Warriors defensive systems was exposed by a bulldozer barge by Damien Cook through five defenders from 15m out. The scars from the 70-10 whipping they received from the Storm have clearly not healed and defensive deficiencies on the edges left them too much to do.
Apart from Walsh’s display, the Warriors did have some more good news with captain Tohu Harris getting through the game in his return from an ACL injury.