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Johnston hat-trick helps Bunnies bounce back in Tamworth

An Alex Johnston hattrick led the Rabbitohs to a gutsy 32-18 victory over the Wests Tigers in Tamworth on Friday night.


Corey Rosser, NRL Reporter

After a disappointing loss to the Broncos last week, South Sydney bounced back in style at Scully Park, with Johnston's 12th career hat-trick cementing the lead which put the Rabbitohs back in the top eight.

The Wests Tigers were gallant in their defeat, with a second-half surge bringing them within two-points of the Rabbitohs' lead but the Round 22 defeat was costly for the home side with Shawn Blore (head knock) and Dane Laurie (knee) failing to finish the match.

Returning for his first game since Round 12, Latrell Mitchell also made his presence felt at fullback with 169 run metres and 11 tackle breaks in his 80-minute performance.

The Rabbitohs fired the first shot thanks to an Johnston intercept, capitalising on a no-look pass from John Bateman and racing 70m down Scully Park to score in the opening minute.

The Tigers hit back in the ninth minute when Cody Walker fumbled a Luke Brooks kick in-goal and hooker Api Koroisau dived on the ball to score under the posts. Koroisau converted his own try to level the scores 6-6.

But the Rabbitohs kicked into gear midway through the first-term on the back of some nice lead-up work from Cody Walker and Mitchell down the left-edge, setting up Tass at centre and Johnston for a double. 

Come the 27th minute and halfback Lachlan Ilias put his stamp on the match with a deft kick to the right, which sat up perfectly for barnstorming backrower Keaon Koloamatangi to extend South Sydney's lead 20-6. 

The Wests Tigers rallied in defence in the back end of the first-half, with the Rabbitohs squandering several opportunities on the line but Jason Demetriou's side still dominated field possession and held onto their 14-point lead at halftime.

After a rev up at half time, the Wests Tigers came out firing in the second term and thanks to some nice lead up work from fullback Jahream Bula and Koroisau before the hooker grubbered through for Isaiah Papali'i to score and reduce the deficit 20-12. 

Tim Sheens' side looked set to go back-to-back in the 54th minute but the Scully Park hill were brought to their feet when Mitchell won the footrace and laid on a superb trysaver. 

But the Wests Tigers were on a roll and finally capitalised in the 57th minute with lock Fonua Pole running over three Rabbitohs defenders to put his side right back in the match with only two points the difference.

But Soth Sydney fans could breathe a sigh of relief when Johnston laid his third try in the left corner to cap a memorable night in the north-west.

A try to Cameron Murray in the 75th minute well and truly put the game to bed and the Rabbitohs climbed back to seventh position on the ladder after recording their 11th win of the season. 

Match Snapshot

  • Wests Tigers forward Aitasi James was placed on report in the 31st minute for a dangerous tackle on Rabbitohs lock Cameron Murray.
  • Rabbitohs forward Davvy Moale was placed on report for a shoulder charge on Shawn Blore. Blore was sent for a HIA after the incident which he later failed.
  • Wests Tigers winger Charlie Staines looked strong in his return from a stomach injury which has sidelined the 22-year-old since Round 8. Staines ran the ball 163 metres and had a tackle break and line break.
  • The Wests Tigers had 13 errors compared to the Rabbitohs nine.
  • Skipper Cameron Murray put in a strong 65-minute performance for the Rabbitohs with a try, 147 run metres and 34 tackles.
  • Rabbitohs winger Alex Johnston scored his 12th hat-trick of his career. 
  • The Rabbitohs have won seven of their past eight games against Wests Tigers.

Play of the Game 
After becoming the third all-time NRL try scorer last week, Alex Johnston continued his superb season, leading the Rabbitohs gutsy win with another career hat-trick. The try came off the back of a slick left-side shift from the middle and a nice catch and pass from centre Isaiah Tass to set the veteran flyer up for his 184th career try. 

What They Said 
"You can't give a side like that a 20-point head start...we gave too much footy away and we're not a good enough footy side to give that away. We go down the sideline on two or three occasions and kick the ball. The wingers and centres, I don't know if they think they're Nathan they just shoot you in the foot and break your heart. We just need a bit more recruitment and more experience in the group." - Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens

"I thought for 65 minutes we were really good, Tigers challenged us at times in the first-half but defensively I thought we were excellent, only conceding a try off a kick. But 15 minutes after half-time we were pretty ordinary but I was really proud with how we regrouped because there was some momentum against us. He (Latrell Mitchell) came up with some big plays and big moments, he's one of the best players in the game for a reason and we saw glimpses of that tonight. - Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou

What's Next
The Wests Tigers make the trip to the nation's capital to meet with the Raiders to close out Round 23 while the Rabbitohs will host the Sharks in Perth at Optus Stadium on Saturday.

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