The captaincy proved to be just the tonic for Rabbitohs talisman Cody Walker as he delivered a masterclass of Magic Round wizardry in the first half that proved the difference against a brave Warriors.
Walker had three try-assists within 23 minutes to land a thrilling 32-30 win, despite a remarkable Warriors comeback in the second half brought on by superstar fullback Reece Walsh.
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The Rabbitohs led 26-6 at halftime on a powerhouse display from prop Tevita Tatola, but took their foot off the pedal and Walsh, the Warriors’ best player by far, was the catalyst for four tries in 15 minutes in a sparkling display that would have thrilled Maroons coach Billy Slater.
The Rabbitohs were almost perfect in the first half. Cranky Cody had been banned and instead the South Sydney playmaker played again with a smile on his face.
Pre-game Walker said he wanted to improve his discipline and commitment after a disappointing and angry performance against Brisbane the week before.
He ran the conversation. Walker magic, thanks to a perfectly timed pass at the end of a set play, sent Tane Milne into the right corner.
Milne had a double within 15 minutes as the Warriors’ rim defenses crumbled. When Walker pulled the trigger on the left to help Alex Johnston, the carnage continued.
A sour note for the Rabbitohs came when back rower Jacob Host injured another shoulder in the second minute in a devastating blow to the 25-year-old.
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When Walker gets into the groove with his instinctive genius at the forefront, there’s no better player to watch in the NRL. The most enjoyable thing about his performance against the Warriors was the composure and leadership he showed.
When the Warriors threatened late, he came with a big hit on Walsh showing where his head was.
Throughout the game, he urged his players to lift when necessary. Adam Reynolds had lit up Suncorp Stadium the night before as a reminder of what the Rabbitohs have lost, but Walker’s reaction showed he still has the magic touch without his old buddy by his side.
The Maroons must make an important decision about their fullback. Kalyn Ponga prefers to get the wink in the Origin opener, but Walsh gives Slater plenty to think about.
His performance in the second half was exciting and an example of how the 19-year-old has the capacity to run a game on his own. His 170m from 15 runs was impressive enough, but his energy lifted the whole side.
The collapse of the Warriors’ defense systems was exposed by a Damien Cook bulldozer ship by five defenders from 15 meters in height. The scars from the 70-10 lashes they received from the Storm obviously didn’t heal, and defensive flaws on the edges left them too much to do.
Aside from Walsh’s display, the Warriors had more good news with captain Tohu Harris making it through the game on his return from an ACL injury.