Aquis Titans’ 21-year-old halfback Ash Taylor again showed composure and class behind his years and 12-match NRL experience when he booted an extra-time field goal to give his side a dramatic 29-28 victory in Perth.
Taylor booted an 87th minute field goal after Souths were earlier celebrating victory when an Adam Reynolds’ field goal attempt flopped over the crossbar after taking a deflection from a Titans player … only for it to be overruled because of obstruction by a Rabbitohs’ blocker’.
It was a pulsating victory but far from a comprehensive performance after the Titans led 18-0 six minutes into the second half only for errors and some poor defence close to the tryline on the Titans’ right edge let Souths back into the game.
Ryan James was again outstanding, scoring two tries, topping the tackle count with 49 and making 193 metres from 19 carries.
James took advantage of a repeat set through a penalty and scored a determined try in the 13th minute when dogged determination got him over the line with three defenders trying to hold him up. Tyrone Roberts converted for 6-0 and give the Titans a great start to the match.
The rest of the first half was a real arm wrestle and Souths started to offload too often and tested the Titans defence in the final 15 minutes of the half. They had a try called back for a forward pass from Auvaá to Johnston on their right side.
In the last 90 seconds before the break Taylor scored next to the posts to make it 12-0 with Tyrone Roberts converting. Greg Inglis had spilled the ball in a tackle and Agnatius Paasi snapped up the loose ball and fed Taylor who showed tremendous pace to race 40 metres to the line.
Souths almost had a dream start to the second half when they went down the left side and Greg Inglis found some space but he was cut down in a good tackle by William Zillman.
The big play came soon after when, five minutes into the half, the Titans forwards were struggling to get out of our end. Ash Taylor came up with a 40-20 down a short right corridor and from the next set Tyrone Roberts put on a show-and-go which fooled Sam Burgess and he ran under the posts to score.
Roberts converted for 18-0.
However, only four minutes later Souths narrowed the gap by six points when Bryson Goodwin scored down the left edge and it was converted by Adam Reynolds for 18-6.
Soon after the game changed dramatically, and became an absorbing battle full of close calls, big calls and big plays for another 43 minutes.
Only four minutes after the Titans were three converted tries clear Alex Johnston scored in the left corner, and the Rabbitohs went back there again after rolling down the field.
Bryson Goodwin flopped an overhead ball in a tackle and Anthony Don almost snatched it but lost control and the ball swung wide for Dane Nielsen to cross. Reynolds missed this time for the score to be 18-10.
Ryan James made it a double when, in a similar fighting effort that gave him a four-pointer in the first half, he squeezed the ball down with three defenders on him. Roberts converted for 24-10 with 22 minutes remaining.
Again the Rabbitohs, making good metres through each set and looking dangerous with their offloads, scored two tries in quick succession.
The first came when Souths fullback Cody Walker doubled back to pick up a loose pass and went left from 25 metres and beat Chris McQueen with a left foot step and crossed untouched. Reynolds converted for 24-16.
Just four minutes later, debutant Souths centre Siosifa Talakai scored a try with his first touch in the NRL when Goodwin put him through space close to the line, again down their left edge. Reynolds nailed to kick to take the score to 24-22 to the Titans with 13 minutes left.
The drama wasn’t going to end there.
Taylor kicked to the left corner and Nene Macdonald leapt above all others and after hitting the ground had his upper body high enough to slip a pass to Josh Hoffman, who had a strong game, and Hoffman was over for Titans’ try number five.
If Tyrone Roberts could land the conversion with two minutes on the clock for an eight-point lead the victory was secured but the kick missed.
A short kick-off went into touch off the Titans, giving them the scrum feed. That left them one set to send the game into extra-time. They did it.
Rabbitohs’ hooker Cameron McInnes beat three players, again down the Titans’ right edge, to score with 47 seconds remaining and leave Reynolds with a kick to make the game a golden point shoot-out. He made no mistake and regular time finished at 28-all.
Reynolds had first crack at field goal from 40 metres after Souths’ first set in extra-time but missed. Ash Taylor reciprocated in the Titans first set, and just missed.
Reynolds missed again from long range and the Titans looked to work play up-field again but Agnatius Paasi lost the ball in the tackle and Souths were to get next opportunity. Reynolds’ third shot took a rebound and went over from 15 metres and the Rabbitohs players leapt into the air in jubilation.
However, Titans players protested that Ryan James had been taken out while trying to charge down Reynolds and referee Grant Atkins paused, and asked the video ref to check.
It showed that Souths prop Nathan Brown moved to his right and shouldered James out of contention to effect a charge down and it was ruled no goal – in a heart-beat the game was alive again.
The Titans had one last set before the hallway mark of extra-time but couldn’t get a scoring shot.
Souths prop Tom Burgess dropped the ball in the tackle on the third tackle of Souths first’ set of the second period of extra-time and this time Ash Taylor made no mistake with his field goal attempt despite the pressure of the Souths’ chargers.
It was truly a back-from-the-dead victory in the purest sense. And Taylor was the master again – 40-20 that led to Roberts’ try, scoring just before half-time after a 40-metre scoot and now the match-winner!
Aquis Titans 29 (James 2, Taylor, Roberts, Hoffman tries; Roberts 3, Taylor goals; Taylor field goal) beat South Sydney 28 (Goodwin, Nielsen, Walker, Talakai, McInnes tries; Reynolds 4 goals) at nib Stadium, Perth. Crowd: 13,142.