South Sydney mounted an irresistible comeback to beat an injury-ravaged Vodafone Warriors side in tonight's 24th-round NRL clash at ANZ Stadium.
After being level 12-12 at halftime, the Vodafone Warriors muscled up to go 18-12 lead early in the second half but injuries would prove costly.
Jacob Lillyman left the field after just 36 minutes and didn't return, Issac Luke was off at a critical stage after a head knock but did return and a hobbling Kieran Foran eventually had to be replaced.
Late in the match wing Ken Maumalo also left the field after a head clash in a heavy tackle.
South Sydney cashed in on the situation to secure its third straight win while the Vodafone Warriors slid to their seventh loss on end.
Not for the first time their start had been promising.
They were on the board just six minutes in via captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck with his eighth try of the season.
It came after the Vodafone Warriors had opened the match solidly, building some nice pressure and momentum and then setting up to their left. When an Ata Hingano pass was slightly deflected, the South Sydney defence hesitated, opening a passage for Tuivasa-Sheck to surge through. Luke, starting for the injured Nathaniel Roache, was spot on with the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
When the Rabbitohs gained position via a penalty, the Vodafone Warriors couldn't resist defensively. They used their right side, effortlessly creating numbers for the prolific Alex Johnston to score his 20th try of the season.
No conversion and it was 6-4 after 15 minutes.
On the 27-minute mark, the Vodafone Warriors went further ahead with the ultra reliable Simon Mannering driving over between the posts for his 63rd career try, Luke's conversion taking the score out to 12-4.
The last stages of the first half favoured Souths.
Loose forward Cameron Murray exploded through the middle to score, Adam Reynolds closing it up to 12-10 with the conversion after 36 minutes. And when Souths received a penalty on halftime, Reynolds grabbed the two points to tie it up 12-12 at the break.
The first half was costly for the Vodafone Warriors on the playing resources front, though, with Lillyman out of the match with an arm injury. Playing his milestone 250th match, he had made 91 metres in his 36 minutes on the field; his loss was impossible to replace, especially with Ben Matulino unavailable due to a one-game suspension.
It left the Vodafone Warriors with a depleted bench, Sam Lisone and Charlie Gubb their only props with any level of NRL experience.
They faced a lot of heat in the opening minutes of the second half but produced some heroic defence on their line to deny Kyle Turner a try.
It turned out to be something of a 12-point try with the Vodafone Warriors immediately trucking downfield and putting on a superb play to the left, Hingano involved and Mannering then flicking on brilliantly for Tuivasa-Sheck to score his second. Luke's conversion had his team 18-12 ahead after 51 minutes.
Too soon it was 18-18, Reynolds' last tackle kick ricocheting for him to gather, score and then convert.
From the restart the Rabbitohs scythed through up the middle, Johnston shooting clear with support around him. He dummied and coasted in for his second try of the night. Reynolds opened up a 24-18 lead with the conversion.
At the same time, the Vodafone Warriors suffered more injury damage with Luke taken off after a head knock leaving them to patch up their combinations.
Penalties began to mount, Reynolds missing with one but then slotting the next opportunity from close range for a 26-18 lead.
In the 68th minute, some slick hands put Cody Walker over and in the 73rd minute Johnston had his third before limping off with a leg injury, the score then out to 36-18. Foran left the field at the same time in clear discomfort from his leg injury.
ANZ Stadium, Sydney
South Sydney Rabbitohs 36 (Alex Johnston 3, Cameron Murray, Adam Reynolds, Cody Walker tries; Adam Reynolds 4 conversions, 2 penalties).
Vodafone Warriors 18 (Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2, Simon Mannering tries; Issac Luke 3 conversions).
Referees: Chris Sutton and Chris Butler.
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c); David Fusitu'a, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Kieran Foran, Mafoa'aeata Hingano; Jacob Lillyman, Issac Luke, Sam Lisone; Bunty Afoa, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Chris Satae, Charlie Gubb, Mason Lino, Jazz Tevaga.