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150 not out for Johnston as second successive hat trick sees Souths over Titans

Alex Johnston has brought up his 150th try for South Sydney – and his second successive hat trick – to lead South Sydney to a comfortable 30-16 Saturday afternoon victory on the Gold Coast.

The Bunnies winger was ecstatic to break the long-standing Bunnies record in his last showing against the Wests Tigers, but had no intention of slowing up – as evidenced by another successful evening on the wing.

Johnston will get the headlines, but inside him, Campbell Graham was again excellent. He  topped the metre chart for the Bunnies and provided a classy try assist, as well as making 18 tackles for just one miss.

Lachlan Ilias continue to mature – outshining Cody Walker here – and Damien Cook, off the back of 80 minutes in Origin, was superb from dummy half.

Souths had to struggle their way through at times, but always looked like they had further levels to reach while the Titans were at times struggling to stay in the game. This is now their eighth defeat in nine games.

The failings were far from new: goalline defence, failure to win territory and inability to take advantage of the moments when they were in good ball.

The Titans were down to their third choice fullback, with Jayden Campbell injured and AJ Brimson ill, and that was not a deficit that this side was ever likely to overcome.

Tino Fa’asamealeauai, their captain and best player, was superb despite playing for Queensland on Wednesday night, and it is a permanent shame that he doesn’t have better cattle to go with him.

The managed well over 100m despite only entering in the 35th minute, and Mo Fotuaika aside, got next to no support: Jarrod Wallace was worth 44m, Sam Lisone 17m. Tino deserves more.

Souths started ominously, with Johnston extending his lead at the top of their all-time charts with the sort of try he has made a career from scoring. Walker, as he so often has been, was the provider with a floated pass that allowed the winger to stand up his opponent and score.

It was pegged back, however, as Toby Sexton unveiled a hitherto unforeseen skill as a challenger to reverse a Titans knock on, allowed Greg Marzhew to open proceedings on the right edge by barging through Jaxson Paulo and over the line.

Paulo might be physically a few levels down from Mazhew, as evidenced by the Gold Coast’s first try, but he is lightyears ahead in smarts and speed.

Ilias floated a kick perfectly into the corner and found Jamayne Isaako and Marzhew staring at each other as Paulo sailed between them to score.

The edges were where all the action was taking place. On the other side, Esan Masters continued his poor afternoon by attempting to take a short side option for a kick return and finding himself dumped into touch by Johnston.

Souths should have capitalised, but Paulo bounced the ball – under severe pressure from Brian Kelly – with the line begging.

The Titans then began to wrest momentum back. Walker threw a hospital pass that saw Graham sent back into his own in-goal and from the dropout, the Titans set up camp.

Even when they failed to get over the line, they smashed Souths in defence and forced them to kick from the 30. The Bunnies began slowing the ruck, inducing several set restarts and a penalty, with Mark Nicholls lucky to avoid the bin for negative play.

The tactic worked, however. They repelled three good ball sets and by the time the half time whistle blew, it was Souths that were pushing.

Keaon Koloamatangi went close after Paulo had again outjumped Marzhew, before the winger himself was held just short.

The second half started exactly as the first had: with Johnston scoring at the corner, this time after a smart catch-pass from Graham. Paulo then might have had another, but was pulled back for an obstruction by the bunker.

The Gold Coast needed some inspiration, and as is almost always the case, it came from Fa’asamealeauai.

He played 53 minutes for Queensland on Wednesday night and entered this game just before the break, immediately increasing the intensity levels in the middle.

His crashover try ten minutes into the second half was vital in stopping the game getting away from the Titans.

The grind set in, but Souths were always on top. First, Ilias changed the location of the struggle with a kick that very nearly made it to a 40/20, and when the Titans got to their kick, Graham was able to make a break along the left through tired and uncommitted chasers.

The try seemed inevitable, but the manner of it was so disappointing for the Titans: Cook dropped Taane Milne under and the goalline defence was nowhere to be seen.

Souths made the game safe in the last ten minutes, with Johnston completing his second hat trick in succession to bring up the 150 not out. Fa’asamealeauai added another late – isolating Walker in a corner – but it was, like so often for Justin Holbrook – a charge that came too late.

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