The loss of hooker Andrew McCullough has soured Brisbane’s spiteful 30-8 NRL win over South Sydney at Suncorp Stadium.
A revitalised Rabbitohs were also paying the price for the physical clash with Hymel Hunt (pectoral) expected to be sidelined for the season after an at times intense arm wrestle in front of a 40,275-strong Friday night crowd.
Ladder leaders Brisbane notched their fifth straight win but not all went to plan with McCullough suffering knee ligament damage in a 24th-minute Tom Burgess tackle.
There may be more headaches for Broncos coach Wayne Bennett too, with Joe Ofahengaue and Adam Blair reported for high tackles within a minute of each other in a fiery second half.
South Sydney may have slumped to their fifth loss in six games but showed some overdue fight after appearing down and out trailing 14-0 at halftime.
Sam Burgess threw his weight around after the break before the Greg Inglis of old finally emerged for the Rabbitohs.
Inglis stepped Jack Reed to score in the 52nd minute, ending 223 minutes in which Brisbane had kept opponents scoreless.
The Broncos had hoped to become the first team since Easts in 1919 to win three straight games to nil.
After Souths cut the deficit to 14-8, it seemed only something special was going to break the ice in an absorbing second half battle – and Queensland hopeful Corey Oates provided in the 63rd minute.
A mid-air Oates scored after doing his best Superman impersonation, planting the ball while somehow avoiding the sideline in a remarkable diving effort.
That opened the floodgates.
Jordan Kahu (70th minute) pounced on a Ben Hunt kick before captain Corey Parker (73rd) scored in his 331st game, making him the longest-serving forward in the NRL.
Ofahengaue was placed on report for a shoulder charge on Paul Carter (55th minute) and Blair was booked for a high shot on Adam Reynolds a minute later.
Reynolds left the field, appearing to have injured his recently healed jaw but later returned.
Carter also came back on after treatment.
Bennett later clarified that McCullough had suffered a calf complaint after Kodi Nikorima stepped up in the hooker’s absence.
The match erupted after Burgess’ late flop on Ofahengaue midway into the second half, sparking a melee.
It earned Burgess a second “unnecessary contact” warning from referee Jared Maxwell after earlier rough treatment of Josh McGuire, much to South Sydney coach Michael Maguire’s frustration.
“A lot of old time players will look at that and think ‘where is the game going?’,” Maguire said.
Bennett was proud his side had stood up to a Burgess-inspired Rabbitohs.
“We fought fire with fire. I don’t want them to turn their backs and walk away from it – I will tell you that much,” he said.
Maguire said Reynolds would undergo scans to determine if he had suffered another jaw fracture.
“It’s not looking great,” he said.
George Burgess (knee) and Kyle Turner were both lost to injury before kickoff while ex-Queensland rep Dane Nielsen made his Rabbitohs debut in a reshuffled starting backline.