It was only fitting South Sydney's premiership credentials would last night receive their biggest test against the team that ended their only finals campaign in the past 23 years. Last night in those same bright lights the Rabbitohs suffered a similar bout of stagefright.
Slammin' Sam ... Souths hardman Sam Burgess prepares to meet the turf. Photo: Tony Feder
In 2007, in the qualifying final against Manly at Brookvale Oval, the seventh-placed Souths had no right to beat the team that went on to play in that year's grand final.
Last night the stage was set for Michael Maguire's men to announce themselves as genuine premiership heavyweights against the reigning premiers and one of the most revered teams of the past decade.
It was a chance to prove to themselves, more than their supporters and critics, that they are the real deal.
The win against the Titans on the Gold Coast last Sunday was an important cog in the evolution of the Bunnies, but last night was always going to be their biggest test.
Unfortunately, they just didn't show up, and the 23-6 scoreline indicated that.
The enthusiasm they've played with over the past six weeks on their unbeaten run just wasn't there, and it wasn't as if Manly produced their A-game either.
The Sea Eagles were hardly methodical, but their big game experience and ability to grind out victories ensured they'd head back up the F3 with the two points, while the Rabbitohs walked away with more questions than answers.
Torrential rain in Gosford in the build-up to last night's clash kept a few fans away, but it also contributed to a lacklustre opening from both sides.
Big things were expected of these two sides in the build-up to the clash at Bluetongue Stadium, but it didn't live up to the hype.
Manly completed just five of their first 11 sets, and while South Sydney were able to control the ball in the greasy conditions, they were flat in attack.
Adam Reynolds's kicking game was a shadow of what it has been for the majority of his impressive debut season as he struggled to contend with a 60km/h wind blowing into his face in the opening 40 minutes and was unable to take advantage of it in the second half.
However, Manly's failure to hold on to the ball, and their poor execution in attack, kept South Sydney in the contest.
While South Sydney's attack would have worried Maguire, his biggest concern would have been the defensive reads of his left edge.
On Manly's first real attacking raid deep inside South Sydney territory, they were able to convert pressure to points with great ease.
After Chris McQueen tapped back a bomb from Reynolds to gift Sam Burgess his third four-pointer of the season and take the Rabbitohs out to an early 6-0 lead, Manly ran in two tries down the flank of Dylan Farrell and Andrew Everingham.
On both occasions it was Keiran Foran, who put it on a platter for his outside men.
Dean Whare capitalised on the lead-up work of Foran for the opening try before Jorge Taufua added his name to the try-scorers list just before half-time.
It's usually the Manly right edge of Daly Cherry-Evans, Glenn Stewart and Jamie Lyon that causes opposition sides plenty of headaches, but their left flank did all the damage last night.
Whatever Maguire said at half-time mustn't have sunk in with his troops because 12 minutes into the second half, Taufua was in again.
There was still time for South Sydney to mount a comeback, but mentally they didn't have it in them, and tries from David Williams and Matt Ballin in the final 10 minutes merely confirmed the result.